Bluewater Resorts

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mt. Tapulao | The Time I Underestimated a Mountain

Hermann Buhl, one of the best climbers of all-time, once said that “the mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence”.

I, for one, never really underestimated any mountain until Mt. Tapulao. Alas, that overconfidence had indeed caused me much distress.

Knowing that the trails were straightforward and wide, I packed my stuff up to 1/3 of my weight, which I never really do. Unmindful of the coldness one can face in the mountain, I forgot to tuck in spare socks and extra jackets. And, my reliance on the automatic airbed over the conventional sleeping bag was the pinnacle of what you may call foolishness. But still, we pressed on.

After an altimeter reading of 170 meters at the jump-off, I started to feel a bit uneasy.

Mt. Tapulao has a height of 2037 meters. I wasn’t expecting to start that close to sea level since the summits higher than 2000 meters usually begin at a higher altitude.

But hey! what the heck? The gain was just like Mt. Pulag. But as I started to walk, it dawned on me that we summited Luzon’s highest peak in 3 days. Would it make a difference if we would do this climb in two?

At 5 in the morning, we prepared for a long hike. 14 hours was our allotted time to reach the campsite but we never really expected to reach it that long. Well, we actually finished the 1st day by around 11 hours but still, it was grueling.

After 2 hours, the weight of my pack started to put its toll upon my muscles.  It was then that I questioned the idiotic idea of our group carrying 3 tents while there were only 4 of us in this hike. The comfort that it would bring would certainly not make up for the extra burden that it gave us during the whole duration of the climb.

7 hours into the trek, we grinded to a halt and decided to eat lunch at the 2nd water source. Exhausted with sore shoulders, I looked forward to reaching the bunkers in another 3 hours.

While digesting the sumptuous adobo lunch, I rested on my pack staring at the clouds trying to empty my mind.

I actually slept for an hour and woke up while my other group mates were filling their canteens. Now I started to regret the way I stuffed my bag.

Rejuvenated after the rest, I stood up. But as I was standing, the clouds began its torment on us.

A sudden downpour locked us in our positions. We tried to wait for the right time to continue the hike but the rain was not giving us a hint of clearing.

We decided to continue with the climb even while the storm was still ravaging the trail.

With ankle deep mud, the rocks turned slimy. We had no choice but to pursue the road, gliding carefully so us not to stumble and fall.

It was so freaking cold. I had my arms folded for the duration of the climb for the wind and the rain would not spare even an inch of skin that would get out of my coat.

As my hands were feeling numb, we got a glimpse of a small hut. It gave us encouragement to push through. Five minutes later, we were finally at the campsite.

Fortunately, the guard at the mining site allowed us to stay at their houses. Wet, cold and shivering, one by one we entered the bunkers.

At 4:30 that afternoon, we finally found our haven for the night. We ate, rested and slept; but our ordeal had not ended yet.

I woke up at around 4 in the morning. I had a fleece jacket but it was not much help. I reached for my socks but it was wet, the 3 tents that we carried remained folded and, the airbed I had did not afford the comfort that the sleeping bag I purposely left, could offer.

All my fallacies came to mind as I lay shivering in the cold. I couldn’t sleep. I thought of everything I’ve done wrong in this climb and promised myself not to repeat the same mistakes in the future.

As a last resort, I turned on my stove and cooked my breakfast noodle. While waiting for it to boil, Agnes and I laid our hands on top of the pan. It was so cold that the steam didn’t really give that much help but at least it gave us some warmth.

With my towel wrapped around my feet, I finally found rest.

The glimpse of sunlight was a signal for our summit assault. Ron wasn’t able to come with us on the the climb as he only had a sleeveless jacket for protection from the cold. One man down, we continued our adventure.

The assault was straight forward. After 1 hour of climbing, we finally reached the summit of Mt. Tapulao.

We were greeted by sea of clouds covering the Zambales mountain ranges. If it were a prize, we had a gold medal. The finale to our storm-ravaged hike was a heaven-like peak where we can look down to the clouds. It was majestic.

We hiked down to the bunker and continued to the jump-off. The trek was friendlier and we completed the journey down for only 5 hours.

Battered, bruised and chilled, this climb became one of the most unforgettable life experiences I had. I made plenty of foolish decisions during the trip but still, I accepted the challenges and learned through it.

In conclusion, this climb became an important lesson, not only as a climber, but as a person in general.

Mt. Tapulao is not that hard of a mountain. With straight-forward trails, it can even be climbed by 4x4s. But my careless preparation made this mountain one of my hardest climbs.

Definitely, the mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.

Group Itinerary

day 0 

22:30 - meet up at Victory Sampaloc Station
23:00 - board Sta. Cruz bound bus

day 1

04:00 - arrival at Palaguig, take tricycle to jump-off
04:30 - jump-off, log in, breakfast
05:00 - star trek
09:00 - 1st water source( water source here is not reliable )
11:30 - arrival at 2nd water source, lunch, rest
13:00 - start hike to bunker campsite
16:30 - arrival at bunker campsite
18:00 - prepare dinner
18:30 - dinner, rest

day 2

06:00 - wake up, start summit assault
07:30 - arrival at summit
08:30 - start hike down to campsite
09:30 - back at campsite, prepare breakfast
10:00 - heavy breakfast
11:00 - start hike down to jump-off
12:30 - arrival at 2nd water source
16:00 - arrival at jump-off, tidy up, rest
18:00 - dinner at Iba, Zambales
20:00 - departure for manila

*will arrive at Manila by 1:00 am the next day

How to get to Mt. Tapulao

from Manila, board any Victory liner bus bound for Sta. Cruz. Ask driver to drop you off at Palauig, Zambales or to the jump-off to high peak. 

Board tricycle to jump-off. The terminal from the intersection always have tricycle drivers waiting. Just wake them up at the post.

you can visit Victory liner schedules here:

*we would like to thank Agnes Navales for Organizing this climb and for most of the photos in this article


  1. I've experienced some of those things too in 2007.

  2. this mountain is really quite an experience. worth getting back to.

  3. tnx for the info.... we wil climb MT tapulao on december..

  4. I love Mount Tapulao. I've climbed it twice and every after climb my body aches! I have high respect for this mountain and I will go back to conquer it again. Hopefully, I could try the traverse.

  5. @Josiah - definitely worth coming back, we will be doing a dayhike of Tapulao sometime in November, it'll give us a new challenge.

  6. ayos galing! good work sir! heheh inspiring!


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