The Killer Trail and on ‘Earning the Badge’

Mt. Pulag, the highest peak on the massive Philippine island of Luzon, is pretty famous. At just under 3,000 meters above sea level, it’s often the ‘first big mountain’ for many local hikers; the summit has become a notorious spot, jam-packed with monopod-wielding weekenders.

The accessibility is partly to blame. The ‘beginner’s trail’, Ambangeg, is quite literally a walk in the park for anyone at even less-than-moderate fitness levels. Gradual inclines and wide footpaths feature almost throughout the trail, up until the summit. It’s not uncommon to hear experienced hikers put down the Pulag-Ambangeg trail, what with its crowds lending to the problem.

Welcome to the Killer Trail

This is bad, because Mt. Pulag is easily one of the most incredible outdoor spots in the Philippines. There is, however, one other legendary trail that allows one to fully experience the myth and magic of the national park: the Akiki Trail, fondly known by locals as ‘the Killer Trail’.

Trail Adventours Akiki - Day 1 Trail 1 jsncruz

Before we set off for the Pulag-Akiki hike, our outfitter, Trail Adventours, reminded team members to prepare a medical clearance (a requirement in Mt. Pulag National Park). This is best done before going to the park. There is also the mandatory safety briefing from the local authorities, before riding a jeep to the Pulag-Akiki trailhead.

Day One

The Pulag-Akiki trail is tough, and we were quickly humbled on the first day. There is a humid and blistering hike until the Eddet River, where most teams would rest for rehydration and late lunch. But it’s not here where the Killer Trail earns its nickname.

Trail Adventours Akiki - Day 1 Trail 2 jsncruz

Trail Adventours Akiki - Day 1 Trail 3 jsncruz

Crossing the Eddet River bridge, one literally looks up (it’s that steep) at the seemingly never-ending pine forest trail. We were greeted by a light rain here, which was a welcome relief from the heat, but it made the physical challenge even worse. The grueling five-hour section terminated at the Marlboro Campsite, a beautiful shoulder on the mountainside.