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Conquering The High Peak: Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor April 18th, 2022 Posted in Destination, Philippines Travel Blog, Travel Blog 8 Comments

I recently completed a day-hike in one of the tallest mountains in the Philippines, Mt. Tapulao standing at 2,037 MASL, offering one of the steepest altitude gains in the country, and usually scaled for two days as a major climb.

Conquering The High Peak Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines
Photo by Mike Burns CC BY-SA 2.0

The trek was a training climb for Mt. Halcon, a dream summit for most Filipino mountaineer. But after a 15 hour-trek, bruised muscles and one sprained ankle later, I realized that some dreams had to wait… until we’re truly ready to conquer it.

As I was limbering in pain on the makeshift sofa in the local barangay hall (where we had to spend the night ‘cause I was too injured to move), I was wondering where the hours flew. Racing with time creates lots of blur in one’s memory.

As a quick recall (and as guide to those wanting to do a similar Mt. Tapulao day-hike, which is totally recommended prelude for much tougher Philippine mountains like Mt. Halcon and Mt. Guiting-Guiting), here’s a few rundown of moments on the trail and everything that happened between breaks.

Swiftly, Into the Night 


The last trip of Victory bus heading for Iba, Zambales left Cubao. Since the bus company is not accepting reservations, we had to beat the EDSA traffic (on a rush hour Friday) to get sure seats.


Five hours later, the bus arrived at the terminal station. After a quick breakfast at a nearby street stall, we hopped on a rented tricycle to Palauig, Zambales. The tricycle has no cover and could only accommodate three passengers. I almost drowned from the gallons of air that smacked my face.

0300 AM

The barangay hall, which also serves as an eco-center for campers, was open when we arrived. The place has food supplies stocked for visitors. Quickly, we registered, bought additional sustenance and hired a guide (who happened to be a young native Igorot).

0400 AM

We started walking in the dead of the night. Everything was cloaked in darkness. We had to control our steps. The initial ascent was exhausting.

Conquering The High Peak Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines
Photo by Stefans02 CC BY 2.0

Prancing on the Dawning Sky

0500 AM

The first crack of light came an hour later. We were on the open field. The sky blossomed in throes of red, with scattered clouds hovering above the horizon. 


More inclined slopes and few turns led to the first water station, which marked the first five kilometers of the ascent (100masl to 800masl). We had to refill our already drained water jugs. The area also serves as the first campsite.


Our climb continued on a more sluggish pace. Gravity is a bitch and we all know that. Our first taste of clearing happened at Km12 (1200masl), which signaled our entry to the montane forest. It wasn’t as magnificent as others. But being on the trail for more than three hours with nothing to see but boulders will make you appreciate any view that does not have rocks on it.

Conquering The High Peak Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines
Photo by leerobertnixon CC BY-ND 2.0

The Thing Called Pines!


The enchanting pine forest started appearing at 1700masl. “Tapulao” actually means pine trees in the local tongue. We spent precious minutes doing nothing but sit on the rocks. We didn’t mind though. The view and aroma of pine forest were surreal.


Reality check: we had to move. The continuous ascent was marked by more boulders. I was beginning to curse every rock I saw. We were looking for signs that we were near the bunkhouse. Reaching the bunkhouse means arriving at the last campsite. This implies our proximity to the summit.

09300 AM

With no signs of bunkhouse, we became more lethargic and grumpy. At some point, my buddy and I got separated. On retrospect, few solo moments could do wonders to the soul.

1000 AM

Finally, we’ve reached our pit stop, the last campsite. It was heaven. All we wanted was to roll our bodies on the pine-covered ground.

Conquering The High Peak: Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines
Photo by ben.timney

Breathless, Across Altering Terrain!

1030 AM

Thirsty, errr… Thirty minutes later, we were back on our feet. This time, we marched into the barren land. Few of the pines were consumed by periodic fires. The trail moves into a big gloomy charcoal-smelling woodland.

1100 AM

The gateway to the Mossy Forest appeared. It was like a creepy secret passage. And yes, there were blood-sucking lima tics inside the canopy of crawling vines and tangling branches.

1200 PM

At last, summit on a mid-afternoon sky!  I wanted to see the controversial Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea but thick fog got in my way. There’s not much to see because the summit is not a bald peak, which is good. It is covered with forest of bonsai trees, an indication of the mountain’s stable biodiversity.  A world tree, with interweaving branches, serves as the summit’s marker. On the way down, I fell and sprained my ankle. There goes my luck.

Conquering The High Peak Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines
Photo by
Mark Chinnick

A Never Ending Sojourn

0130 PM

Rainclouds started brewing. When we came out of the mossy forest, the mist was everywhere. From the lofty barren trees and empty trail, it was like twilight zone all over again.


Soon, droplets of rain started falling. The light drizzle turned into heavy downpour. The sky darkened like an apocalyptic trance…. Silently, I embraced the cold like a long-time friend.


We had to rest on a temporary shed. Our feet were covered in mud. The short stopover reminded us how hungry we were. How cold it was. How long we had to go. And, that there was only a single biscuit to spare and share. Perfect!


Limbering from pain (my swollen ankle looked like it was pregnant), I didn’t know how I was able to pull-off the next 4 hours descending on a rocky path. At some point, I was shivering. Then, I was crying expletives… anything to distract myself from my swollen leg. When I thought I was near the finish line, I’d see a marker and realize I’ve only moved a fraction.

Helplessly, I watched the sun went down and darkness took over. There was only me and my buddy on that vast, empty, never-ending trail. We got separated from the group. It was creepy, like a scene from a horror flick.

At last, we saw flickers of light dancing from a distance. Three things came in mind: that we were near… that we were going to make it out of the jungle, alive… and that based on my performance, I really had to forego my dream of Mt. Halcon… at least for a while.

I continued walking towards the flickering light, tears blinding my eyes.

Conquering The High Peak Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines
Photo by J3SSL33 CC BY 2.0

Life Lessons on the Road

I pushed my limits to prove that I could. And I was successful. Despite the injury, I was able to complete the climb.

However, I also realized other equally important things. That while I could always challenge myself to conquer more and do more, I also have to accept  that I have physical limits, no matter how invincible I think I am. After all, I am human.

Sometimes, we have to forego a dream no matter how difficult because deep inside us, we know that it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t mean letting go. It only means that we have the nerve to assess ourselves, and greater courage to wait, push harder, work longer, and train better.

With right attitude and preparations, dreams become realities.

Conquering The High Peak Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines
Photo by Ian Sane CC BY 2.0

Trivia / Other attractions in the area:

  1. Before, Mt. Tapulao was a mining site for chromite. The trail now used for hiking was once allotted for 4×4 conveyor trucks.
  2. The mountain is a treasure trove not only for its mineralized deposits but also for its biodiversity. According to a study made by the University of the Philippines, the mountain hosts 78 animal and 41 plant species which are endemic to the country. Of these, two species of murid rodents can only be found in the slopes of Mt. Tapulao.
  3. Bag sit River Pool, another natural attraction, is only 4.17km from the eco-center. This is a perfect side trip for an overnight climb.
  4. Usual expenses for this hike are as follows (for a group of six):

Php 375 x 2     = Php 750       Fare Cubao, Quezon City to Iba, Zambales

Php 400/3 x 2  = Php 267       Tricycle rental to Brgy, Palauig, max three passengers

Php 30             = Php 30         Registration Fee

Php 700/6        = Php 117       Guide fee, maximum of six

Php 336           = Php 336       Food and other miscellaneous

Total /person = Php 1,500

  1. Contacts:

Ms. Eliza Badar (President of Mt. Tapulao Regulation Officers Association, Inc.)

Mobile: 09097247413

Mr. Alfonso Dalit or Glen Dalit (Local Barangay Officers)

Mobile: 09127329668

About the Author:

the curious case of mount tapulaoMarvin Eric hails from three provinces: (Leyte, Catanduanes, and Laguna) and speaks four languages (Bicol, Waray-Waray, Tagalog and English). His memories of childhood are happy moments of summer, running on grassy hills and excursions on isolated beach coves. Today, he tries to juggle the demands of corporate world, graduate studies, social life, and passion for weekend wanderlusts with friends. Follow his  stories on his travel blog  Petrified Dreams.

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Conquering the high peak of Mount Tapulao, Zambales

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8 thoughts on “Conquering The High Peak: Mount Tapulao, Zambales, Philippines

  1. Nice adventure. Do you have a close-up photo of the pine trees that shows the needle (leaves) details? I know that Mt. Tapulao is named after the Merkus pine (aka Mindoro pine or tapulao) but I want to be sure that most of the pine trees are indeed of that species. If the needles comes in pair, it is the Merkus pine, if there are 3 needles, then it is the Kesiya pine or Benguet pine. I want to know if there is a mix of the two species. Any information you can provide would be much appreciated.

  2. Very nice blog. Are you an author of some poetic book? Lemme know. I’ll read it (y)

    Anyways, this blog is very helpful. Great job!

  3. We were there last Sunday. Day Hike. An epic long walk, yet worthy experience. More than 9 hrs climb due to photo ops and more than 2 hrs back to jumpoff (we ran/walk/jog back to the jumpoff). A Waray here. 😀

  4. Planning to go there this June. Are the contact details & prices still the same?

    And are you sure regarding the guides as Igorots and not Aetas?


  5. Very nice! What an adventure! The scenery of Mt. Tapulao is stunning! Thank you very much for this very comprehensive guide; this mountain is on our bucket list this year or next year.

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