Major jump-off: Sitio Dampay, Brgy. Dampay-Salaza, Palauig
LLA: 15.4833 N, 120.1166 E, 2037 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: 1-2 days / 6-12 hours
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 6/9, Trail class 1-3
Features: Pine forests, views of West Philippine Sea
Hiking amidst pine trees in a semi-temperate climate is an experience usually attributed to the Cordilleras, Mt. Pulag in particular. However, Mt. Tapulao in Zambales possesses the same charms. In fact, its name, tapulao, means pine tree in the local dialect, and it is truly an apt description. However, it has a character of its own. Many hikers never forget the rocky road that constitutes 85% of the trail! On the other hand, what is seemingly an endless sojourn along the path becomes a beautiful trek across pine forests, and into a mossy forest, at the end of the trek.
The peak does not afford splendid views, contrary to what one might expect from a mountain with that stature and with its position relative to the West Philippine Sea. This lack of views is because it is not a bald peak; trees continue to thrive in it - which is a good thing. A beautiful 'world tree' serves as summit marker. At any rate, a limited view of the West Philippine Sea can still be seen.
Mt. Tapulao, being closer to Manila, is being touted as an alternative to Mt. Pulag. Old timers used to dub this mountain as the ‘poor man’s Pulag’. The Tapulao experience, however, makes it much more than an alternative, but a destination in its own right, unique from the Cordilleras and special in its place as the High Peak of Zambales mountains.
2300 ETD Iba-bound Victory Liner bus from Caloocan terminal. (P342)
0330 ETA Iba, Zambales. Arrange for tricycles to jump-off. Travel time = 45 mins. (P400/trike/3pax)
0500 ETA jump-off point; register at welcome center, start trek. (P30)
0900 ETA first water source
1200 ETA second water source, lunch
1730 ETA ‘Bunker’, set up camp at campsite of choice
1800 Dinner, socials
1900 Lights out
(you may extend climbing time indefinitely; night trek is possible)
0510 Start trek to summit
0600 ETA summit
0630 Back to campsite
0730 Breakfast, break camp
0830 Start descent
1200 ETA second water source, lunch
1400 ETA first water source
1700 Back at jump-off point; take tricycle back to Iba
1800 Take bus to Manila
2300 ETA Manila
Note: The dayhike option requires a moderate to fast pace. Either the 2130H or the 2300H bus is recommended, but the former a better option if you are not sure about your pace.
Transportation. Take the Iba, Zambales-bound bus from Victory Caloocan (LRT1: Monumento Stn.). As of May 2012, the one-way fare is P342. Take the 2130H trip for an early, 0400H start of trekking, which is especially advisable if doing it as a dayhike. There are also 2300H and 2350H trips. From the Iba Victory Terminal, tell the tricycle driver that you are going to Mt. Tapulao, or to Sitio Dampay, Dampay-Salaza. Don't be shocked at the expensive asking price of P450 (negotiable to P400): it is really a long trip. Another option is to ask the bus to drop you aff at the junction in Dampay-Salaza, but this can only work when there's daylight, or if you have a tricycle contact. Here, the tricycle ride is cheaper at P250.
(1) Tourism Officer (Eliza Badak) - 09097247413
Americans used to call Mt. Tapulao ‘High Peak;’ only during the 1960s did the native name Tapulao come to general use.
Mt. Tapulao is at almost the same latitude as the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal). When the blogger last climbed Tapulao in May 2012, some ships were seen on standby in the West Philippine Sea.