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#TaleOfTheTrail Ampucao – Sta Fe Trail (Ampucao, Itogon, Benguet)

Posted by on 4. January 2016

Ampucao / Philex Ridge

It’s not an easy trail but as you struggle catching your breath climbing about 500 meters worth of elevation, you get mesmerized by the scenery that surrounds you.  You get the Pine Tree rich trails that would keep you shaded on the early part. There’s the long ridge path that you’d love to run with a scenic backdrop of the mountains. There’s the Ampucao / Philex Ridge which gives you a panoramic view of the whole area. There’s Mount Ulap showcasing a lush green surface and about 1,858 MASl worth of natural attractions.  It’s definitely a trail that will keep your eyes feasted with every struggling stride you make.

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It’s just Breathtaking

The first time I saw a photo of the Ampucao / Philex Ridge, I knew that one day I should do this trail whether on a race or just a hike. I got my chance towards the end of the year as I was able to grab Running Atom to join me in the trek.  The good part of the trail is that it has been promoted as a tourist attraction and you have a guide to explore it.  You have to register at Ampucao Elementary School in Ampucao, Itogon, Benguet.  The fee per person is P100 while the guide is P400 for the whole group.  The trail is pretty straight-forward and it would be remote to get lost as there are few crossroads within the trails.  Getting there, we had a car via Loakan headed to Ampucao.  Alternatively, you can take a jeep going to Philex and alight at Ampucao. You then walk your way to Ampucao Elementary School, which is 800 meters from the road.  Just getting into the area is an amazing experience as the roads heading to Ampucao gives you a view of the surrounding Mountains.

The Map and Elevation

Map powered by Suunto Movescount and Ambit 3

The trek starts at Ampucao Elementary School. It takes you about a kilometer to reach the trail entry point.  It takes you about 5 kilometers reaching the Ampucao / Philex Ridge with about 300+ meters worth of climbing.  The trek descends a bit as you descent on the other side of Mount Ulap, where you get to climb another 100 meters worth of elevation in the next kilometers.  Finally, you get a steep descent on the next 3 kilometers of about 540 meters of elevation on technical trails before getting to Sta Fe exit at the Trail.

Trekking Ampucao – Sta Fe Trail

We’re ready for our trail.

There are several trail options for Ampucao – Sta Fe Trail. One is an out and back from Ampucao heading to Philiex Ridge, which is about 10 kilometers.  You can also do a traverse coming from either Ampucao or Sta Fe Entry point, which is about 9K.  We opted for the traverse from Ampucao going to the Sta Fe exit since it would give us an appreciation of the full trail.  The Ambuclao part of the trail is less technical, where you can go with regular trail shoes.  The Sta Fe part is more technical and more challenging.

Trail Entry point from Ampucao

We started from Ampucao Elementary School and walked about 800 meters back to Philex Road.  After another 200 meters descending Philex Road, we saw the trail entry point.  The climb starts here.  The trail gives you scenic viewpoints of the mountain ranges.  There’s a welcome signboard with the map of the area.

The map of the trail

We would be starting of a Tomtombee then heading of to Sta Fe. It’s gonna be a long climb but let’s get started.  We started on pine forested areas. The area is mostly shaded so you won’t feel much of the sun’s ray from here.  The climate was cool and windy at this time of the year.

Yes, the fresh look and scent of Pine.

The lower part of the trail has a mix of dirt roads and rocky path.  The forest trails had us starting slow because of the ascent.  We got a lot of pine tree along the trail but it also had several viewpoints along the way that gave you a view of the mountains.  The next two kilometers of the trails is also the hardest part of the trail due to the ascent that felt like forever.  We’d take a few hundred meters and take photos once in a while along the trail.

The fresh look and scent of pine.

There were also other groups in the trail. At times, we’d overtake each other and alternate resting.  Since we were a smaller group, we eventually went on faster.  This part is gonna challenge your lung capacity. Even with the struggle, be rest assured, you’re inhaling really fresh pine scented air.  It felt forever but we’ve finally finished the longer part of the climb.

I love the view

At around 3 kilometers, the view shifts from pine trees to a panoramic view of the Mountains. You could see all the mountains in Benguet from the area. The terrain shifts from uphill to a rolling ridge terrain.  We got moving faster in this area and we’re even running on some stretches with a more even surface.

The mountains.

The area also got colder as you can practically feel the clouds in the air.  We just got mesmerized by the views from all angle. You’ve got several mountain ranges around you.  While it’s easier to move faster in this area, we actually slowed down to appreciate the surroundings.

It felt like a run in the clouds.

We enjoyed running on the descending part and struggled on the ascents.  It still felt surreal being surrounded by nature’s raw beauty and each moment was a humbling appreciation of God’s creation.  The next two kilometers was just a visual feast for the eyes.

We tried running too.

With this much climbing, you could feel the sting on the quads already.  We got nearer to the the famous Ampucao / Philex Ridge and we were trying to go there faster since there is usually a queue in the area.  We took the road where there is a mini version of the ridge.

The mini version of the ridge.

Guide: Andito yung anak ng malaking bat0. (Here is the son of the big rock).

Us: Bakit sila magkahiwaly, eh magkapamilya sila? (Why are they separated if they are a family?)

Guide: Malaki na kasi sya, kelangan magsolo. (The rock (son) is now big so he has to be independent).

At the much smaller ridge.

Funny, how we got to do a short talk on inanimate objects. Either way the view was just magnificent. We then headed to the more popular Ampucao / Philiex Ridge.  Lucky for us, there was just a short queue going there and we just had to wait for one pair to finish their photos before us.  I was the first to have my photo.

Ampucao /Philex Ridge

The stone is a tilted so when you are on top of the ridge, you get to see the cliff down.  It doesn’t show but my feet were shaking a bit here as just imagining the possibilities can be unnerving. Well, life’s one crazy adventure or nothing at all.

Another vantage point of the ridge.

Since I had my other phone with Atom so I was able to get another vantage point where you can see the natural tilt of the rock.  After a while, you just got used to it.  After my turn, we had a group shot and then it was Atom’s turn.

One more time with Running Atom

There’s also a higher rock beside the ridge, which you can climb to have a different appreciation of the ridge and the surroundings.  After a lighting the Philex Ridge, there’s a small entry point to the bigger rock overlooking the ridge and the mountains.

Me and the Mountains.

After a shot at the ridge, we took a break to eat our trail food before heading to Mount Ulap.   It was also nice to appreciate the clouds at this altitude.  It was a good breather as there will be another climb to Mount Ulap.  After a while, then we resumed. The trek to Mount Ulap had as shifting to the other side of the mountain. There was a steep descent of about 500 meters before we started another long climb.

Dig Deep

Whenever I bow my head on a climb, it’s not a bow of defeat.  It’s just me digging deep inside me to find the courage to resume and after that, it’s back to business. The climb was another 100 meters worth of elevation over the next half kilometer.  It’s just a scenic delight that you have the clouds surrounding you and a grassy mountain to climb.  It’s always a struggle to climb for me but there’s always a part of me that perseveres.

Mount Ulap at 1,858 MASL

While the Philex/ Ampucao Ridge is the more popular attraction of  the trek, the highest point is Mount Ulap at 1,858 MASL.  As it’s name connotes, the place is surrounded by clouds (Ulap).  Our guide says that there are seasons wherein there’s more volume in the clouds.  It’s always an achievement reaching a peak.

Here’s for reaching another peak.

After reaching Mount Ulap, the trail goes downhill on the next 3 kilometers.  This is now the Sta Fe part of the trail.  The trails shifts becomes a more technical at this point.

Welcome to the mountains.

Going down  does not always mean it gets easier as the Sta Fe part is a steep descent wherein you’ll need all the traction from your shoes that you can get.  A trekking pole would also help add balance as you go on the descent.  One of the favorite part of the descent was seeing the San Roque Dam from this vantage point.

The view of the Dam.

The steep descent is a real challenge in terms of balance.  We slowed down on this stretch as the steps were looping.  That’s the tricky part of a technical route, you have to spend some time analyzing which step would be safer heading downward.  It took us even longer on the descent than on the climbs.

Log paths heading down.

The descent was also tough on the knees and I am already feeling the impact.  There were some log steps that made navigating easier at some points. There were also vines at some area for added support.  Like the climbs, it felt endless.

Pung-ol Burial Caves

We also passed some burial caves. The one above is already empty.  There is one casket that had a mummy inside but it was prohibited going near or taking photos.  After the burial caves, the descent became more tolerable leading to some houses and stores. After reaching the store, we had some halo-halo, a reward for our hours of hard work.

Hanging Bridge

After the stores, most of the paths are downward cemented surfaces and hanging bridges.  After all the time on the technical trails, this was a relief.  This led us to the exit point at Sta Fe and an end to this Tale of the Trail.  Take note, there’s about 5-6 kilometers of ascent from Sta Fe exit point heading to Ampucao. The option here is getting a jeep coming from Philex that would take you either to Ampucao or Baguio. For us, we hang on a jeep heading to Ampucao to get back to our ride at Ampucao Elementary School.

Sta Fe.

Outfit Of The Trail

It’s Cold Here.

  • Top: Berghaus with #TaleOfTheTrail Design by Breakout Design
  • Shorts with Compression, Calf Sleeves, Arms Sleeves, Trucker Cap and Speed Form Hydration Bag: Under Armour
  • GPS Watch: Suunto Ambit 3 Sports
  • Shoes: Newton BOCO AT
  • Eyewear: Oakley Tour De France Racing Jacket
  • Socks: Ahon Trail Socks.

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