Jungle Bouldering: Cagayan de Oro

October 06, 2010

275_album"The bamboo splinters, giving a sharp crack beneath our feet. The wind ruffles the leaves on the canopy above our heads. The constant gurgling of the river. These are the sounds of the jungle - the wild side of bouldering in the tropics. Jasaan, Catanico, Kimaya, Sagpulon… the tribal names of each of these places warrants warrior style bouldering." I can imagine how the search for these boulders came to be. Ric-Ric and Junnel had gone out into the dense jungle and came back after a full afternoon with arms and necks lashed red and scratched from cogon, thorn bushes, strangle vines and who knows what names they have for those other blood thirsty vegetables. The news Ric-Ric and Junnel brought with them halted all from the drinking sesh to listen as they described the way the rock towered and overhung at the new place they’d discovered. We were lucky to be spoiled with the currently established bouldering areas but it’s evident that with patient searching new boulders in the jungles of Misamis Oriental can indeed be found. Cagayan de Oro has been getting more and more attention these days from local climbers. The discovery and development of new bouldering areas has prompted a huge delegation of Pinoy climbers to come and sample the different kinds of rock. The majority of the rock climbing in the Philippines is on limestone - so when news of basalt, gneiss and slate bouldering in Cagayan de Oro got circulated, little convincing needed to be done before our bags got packed and our plane tickets got bought. Cagayan de Oro or “CDO” is south of Manila, on the northern coast of Mindanao Island. It is perhaps the most comfortable gateway into the exploration of the Philippines’ southernmost main island.

Historical Trivia

On a night of beer and roasted suckling pigs, our conversations went in all sorts of different directions. For a while a topic went into names and history. I’m a bit of a history buff and so decided to ask about the origin of the names. One specific question I had to ask was Jasaan’s origin. Jasaan, pronounced as Ha-sa-an, has a “Tagalog” dialect translation which means “whetstone” or something used for sharpening knives or bolos (Filipino machetes). I had to ask whether this holds true in the south, where “Visaya” is the local dialect. To my surprise, Maurice (one of the local climbers) gave a little bit more than just translations. According to history, he said, during Philippines’ pre-Spanish era, missionaries went around and found themselves along the coasts of Misamis Oriental long before they even reached Cebu Island. The story goes a missionary came upon a native tribesman and asked where he was. The local native replied “Ag-hasa” to actually mean he was sharpening his bolo on the rock and nothing more. After a few years and tongue twisty translations the place came to be called Jasaan. Upon closer inspection of the rock in Jasaan, I can conclude that it truly deserves the name. The basalt in Misamis can truly sharpen a knife or a bolo. More than that, Jasaan has I believe, the highest concentration of bouldering in the higher spectrum of the V-scale in the area, becoming a true local proving ground - a place for really sharpening your bouldering. …“So Maurice, how do you know all this?” I took a quick gulp of my icy cold beer and joined the handful of others scrutinizing Maurice for tell tale signs of mischievous mockery. Maurice lifted his eyes from deep focus on the rim of his beer filled glass and met our gaze. He smirked, took a short pause and then spoke in a soft quiet, hesitant voice, “I took an exam for being a historical tour guide around Misamis… but I failed.” We all laughed and continued our haywire musings.

282_albumCatanico, Cagayan de Oro

Catanico Falls are usually the draw into this side of CDO. It is a small picnic area bordering the river. The walk-in to the first area is comfortable, being on steps made from the area’s Catanico Power!own slate. So far there is only one area that has been established thoroughly. There are 6 lines all in the V1-V3 range, all good for warm-ups and then there are possibly another 6 undone lines. Of these, the “Sir Robin of Locksley” project takes centre stage. The route starts underneath the boulder to exit on small crimps and finally a dyno from the finger busting crimps. When the problem goes, there is an extension to do that possibly adds another full grade. Conservative grading may put this problem at around V11-V12. A new area has also been discovered during our bouldering session at Catanico. After disappearing into the bushes for almost half a day, Ric-Ric and Junnel came back with fantastic news. After a short exploration deeper into the jungle they uncovered a new area. Steep and towering were enough words to get our attention, the only drawback was the deep cuts and lashes the jungle had given them. This served to warn us to keep that area in mind for later instead. Further up, northeast of Catanico and roughly 45 minutes by car, is the Kimaya Area. The bouldering there covers a bigger area. Two distinct sectors are well established. One is closer to the river and the other is on the hill’s summit. Only a short hike apart, the area is composed of a mix of easy to hard problems. Down by the river is where they have the area they call “Bamboo Drop.” The landings are perfectly flat and the initial number of problems here came to about 7 with a grade range from V1-V8. Much of the area hasn’t been fully explored and I’m inclined to believe the area still has much to offer. Up on the hill, about 10-15min hike from “Bamboo Drop,” is the area they dubbed “Meteor Rock,” denoting the immense size of the most prominent boulder in the area. Rocks on the hill’s summit have sharp angles and clean cut surfaces as opposed to the smooth and slopey holds found down by the river. The “Meteor Rock” area has a huge variety of angles and styles, from thin technical slabs, to steep 3D bouldering. Try the new lines in the area: “The Future is Bright” – V5, a 5 star slab problem that starts off on two nasty crimps to a dead point for a one finger slot and tops out at a height of 20 to 25ft. Left of this is “The Future Hurts” – V4, a short slab problem on continuously painful finger pockets and smears. The initial number of problems came to about 10 with the addition of maybe 2 to 3 more project lines.

289_albumSagpulon, Jasaan, Misamis Oriental

The remotest area, but definitely not a place to miss, is the Sagpulon Area. It is named after the towering and impressive Sagpulon Falls. This tourist attraction gets only a handful of visitors and because of a recent landslide; many more are discouraged to take the trip. Access remains difficult, being on very rough terrain. The most prominent of the boulders in the area sits close to the river and is the first to salute climbers as they cross to the other bank. It is impossible to miss, and much of the development in the area rests on this boulder. There are currently three hard lines ranging from V9-V12 and several other moderates at V3-V6. Hot picks for this area include “Butt-Crack”- V10, a dyno off slopey sidepulls, and “Natural Bully” – V4 a heel hooking, sloper fest on steep rock. The area has much to offer and come December 2010, the “Goo-Goo, Ga-Ga” Rocktrip will be centered in Sagpulon to help increase the exposure of bouldering in the Southern Philippines.

Getting there:

From Manila take a plane going to Cagayan de Oro. Planes leave every day and almost every hour. Cebu Pacific Airlines offer the cheapest fares. Be sure to book in advance to get good rates. From CDO airport I recommend taking a taxi to Alwana Climbing Gym at Marco Hotel. It is better to get acquainted with the local climbers first to get fresh news on pertinent bouldering/climbing developments in the area. The gym opens around 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Getting to the climbing areas:

To Catanico: Take a taxi to Cugman. If coming from the city proper it is about 15min during the morning traffic and about 90-100 pesos (£1.50). At the junction, head straight up F.S. Catanico Road to the Jabal-Jabal terminal (a jabal-jabal is a motorcycle). This same road also leads to a street-side market and also to the Cugman Slaughter House. They usually seat up to two passengers plus baggage! So that could mean you, your friend, the driver, your bags and most possibly 2 more crashpads! The drivers are skilled in the art of riding up and down the rough, hilly roads going to Catanico. All you need to do is relax, keep your arse from bouncing around too much on the saddle and leave the rest to your driver. The Jabal-Jabal takes 20min or less, but try not to go for less time… The two-way trip is about 80-90 pesos for each person. Ask the driver to pick you up at your desired time. Do not forget to ask to get picked-up or else you will be walking all the way back. Tell the driver to take you to Alwana at the end of the day. It is easier to get back to the city from there. 291_albumTo Jasaan: Head for “East Bound Terminal” in Gusa. This is the gateway for travel in CDO. Simply look for the “jeepney” (the public transport popular in the Philippines) that goes to Jasaan. The trip takes about for 35 to 45 minutes along the coastal road. Tell the jeepney driver to drop you off on the road heading up “Twin Hearts”, “Kahulugan”, or “Basamanggas”. The jeep will continue off on the highway but you need to drop-off at this intersection. It is about 25 pesos one-way. From this intersection there is a Jabal-Jabal terminal. Ask to be taken to either “Twin-Hearts” Kimaya (20-30 pesos one-way, 20-25 mins.) or to “Sagpulon” (40-50 pesos one-way, 35 to 45 minutes). The roads will be bumpy!

Where to Stay:

There are a lot of places to stay in and around the city. If the plan is to go and hang around the city for a while before hitting the crags, I’d recommend a stay at “Executive Pension.” They have single rooms for 450 pesos, up to triple sharing rooms for 900 pesos. It has fully air-conditioned rooms, cable TV, hot and cold showers, WiFi and a coffee shop. It’s along Mabini Street and you can phone them (88) 856-4360 for advanced booking. The Catanico Bouldering Area is easily accessed from the city. Daily trips to Cugman Terminal for the Jabal-Jabal aren’t too hard to manage from the city centre. If the plan is to go bouldering around Jasaan, it is best to stay at the “Basamangas Resort”. It’s a lot closer to either Kimaya or Sagpulon. The resort is a few minutes’ walk from the Jabal-Jabal Terminal near the highway. The rooms are a bit pricey at 1500-2500 pesos a night, but with special arrangements you can probably jam up to 10 people in them and still pay the same price. Add a little extra and you can get spare mattresses. They have three swimming pools and the rooms are air-conditioned.

287_albumWhere to eat:

CDO is a small city and finding good food isn’t at all difficult. Touring the city is a whole other topic I’m not going into and I’ll leave that adventure in your own hands. Instead here are my top recommendations based on actual happenings during our recent trip: Maxi’s Corner or Maxi’s Bar is the 24hr, cheap but good “Tapsilogan.” You can party the night away anywhere but when the end draws near, everyone finds their way to Maxi’s. It’s at A. Velez cor. Fernandez Street. Lokal Grill and Seafood Restaurant found along Corrales Avenue, is in contrast to Maxi’s - it is a little more up-market, but not way up there in terms of prices. The open air restaurant helps create a loose, carefree vibe best for just chilling out with friends over good food and beer. A little drizzle and a cool breeze in the evening definitely heightens the experience at Lokal. At the Basamangas Resort food is okay. Sadly, we don’t want just okay, we want good, cheap food everywhere we go! Right at the intersection along the highway and near the Jabal Jabal terminal is a small “kubo” or a straw-built hut. This is where we walk to for breakfast. They serve different kinds of “pinoy” food to suit your budget and your delicate (?!) taste buds. We’ll be getting the cook to cook for us during the December “Goo-Goo, Ga-Ga” Rock Trip.

When to go:

One of the better consequences of geographic location is the weather. Whilst most of the Philippines experiences storms coming from the Pacific, the southern region gets bypassed most of the time. The bouldering season in the south can start as early as August with conditions getting better and better towards December up to February. It then gets hotter from March to May.

Useful Tips and Extras:

  • As always, bring insect repellant. It’s our daily cologne before going jungle bouldering.
  • Do not forget to get the Jabal Jabal driver’s phone number. In case you need to bail out from your bouldering session for the day due to unforeseen events, this will be your only link out. Better still if you have the local phone SIM cards in use. Try to ask for the SMART SIM rather than the Globe SIM. Apparently, the SMART SIM works better in the jungles.
  • If you get scared of the speed that your Jabal-Jabal driver’s going at, it’s o.k. to ask him to slow down. If you feel there’s not enough room for two passengers, you can ask the driver to seat just one passenger, expect the fare to hike up a bit though.
  • Make sure to bring along enough food and water for each days trip as there isn’t anywhere near the bouldering areas to get supplies.
  • Since access is a bit difficult, bringing a handy first aid kit is a must.
  • The water at Catanico Falls and Sagpulon Falls is amazing! Have your swimming gear with you when you go.
  • For your first outings, it will be a lot better to pass-by Alwana Climbing Gym at the Marco Hotel beforehand. Ask for the resident strong guy, Carlo Chiong, to get some help on getting around, and for new updates on the local bouldering scene.
Check out http://www.cdoguide.com/ for more info on Cagayan de Oro. Visit http://climbphilippines.com/ for Pinoy vibes and climbing in the Philippines.


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