Climbing in Cantabaco, Cebu

After spending over 20 years of my life in the island of Cebu (Philippines), you would think I would be well aware of everything! But it had to take me living two years in Japan to discover how much I still have yet to learn about my hometown island.

The journey

On March 18th, 2022, I was invited by some climbers from the Cebu Rock Climbing Community to join them in Cantabaco, Toledo City, Cebu. The journey via private transportation from Cebu City to the crag 1 took about an hour and thirty minutes from Lahug. We managed to find parking on an empty property. After gathering our backpacks and belongings for the climb, we walked 8 minutes to the crag. We passed over a bamboo beam bridge held by suspension. Once we arrived at a cemented open structure, we had to make the deposit of 20 Php as an entrance fee.

We then walked through carabao grass, passed by knocked over giant bamboo (as a result of the recent Typhoon Odette), and hopped over a stream before finally making it to the crag. The limestone cliff had different shades of brown with lines that ran from the heavens to the earth and a bumpy surface filled with holes and caves perfect for the intermediate to advance climber. Based on my experience, I would recommend climbing at an indoor training facility to physically and mentally prepare yourself before attempting this outdoor venue. If you are a beginner to climbing, then it would help if you have an athletic background. For safety, it is advised to climb in groups with senior and seasoned climbers.

Cantabaco’s bolting project

The charm of Cantabaco is the long span of different climbing routes available in this crag. Over the years, a number of loyal patrons have supported the crag’s development by funding bolts 2 for climbers to easily attach their locker draws 3. There is a Guidebook to Rock Climbing in Cebu available with proceeds that go to the crag improvements across the entire Cebu island. The bolting project at Cantabaco began around from 2008 to pave way for 35 metre long pitches with seasonal developments that continue to this day (the Crag, n.d., Gian and Sheila 2012).

My experience

It is the first time in my adult life to climb outdoors, and I am happy it was done at Cantabaco’s quiet oasis surrounded by tropical rainforest, visiting butterflies and captivating echoes of birds from the neighbourhood. The sun caught the rocks around noontime and smoothly ran its rays down the limestone illuminating each bump, bend and point.

Around 4pm it lightly drizzled adding a light blanket of moisture to the crag but left the majority of the wall untouched. Due to the recent Typhoon Odette, it apparently swept away a lot of mud from the rocks across the wall which gave way for us to lay, sit and rest on the stones. Even put up a hammock!

My climb began with the easiest route known as Kalipay which is beside November Rain, followed by Jeepney then Hait. Once you experience climbing this crag, you will discover for yourself as to why they have gained these memorable names. Although I originally felt nervous, it wore off the moment my palms and fingertips traced the texture of the limestone. The action of stepping my left foot then right arm to reach, somehow reactivated my childhood climbing abilities. I managed to speed my way to the top (as seen in the image below on the top left) as if I were climbing a ladder.

My second route was on Jeepney which gave me a good challenge for with my arm’s reach especially at the beginning. My background with barbells really helped me to pull myself up. I executed some knee bars and ended up rolling into the wall at one point, but I never gave up to rest in my harness. I kept on climbing even when it began drizzling.

By the time I reached the midsection, I sped my way through and maneauvered like Laura Croft in between the cracks of the wall – where I leaned my back against the wall and lengthened my legs out in front of me to catch a breath and drop my arms. There was such a scenic view of lush green as far as the eyes can see, and ranges of hills in the far distance.

As I continued my climb up, I noticed how deep the cracks ran until eventually my hand caught a good grip of what felt like a jeepney bar – similar to when you kapyot 4 at the back of the jeepney. The hand holds at the top of this route were much friendlier than at its bottom. A tough beginning with a smooth ending.

My final route was on Hait, which is located further up the crag. I feel like such a pip squeak making the huge effort at the beginning to reach up for the wall. I even needed the assist of holding onto the bolt 2, which you are not allowed or supposed to be doing for safety purposes. But when you climb, there is a lot of problem solving and strategy involved, somewhat like a tetris or chess game.

But again, once I made it to the midsection, I sped through due to the diverse hand hold and foot positions available. The appeal of climbing limestone rocks are the variety of options to do open or closed grip hand hold positions which makes it fun for any seasoned climber.

For this route I used a lot of flexbility gained from my yoga practise to help me perform splits by reaching my foot’s heel nearby my shoulder to pull myself up (seen in the Instagram video below). I observed how much more technique is involved for Hait and I warn you, the rocks are sharper on this one so I did takeaway some cuts on my hands and wrists in the end. But I enjoyed this climb the most for it challenged me the greatest, and the view at the top was well-worth it because we were closing in on a sunset and I could see white smoke in the distance from someone presumably cooking barbeque.

The peaceful serenity of Cantabaco’s nature and wildlife must continue to be preserved, so if you plan to visit, please be sure to take back all of your belongings including your litter with you. If you found this article helpful then be sure to give it a like or drop a comment if you have any questions!

Footnotes

  1. Crag is known in the climbing community as the base camp, or area the contains numerous climbing routes.
  2. Bolts in climbing are permanent anchors fixed into a hole drilled in the rock as a form of protection. Most bolts are either self-anchoring expansion bolts or fixed in place with liquid resin. Bolts are subject to corrosion and stress and the combination tends to cause stress corrosion cracking which is why they need to be replaced. In aggressive tropical climates, a bolt can fail in as little as 18 months, but in temperate climates, the bolt’s lifetime typically lasts 10 – 15 years.
  3. Locker draws consist of a short quickdraw runner, a.k.a. “dogbone”, with a locking carabiner on each end.
  4. Kapyot is to grasp the bar at the back of the jeepney and hang on for the duration of your journey. Please see reference image here.

References

Cebu Rock Climbing Community 2019, Cebu Rock Climbing Guidebook, Cebu Rock Climbing Community, Cebu, Philippines, viewed on 19 March 2022, <https://www.facebook.com/ceburockclimbingcommunity/posts/3101348776604521>.

Coffman, E 2012, Rock Climbing in Cantabaco, Toledo City, Cebu Rock Climbing, the Mountain Project, viewed on 19 March 2022, <https://www.mountainproject.com/area/107694021/cantabaco-toledo-city-cebu>.

Gian & Sheila 2012, Cantabaco: A Rock Climber’s Mecca in Cebu, Adrenaline Romance, Cebu, Philippines, viewed on 19 March 2022, <https://adrenalineromance.com/2012/12/21/cantabaco-rock-climbing-cebu/>.

Godino, J 2019, “Locker draw” – What is it, why carry it?, Alpines Savvy, Portland, Oregon, USA, viewed on 19 March 2022, <https://www.alpinesavvy.com/blog/locker-draw-what-is-it-why-carry-it>.

The Crag n.d., Cantabaco, the Crag, viewed on 19 March 2022, <https://www.thecrag.com/en/climbing/philippines/area/558640974>.