Too often, we see this scenario: a group of excited and enthusiastic people show up at the crag in Cantabaco to try out the sport of rock climbing for the first time. Usually, guides set up the two classic 5.8 routes—Vulva and Hait—for them to try out. Heaving, huffing, puffing, and screaming, the first-timers make their way up the routes. We usually have this impression that they are very happy with the experience. At last, we often think, we have added a few more members in Cebu’s climbing community.
Alas, this is not a perfect world, and that is not always the case. Several observations later, it turned out many of these first-timers and novices found climbing the easiest routes in Cantabaco a very difficult endeavor. After falling from the route, having too many takes (i.e., rest stops and hanging on the rope), and failing to reach the anchor, many become disappointed at their failure and simply give up, never to return to Cantabaco again.
What we need, therefore, is to find, establish, and develop an accessible sport climbing crag where the routes are easy enough so that most, if not everyone, can make it to the top. Raise an eyebrow for all we care, but psychologically, people get inspired to continue to do something if they have a positive first experience. In rock climbing, first-timers are more likely to pursue the sport if they successfully finished the route and reached the anchor during their first few climbs.
We found the perfect candidate cliff unexpectedly last May 10, 2014. And it gets better: the cliff is very accessible, very near the conveniences of modern civilization, and just a several minutes away from either Toledo or Lutopan.
Earlier during the week, Sweetie and I planned to climb our favorite routes in Cantabaco for the entire weekend. To make most of our time, we went to the crag early morning, around 7 AM, on May 10. As we got off from the habal-habal, we found local guides, fellow climbers, and friends Sir Enie and Sir Willard at the former’s store. After catching up on things, both guides invited us to join them for an exploratory trip to a cliff in the nearby barangay of Poog.
This was definitely unplanned! Excited for an unexpected new adventure, Sweetie and I readily abandoned our morning climb to go with them. After all, it was an opportunity for us to discover and promote a potential rock climbing site.
After fetching fellow climbers and friends Ascanio Combria and his partner Gretchen, we rode motorcycles to Poog, which is around 20 minutes from Lutopan.
Ascanio and Gretchen forgot something, so they had to go back to Cantabaco. While waiting for them, we took a cold and refreshing Coke break at one of the humble stores located at the Upper Poog-Toledo Highway junction.
After a couple of minutes, Ascanio and Gretchen arrived. We entered the cemented road that leads to Upper Poog and to the crag.
If you don’t have a private vehicle or motorcycle, don’t worry. There are plenty of habal-habal drivers who can take you to Upper Poog.
After 5 minutes, we rode on an unfinished, relatively rough road, which also meant that the crag was near. In fact, we saw its top jutting up the road. The pangs of excitement began to take a bite.
We disembarked from our motorcycles when we reached this nice house. That path beside the house led directly to the crag.
As responsible climbers and guests, we asked permission from the homeowners to climb their crag.
After taking a quick group shot, we hiked down the dirt trail towards the crag. It took only 5 minutes of hiking through a large coconut grove when the beautiful crag suddenly emerged right in front of us.
Wow! Just check out that gorgeous rock behind us! Don’t be fooled into thinking that the rock face in the photo isn’t large. That’s just forced perspective. That rock face is immense as you will soon see.
What’s more, there are lots of shady and flat grassy areas where you can pitch a tent or lay out a picnic mat.
The photo below shows the right side of the cliff. Gorgeous, isn’t it? Judging by its length, the entire cliff can probably accommodate 30 to 40 sport climbing routes.
Except for two bolted routes which we spotted when we entered the belay area, the cliff is not bolted. Ascanio and Enie silently surveyed the cliff for a possible route.
The presence of the bolted routes meant that this crag was an abandoned project. Hopefully, we can revive it.
A Little Bit of Caving
We noticed a dark opening at the cliff. When the children who accompanied us to the cliff told us that there is a cavern inside the crag, Willard, Gretchen, Sweetie, and I decided to explore the cave. Wow, this is a mini-adventure!
While we carefully made our way inside, the children told us that the folks in the community took refuge in the cave when Typhoon Yolanda struck. Also, by judging at the massive amount of graffiti scribbled on the walls, it is obvious that this cave is not just a bunker. It is a dwelling, a hangout, a lovers’ lane, or a secret venue for doing things that the public is not meant to know.
There were several nooks, crannies, and holes where we had to get on all fours or on our bellies to access. The act of crawling and wriggling like a worm added to the fun and excitement.
Suddenly, we remembered our first date, an adventure-filled caving experience in Campo Siete.
Despite the massive amount of vandalism, large sections of the cave still featured marvelous rock formations, flowstones, and stalagmites that are untouched. We hope that someday, we can give locals a lecture regarding the importance of preserving natural, delicate features such as these.
The cave’s main chamber has a ceiling that is so high that we can’t actually see the top. Human incursion must have driven the original inhabitants in this cave, probably some species of bats and birds.
On our way down, we stopped by a large opening in the cliff. We called this spot The Terrace, and it offered a nice view of farmlands and woodlands in the surrounding area. We could also see the gigantic Atlas Mining quarry in the distance.
Being several feet off the ground, the Terrace is a perfect vantage point for photographers who want to take good photos or videos of climbers in action without having to secure themselves around an anchor.
Below the Terrace, Ascanio and Enie set up some equipment in preparation for a climb.
Climbing the Crag
Willard had fun with some local kids who were curious as to what we’re doing here. Apparently, the presence of sweaty, ripped guys and pretty, sexy girls hauling ropes and wicked-looking equipment and climbing a high cliff is virtually unheard of here.
It was time to climb with Ascanio leading the way and with Enie as his belayer. Since the cliff is not bolted, we had to ascend it via trad climbing. Trad climbing is a rock climbing style in which a climber places cams, hexes, slings, and other gear that are needed to protect against falls. After the climb, all pieces of gear are removed.
Compare trad climbing to sport climbing (our style of climbing) in which all protection and anchor points are drilled and permanently installed on the route. Ascanio is the only one in our team with trad climbing experience and equipment, so he placed all the pros (protection) for the subsequent climbers.
While Ascanio climbed, the rest of the team took a relaxing break from caving at the belay area. Check out those cool, shy kids.
After several minutes, Ascanio finally reached an ideal point where he can place an anchor. That point is around 70 feet from the ground.
See that cavern way below Ascanio? The one with a patch of green? That’s The Terrace that we mentioned a while ago.
The super rock climbing team of Ascanio and Enie! Ascanio is a prolific and passionate Italian climber who has a lot of outdoor experience under his belt. He is into mountaineering, rock climbing, scuba diving, and more! A true blue adventurer indeed!
Enie, of course, is an experienced rock climbing guide in Cantabaco.
Then it was Sweetie’s turn to climb the route. Because it was our first time to do trad climbing, Ascanio advised us to climb the route top rope rather than leading it for safety reasons.
Go, Sweetie, go! Take a close look at the rock face in the photo below. You can see that there are lots of large handholds, footholds, and ledges, which makes climbing the route quite easy.
This is actually the kind of rock face that we are looking for, a rock face that is accessible, conducive, friendly, and relatively easy to ascend for first-timers and novice climbers.
That’s the belay area, which is rather small and narrow for a large crag and long crag. Also, there was an unpleasant and unmistakable waft of excrement in the air.
No worries though. When we get the go-signal from the property owners to develop the crag, we can ask and pay a few locals to clean the place and clear out the vegetation to expand the belay area.
Also, check out Sweetie; she’s got limestone dust all over her. The presence of limestone dust (product of natural erosion) means that this part of the cliff hasn’t been—or rarely—climbed before.
Then it was my turn to climb. The photo below shows just how high and large this cliff is. I’m miniscule compared to the size of that rock face.
We set up the route at the left side of the cliff. The right side is even more immense; the photo below shows just a tiny part of that side of the cliff. Also, check out the rock face. They’re full of holes, cracks, and slabs, which possibly make them easy and fun to climb.
A large, vegetation-covered crevice divides the two sides of the crag. Judging from its natural features, there may be a natural rock trail way inside the crevice so one can scramble all the way to the top of the cliff.
If I were to rate this route, which I feel is easier than the two easiest routes in Cantabaco, Hait and Vulva (both 5.8 in the YDS scale), it would be around 5.7. Thus, first-timers and novices who feel that climbing Hait and Vulva is still quite a challenge, then this crag is for them.
Hmmm…just blurting out the vain side of me: check out my back muscles! Hehehe! That’s the result of climbing.
After a few minutes, I reached the anchor and let out a whoop of triumph. In fact, I was beaming all the way down to the belay area.
Enie wanted a bit of a challenge so he lead climbed the route. Willard was his belayer.
Easy peasy for Enie! For hardcore, advanced rock climbers who prefer and are always on the hunt for the most challenging crags, you may find the Poog cliff a disappointment. However, you can always climb these rock faces to practice, build up endurance, or simply to have a break from all those tough crimpers, monos, pinches, and slopers.
Go, go, go, Enie! By the way, the two bolted, established routes are on the leftmost side of the crag. According to Sir Wendell Bagdhok, a professional Cebuano climber who was a member of the team that bolted the two routes, both routes are rated 5.11a. Hmmm…something that we want to chew on.
We couldn’t see the anchors of both routes from the belay station, so we did not risk climbing them. We need more information from the original team who bolted the routes.
Willard went inside the large crevice to check if there is a way to scramble up to the top without the use of ropes.
After everyone had their fill of climbing, Ascanio climbed up the route again to retrieve the protection gear. Again, he’s the only one who knows how to do this considering he’s the only one in the team who has trad climbing experiences.
We left the anchor in place for subsequent climbs.
On our way back to Cantabaco, we went to a nice vantage point in Media Once (a nearby barangay) where we saw a nice view of the Poog cliff. The cliff where we climbed is at the center right of the photo below.
As you can see, Toledo, Cebu has a huge potential in becoming a rock climbing destination in the Philippines.
We left Poog by noontime, had lunch on our way to Cantabaco, and worked on our Area 5 projects the entire afternoon.
Thank you so much, Enie, Willard, Ascanio, and Gretchen for inviting us to this exploration climb. At last, we found a crag that can truly inspire others to try out and enjoy the exciting sport of rock climbing. You have our full support in developing this crag. Let us begin!
Update: Poog Crag is now bolted for sport climbing. Check our entry on Poog Crag for details.
Support Our Project, The Poog Crag Development
Hi bloggers, readers, followers, and friends! As part of our effort to make Cebu a world-class rock climbing destination, we are planning to bolt the Poog cliff for sport climbing. However, bolting rock climbing routes is quite a complicated matter in this part of the world, particularly because 1) it is expensive and 2) there are no suppliers of hangers and bolts here.
Help us promote sports tourism in Toledo as well as the sport of rock climbing. If you would like to help us in this endeavor, you can donate expansion bolts and hangers. 10 such bolts and hangers and 2 rappel hangers are needed to establish a single route. And as far as we know, the cliff can accommodate around 40 routes.
Check this link for information about climbing hangers and bolts. Photos of bolts, hangers, and rappel hangers (anchors at the top of the route) can be seen at the right side of the page.
In return for your generosity, we will name the bolted routes after you (or you can provide us any word, term, phrase, or name that you want).
Our coaches have specific parameters in mind. So please send us a message so we can give you the specs of what we need. Thank you.
Budget Per Person*
- P 40 – non-aircon bus fare Cebu South Bus Terminal to Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing
- P 10 – habal-habal fare from Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing to Upper Poog
- P 10 – habal-habal fare from Upper Poog to Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing
- P 40 – non-aircon bus fare from Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing to Cebu South Bus Terminal
- P 100 – v-hire fare from v-hire terminal (presently transferred to the South Road Properties at the back of Malacañan sa Cebu) to Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing. If you’re lucky, you can hail a V-hire coming from Toledo at the crossing. But most likely, V-hires passing by the crossing will be full. You need to ride a habal-habal or a bus that goes all the way to Toledo City. From Toledo, ride a v-hire that goes to the Citilink Terminal.
- Guide fee – please negotiate with the local guides
* We did not include our expenses for meals, snacks, tips, and other fees in this rate sheet as you may have different needs, preferences, itineraries, miscellaneous transportation, and sharing scheme from us. Note that all figures are subject to change without prior notice.
Update 2/27/2014: This crag is already bolted for sport climbing. Check out the updated blog post regarding Poog crag.
1. Poog Cliff is very accessible. Take a Toledo-bound bus at the Cebu City South Bus Terminal. Ask the conductor to drop you off at the Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing at the left side of the highway. Your landmark is a sari-sari store called Rosita’s Store. Disembark from the bus, and take a habal-habal to Upper Poog.
You can see the cliff when you reach the unfinished part of the road. Get off at the gray, concrete house by the road.
2. Alternatively, you can take a V-hire at the v-hire terminal (presently transferred to the South Road Properties at the back of Malacañan sa Cebu) rather than the bus. Once you get to the Poog crossing, follow the directions above.
3. Make sure you ask permission from the property custodian before climbing the cliff. The custodian resides in that grey, two-story concrete house beside the trail that leads to Poog cliff.
4. The Poog cliff is not yet developed for sport climbing save for two 5.11 bolted routes, which was installed by the original discoverers of the crag. Thus, for the moment, trad climbing is required to send the crag. Unfortunately, trad climbing is virtually non-existent here in Cebu.
If you really want to climb the crag, contact Cantabaco guide Enie Yonson (0948-7124875) so he can refer you to Ascanio Combria. In our circle of climber friends, only Ascanio has the experience and gear for trad climbing.
5. Ascanio is not a guide, but it is only prudent to give him some sort of honorarium for setting up the route for you. Negotiate the honorarium with Ascanio.
6. For trad climbers, bring a variety of cams and hexes. Also, you may want to bring several slings; the cliff has plenty of huecos (local guides call them through-and-throughs), holes that allow you to girth hitch a sling.
7. Bring your own rock climbing shoes, harness, and other equipment. If you don’t have them, you can rent equipment from the Cantabaco guides at affordable rates.
8. For your lunch and snacks, you can buy your food before heading to the cliff. There are a lot of stores and eateries nearby where you can buy your meals and drinks. It is quite exhausting if you have to go back down from the crag to buy lunch.
Or you can do it the way we did: we climbed the cliff in the morning then we returned to Cantabaco after lunch. We ate our lunch on the way to Cantabaco. You can eat your lunch at the carenderias at the Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing.
9. Unless you have a private vehicle, it is best to exit the crag early in the afternoon (around 3 PM) and head to the highway. This is especially true on Sundays. It will be difficult to catch a ride late in the afternoon because people from Toledo who are going back to the city to prepare for the work week will fill up buses and v-hires to the brim.
10. Together with the Cantabaco climbing team, we are making plans to develop the Poog cliff into a sport climbing crag. However, know that this may take quite some time as there are property issues, permits, negotiations, logistics, finance, and other aspects that need to be resolved and worked out before we can drill.
In the meantime, you can support this project by donating bolts, hangers, slings, and ropes. Please read the “Support Our Project, The Poog Crag Development” section above.
Just because the photos look cool and fun does not mean that you can take climbing lightly. Climbing is inherently DANGEROUS! Every time you climb, your life and the life of your partner hang in the balance. There are only three things that will happen in climbing: you succeed, you get seriously injured, or you die. Your safety depends on you and SOLELY on you! Thus before you go out there, it is vitally important that you get some basic training on climbing principles, techniques, and safety first.
Visit a local indoor climbing gym to practice for a few sessions before heading out to the big rock wall. You should also get training from professional guides. Although blogs (including ours), books, tutorial videos, and articles could be a good source of information, you should find a certified climbing instructor to properly coach you through the sport. We got our training from Cantabaco’s guides and climbing instructors, and even if then, we’re still learning. Let us be clear on one thing: we are NOT climbing instructors.