Rock climbing is a challenging extreme sport. It’s a workout that involves using every muscle in your legs, arms and your mind to scale natural rock formations. Like a giant puzzle, you have to figure out how to climb to the top of a cliff while conserving your energy. While I enjoy figuring out how to get from point A to point B in platforming video games, there’s no reset button in real life if you fall. The good thing is that you’ll be wearing a harness attached to a rope, so you can start again where you left off. Think of it as a save point.
I’ve always liked climbing. I used to climb back in Naga City with friends when Kadlaggan set up a climbing wall in the city center. And before he got into the immersive world of mountain biking, Art was actually an avid climber. Over the years, we’ve tried climbing together in Wawa in Montalban, Sagada and Cliff Climbing in El Nido aside from occasional indoor climbs. But work, travel and other weekend hobbies have gotten in the way of climbs. Unfortunately, if you don’t climb regularly, your skill level goes back to zero.
When I saw the invitation from Adrenaline Romance to climb in Cebu, I signified my interest at once. Gian and Sheila, the rock climbers and mountaineers behind the top Cebu adventure blog were looking for bloggers to try out Poog, a newly developed rock climbing site. I’ve been following their blog for a while now and thought it would be a great way to reacquaint myself with the sport. Using RT tickets to Cebu won during PAL’s Christmas party, I booked my trip to coincide with the climb.
After Canyoneering in Kawasan Falls and hiking to Osmena Peak in South Cebu, I got back on a bus to meet up with Gian at the terminal to take another bus to Toledo, a town in Central Cebu. Since there was time to spare before the Sunday climb, they suggested I check out Cantabaco.
Cantabaco is one of the country’s premiere climbing destinations, considered the “Rock Climber’s Mecca in Cebu.” The beautiful streaked limestone cliff towers over a humble rural town, so different from the busy pace of Cebu City. Climbing is still a niche sport in the Philippines, but the crag draws in foreign climbers from all around the world. Getting to the cliff from the main road involves a short hike through a trail, bamboo bridges and nipa huts. The lower half of the wall remains shrouded in a jungle-like atmosphere, but there’s enough space for climbers to lay out a mat and their gear.
The cliff has five areas with an increasing level of difficulty as you move to the right. According to Adrenaline Romance, there are over 60 routes up the cliff which have been bolted, with the difficulty ranging from 5.8 to 5.14. Normally, climbers go straight to Area 1, but we detoured through some concrete stairs and a water tank and emerged at Area 5 where the rocks are so smooth that they barely look climbable. Where the heck are you supposed to hold on here?
I think the main reason I stopped climbing at the gym is that being in the presence of hardcore climbers makes me feel inadequate. Next to them, I sucked big time attempting to climb what was supposed to be the “easiest” route here. It felt like taking on a high level boss battle with zero preparation. I doubt that the climb counts because of my numerous rest stops just hanging on the harness. I eventually made it to the top somehow, with my energy totally sapped and ego badly bruised. I mentally vowed to build up arm strength and endurance and take this on again after I’ve leveled up a bit.
The next day, we met up with Sheila and other Cebu-based bloggers for the climb in Poog. The crag here, which is about 15 minutes away from Cantabaco, offers a more beginner-friendly experience for first-timers and novice climbers.
Poog is accessible, relatively easy to ascend, near modern conveniences and just minutes away from either Toledo or Lutopan. For those based in Cebu City, or foreign climbers heading to Cebu, the site is accessible by public transportation (bus or van). From the drop-off point of the habal-habal driver, you can reach the wall after a 5-minute hike through a dirt trail and coconut grove.
The white limestone crag immediately looked and felt friendlier than Cantabaco with all its huge gnarls. At present, there are 34 bolted routes with space for more and difficulty grades ranging from 5.8 to 5.11. The area has a large flat grassy area overlooking a mountain view where you can pitch a tent or lay out picnic mats. During summer months, the wall surface area remains completely in the shade, which means you can climb the whole day without any problem.
Gian and guide Enie set up the ropes while Sheila volunteered to hang on the side of one route to take photos.
Poog has lots of large handholds, footholds and ledges which makes climbing the route relatively easy. However, our group of mostly first-timers still found it pretty challenging. But this time around we actually had a fighting chance.
After a good night’s rest, I had more energy to climb. I also tried to follow Gian’s advice to rely on leg power and high steps rather than arm strength.
There’s a certain kind of high when you finally reach the top. It literally makes you feel like a Rock Star! I was told that it’s customary for first-timers to kiss the anchor, so I did. Since I clipped my smartphone with a carabiner to the harness, I took a few selfies from the top as well.
We all took one round in the morning, had a leisurely picnic lunch and then tried the other route. After getting past the crux (the most challenging part), the second route was relatively easier.
Overall, it was a weekend well spent in a beautiful place among nature and new friends. I just know I can do better next time if I put in the proper hours at the gym. But, I’ll be back for you, Cantabaco!
RATES AND CONTACT PERSON:
For guides or equipment to climb at Cantabaco or Poog, contact local climber Enie Yonson at 0948-7124875. The guide fee costs P400 per head inclusive of equipment rental. There’s a P5 entrance fee to the crag.
HOW TO GET TO POOG FROM CEBU CITY (taken from Adrenaline Romance):
Option 1: Bus
- 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 Uling-Toledo highway. Non-aircon bus fare costs P40 per person.
- Your landmark is a sari-sari store named Rosita’s Store.
- Disembark from the bus, and take a habal-habal to Upper Poog. Habal-habal fare from Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing to Upper Poog costs P10.
- You can see the cliff as you approach a blind corner. Get off at the gray, concrete house by the road and walk 5 minutes to reach the crag.
Option 2: Van/”V-hire”
- Take a v-hire from Citilink Terminal to Upper Poog-Toledo Highway crossing. Fare is P100. Once you get to the Poog crossing, follow the directions above.
- Going back to Cebu, 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 that goes to Lutopan and ride a v-hire that goes to the Citilink Terminal. Fare is P70.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT:
If you need to stay overnight or longer, you can check in to Ma’am Glenda’s B&B in Cantabaco. Fan rooms with shared bathrooms cost only P120/night. Contact number 0995-4629775. You should bring your own packed breakfast, lunch and other snacks and water from sari-sari stores and vendor’s stores along the road nearby for the climb.
For a good post-climb meal in Cebu City, there’s an eatery just across the South Bus Terminal called J. Viterbo’s BBQ that serves good and cheap barbecue and puso (Cebu’s iconic rice wrapped in woven coconut leaves).
The best part after every extreme activity is the food! Rock on!
The Poog Crag is located in Poog, Toledo City, Cebu, Philippines.