If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ve probably tried camping out in different places around the country. There’s always something peaceful about sleeping outdoors whether you’ve pitched a tent, hung up a hammock, or just decided to sleep out in the open by the beach, beside a lake, up in the mountains or in a forest campsite. But it’s going to be very hard to top sleeping under the stars on a two-meter wide cliff ledge 400 feet above the ground
For those who want to take their outdoor adventures to greater heights, the Vertical Bivouac extreme adventure in Bukidnon is one of the most bucketlist-worthy camping experiences you can try in the Philippines. Think of it as cliff-camping minus the tent!
The term bivouac refers to sleeping in the open with a bivouac sack or only your clothing on a small shelter located in the wild or mountains. Instead of the usual campsites on the ground, explorers scaling cliff walls who needed to rest would look for cliff walls, ledges, cracks, and rock depressions to make a temporary shelter.
I first heard about this extreme adventure being offered by Adventure Technology (AdTech) Outfitters in the province of Bukidnon last year from fellow travel bloggers Gian and Sheila of Adrenaline Romance, who were lucky enough to be in the pioneering batch in 2015 when the outdoor company was testing out their set-up and equipment before opening tours to the public.
I was so intrigued that I wrote a feature about the activity for MultiSport.ph based on an email interview with Mark Battung of AdTech, one of the pioneers behind the activity. We added each other as friends on Facebook and I kept seeing his photos as the year went by. The more photos I saw, the more I vowed that I would try it out myself before the year ended.
Because of the logistical difficulties and the size of their group (there are only 6 guides capable of facilitating the activity), advanced bookings are required. Interest has also been very high especially after they were featured in Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho’s Travel special (“Hamon ng Bukidnon“). They’ve had a steady stream of clients and have had to reject larger groups. AdTech actually doesn’t need any more publicity because anyone who has tried it is sure to spread the word and rave about how epic the adventure is to all their friends, whether or not they want to listen.
A week before my birthday, I noticed their schedule on Facebook stating there was one free slot in that weekend’s schedule. Apparently some clients backed out because of their concerns over martial law in Mindanao. Well, tough luck for them. I immediately booked a last-minute ticket via Traveloka to Davao and two days later woke up to the most amazing view on the cliff.
The sheer height of the Kiokong White Rock Wall is just astounding. I’m not afraid of heights but there’s really this thrill of being that high. But as beautiful as the scenery looks, it’s a tough climb. You don’t rappel going down. That would be too easy. You have to earn this view with patience, buckets of sweat and pure willpower. Getting to the ledge where you camp out for the night involves ascending by SRT (single-rope technique), where you have to carry your own weight, step up on footholds, and slowly inch your way up the 150-meter high cliff wall.
The higher you go, the more challenging it gets. You feel just how heavy the rope is as it dangles beneath you hundreds of feet below. But you aren’t helpless. You’re completely in control of your pace and progress as you climb your way to get to the top. There are two transition ledges (including a very narrow slope) just so you can take breaks and rest your legs because sitting in the harness for too long can lead to muscle cramps.
Unlike other extreme activities I’ve tried like tandem paragliding or skydiving where you’re strapped to a pilot and just enjoy the ride, you have a more active stake in this adventure. Activities like bungy jumping provide an exhilarating rush, but those are over in less than a minute! This lasts way longer. You start your climb at around 3 to 4 pm when the sun isn’t so hot and it will be night by the time you get to the top.
There are just so many thoughts that go through your head during the slow but steady climb that takes most guests 2-3 hrs. They’ve had one group that took 5 hrs to get up and arrived at the ledge by 1 am.
But while progress seems slow, the activity provides an adrenaline rush unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I’ve heard most guests who’ve tried this activity find it hard to get over even days after going home. The climb itself is more about mental fortitude than skill. It’s about endurance and just having the will to get to the top. But aside from that, there are moments of peace.
Just hanging on a rope from insane heights as day turns into night, that feeling of seeing your goal just within reach, the euphoria of reaching the top and finally being able to rest, waking up at midnight to the light of the moon directly shining on your face, the soft breeze sending a chill through the cliff campsite, and seeing the misty fog in the morning blanketing the landscape. You only get to appreciate how beautiful the place is when you wake up the next morning.
It’s the most unique and definitely the most extreme place I’ve camped out overnight. People are drawn to the activity for different reasons. I found out that many clients have stressful jobs (they get a lot of doctors) and want a change of environment from city life. Others just got suckered in by daredevil friends who want them to conquer their fear of heights. A few want to get over the loss or pain after a breakup. Many, like me, just want to celebrate another year around the sun doing something different that makes us feel alive while we still can.
But whatever your motivations are, this whole experience is a metaphor for life. Seeing how high the wall is, there’ll be times that you doubt whether you’ll be able to reach the top. But when you overcome all the obstacles, you’ll eventually wake up to a beautiful new day. It’s an amazing feeling that I will remember the rest of my life.
For those interested to try it out for themselves, here are a few tips I can share.
LOCATION & HOW TO GET THERE:
The site for the Vertical Bivouac activity can be found in the Kiokong Eco-Tourism Project area in the municipality of Quezon in the province of Bukidnon in the Philippines. The jump-off is accessible by land travel from Davao City (3-4 hours), Cagayan de Oro City (4-5 hours), and Cotabato Province (4-5 hours). Transportation will be shouldered by the clients going to Municipality of Maramag or Municipality of Quezon, Bukidnon. The jump-off point is along the Davao-Bukidnon National Highway.
WHAT TO WEAR:
- Appropriate sports attire, preferably dri-fit shirts in bright colors for visibility
- Shorts are ok but leggings are recommended to avoid rope burn
- High socks for added protection (my ankles got scraped from the footholds)
- Good trekking shoes
- Headware for wiping sweat
- It helps to have a small beltbag to keep trail food handy
- Bring a full water bottle with a carabiner strapped to you for the ascent
- You’ll be issued safety gear like a helmet, harness, gloves (very important) and the hardwear (like ascenders and descenders).
WHAT TO BRING:
- Even if it rains, the ledge provides a natural roof and you will remain dry during the night. The site is not cold at all. You do not need heavy jackets, sleeping bags or bonnets.
- It’s difficult to bring a lot of stuff up the ledge for an overnight stay, so pack very light. At times your bag will have to be hauled by the rope and will be dangling below you or the guides.
- Pre-cooked packed meals for dinner, breakfast and snacks (cooking is discouraged; you can buy food the morning before you climb)
- Enough drinking water (1L recommended)
- Cameras (action cameras or phones are much better for the ascent; it’s really hard to bring out an SLR when you’re dangling from such heights and need to use both of your hands to climb; you can use an SLR once you get to the cliff ledge though)
- Smartphone & powerbank (the signal for Smart, Globe & Sun is strong on the ledge)
- Extra garments for sleeping, arm sleeves
- Garbage bags for waterproofing and taking down your trash
- Courage and willpower
WHAT TO EAT:
- The only meals you have to take during the activity are dinner and breakfast the next day.
- We bought pre-cooked meals lunch from the market in Maramag for dinner (fried stuff like breaded pork chop or fried chicken is the best to avoid spoilage and is easy to eat).
- For breakfast, we had bread, instant noodles and coffee (the guides bring a kettle for heating water) for breakfast.
- You can also bring chips and other snacks if you want.
- Bringing and drinking liquor is strictly forbidden for everyone’s safety. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to be intoxicated when you’re that high up. This isn’t like camping on a mountain just so you can have a picnic outdoors. It’s a sheer cliff drop!
There is a bathroom at the jump-off point near the parking area for vehicles before you trek to the foot of the cliff and and ascend it. Use it before you start even if you don’t have to go. Once you’re on the ledge and you really have to do your business, there’s a small grassy area on on the left side of the wall away from the main sleeping area that gets exposed to rainwater, which has been designated as the restroom area.
ABOUT ADVENTURE TECHNOLOGY OUTFITTERS:
This is not really a commercial activity for business, but rather an extreme experiential outdoor activity pioneered by Adventure Technology Outfitters, a top supplier of safety equipment in the region. The people behind the group are triathletes, mountaineers, avid outdoorspeople and certified safety and rescue experts, so you know you’re in good hands.
While talking to Mark & Donna of Adtech, I found out they’ve been hiking, canyoneering, bikepacking, tree camping and doing all sorts of amazing outdoor adventures way before activities like these became popular because of social media They’re very passionate about the outdoors and are always challenging themselves to look for new adventures. This is just one of their many hobbies that they are sharing with a wider audience who can’t do it because of the lack of equipment and technical expertise.
While outdoor pursuits are the group’s hobby and passion, you have to understand that the people behind the activity also have day jobs and are very busy people. Donnie, one of our guides actually had to go back down after guiding us up during the night because he had to run a marathon in the morning. Mark asserts that while camping out on the cliff itself may be free, what you are paying for is the time, technical expertise, equipment rental and all the other logistical costs needed to conduct the activity.
- Local Fee: P7,500/person
- Foreigner Fee: $200/person
- A booking and reservation fee of P2,000 per guest is required with your balance upon arrival
- Minimum Number of Guests: 5 (4 pax will be allowed on some occasion with adjusted rate)
The tour outfitters like to keep the groups small because the set-up is very difficult and involves a lot of equipment and hardware. In order to proceed with this activity, they have to set up ropes the day before and take down everything the next day. The equipment needed for the activity weighs about 200 kgs, with 2-3 guests requiring 600 meters of rope.
- Climbing equipment and head lamp
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Sleeping pads
- Hauling bag for your belongings
- Camp stove
- Paper plates, utensil and cups
- Sanitary equipment
- Regulatory fee
- Park fee
- Guide fee
WHO SHOULD TRY IT:
This activity is ideal for anyone who loves extreme adventures such as rock climbing, mountaineering, rappelling, canyoneering, and more. I can not recommend this to people with a fear of heights or those who get vertigo easily. Due to the extreme nature of the activity, you should be reasonably fit to try out this adventure as it requires ascending by SRT and carrying your own weight. Please consult with your physician if you are fit enough to take on this activity. For safety, tour outfitters are putting an age limit to guests and allowing only those 15 years old (with parent’s consent) and above.
This is the only activity of its kind in the Philippines. If you think about all the costs involved, the fee is very reasonable. How much does a night’s stay in a 5-star hotel cost these days? I assure you this will be way more memorable than any hotel you’ve ever stayed in.
Check out this video.
Thank you to to everyone from Adventure Technology Outfitters, especially Mark, Donna, Jboy & Donnie.
There are lots of exciting new developments in the pipeline for the Kiokong Eco-Tourism Project in Quezon, Bukidnon. Right now, aside from Vertical Bivouac, you can also go rock climbing on a bolted wall nearby, try rappelling off the Pulangi Bridge, and visit the Blue Water Cave pool all in the same vicinity.
ADDRESS & CONTACT INFO:
For inquiries and more details, contact Adventure Technology Outfitters on Facebook, call them at numbers: 0917-804-6009 (Globe), 0930-613-1999 (Smart), 0942-633-9642 (Sun) or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: Photos and drone video courtesy of Mark Battung & Vincent Chan used with permission.