Saturday, January 19, 2013
Sagada via Banaue, part 2: First Glimpse of Sagada and Hike to Pongas Falls
View of Sagada From our Room
We left Manila for Sagada last December 27 at about 9:30 pm. We had several stops along the way but our first major stop was Banaue Rice Terraces at about 8:00 am of December 28. About 11:00 am, we reached Sagada.Frankly, I felt so lightheaded when we reached Sagada. I never thought I would be able to do anything after the long drive at night and almost without sleep. But thankfully, after lunch at Salt and Pepper Diner, and a very short break in our inn to take in the crisp mountain air and the surrounding beauty, I got awakened. I felt good enough to hike.
Some Sagada Houses Amidst Limestone Rocks
On our way to Pongas Falls trailhead, we passed through some eye-catching limestone rocks. The limestone outcrops really caught my eye that I wished we were also hiking there, but all I could do was zoom in my lens to its maximum 105 mm focal length.
Limestone Outcroppings in Sagada
One of the beautiful sights that greeted me in the Mountain Province is the presence of sunflowers almost everywhere. Some parts of our hike to Pongas falls were beautifully adorned by these wild sunflowers.
Sunflowers Everywhere @ Sagada
Our hike started with a briefing at an elementary school's basketball court. There were several groups ( peak season in Sagada when we were there), however, there were also several Sagada guides since they recommend that there should be 1 guide for every 5 persons. Probably, hiking to Pongas Falls can also be done without guide, however, it is not strongly encouraged. The reason for this, is that there is really no well marked trail that points to the destination. Though the trails I must say are well maintained, only that it could go anywhere because we had to pass through a small town and rice terraces.
Hanging Bridge We had To Cross
Terraces Minus the Rice
The majority of the trail we passed were well maintained, however, there were some parts where we had to walk uphill on muddy and slippery trail. There was also a section of the trail where we had to walk on very narrow stepping stones that protrude on the walls of the cliffs. I had not taken a picture of that section because at that time, I got a little bit scared thinking what if the stone breaks, then, I'd fall off the cliff. Thankfully, we all passed that section safely. Below is a picture of some parts of the trail where we had to walk on very narrow paved path and a slip would mean also falling down the cliff, this part is less scarier than those protruding narrow stepping stones.
Some Parts of the Trail to Pongas Falls
Frankly, I walked in the above path by submerging my right foot in the water ( you can see the running water below the stone path) while my left foot walked on that stone path, that way, I felt more secured. I could not count the many times I knelt, walked on my butt and crawled on that trail just so I could find my balance. Over-all though, it was a very fun hike, and beautiful in every direction as well. On seeing Pongas Falls from afar, my excitement intensified.
Pongas Falls from Afar
However, my excitement waned as we got closer. I thought we already were past that part of the trail where a misstep would mean a fall down the cliff. Though there were no more cliffs, but another challenge posed in front of me which was to scramble up the slippery rocks in the picture below.
Our Guide (above) waiting for us to scramble up that slippery rock
As I did not want to climb up that very slippery rock ( I just did not think I could), I chose to cross the river instead by hopping and crawling on some rocks. After crossing the river stream, I was a little bit disappointed to see only one waterfall, not the many waterfalls that I thought I saw from afar.
Pongas Falls, Up Close
I thought that was it, so I spent more time finding a better way to photograph the waterfall above. However, with my lens limitation ( I only have 24-105 mm lens), I found that I was too close to the waterfall, and if I moved farther, the huge rocks between me and waterfall got in the way. As I was finding a better and higher point to shoot this waterfall, I noticed all of a sudden that my family and group were no longer around. I wondered where the majority went. It finally dawned on me that what i thought to be the end of the hike is not yet "it". Without the guide to help me where to go, I struggled for quite some time finding my group in the midst of slippery rocks. Thankfully, I saw my older brother waving at me, guiding me to where the rest were.
As I moved closer to where my older brother was, and looking up, I saw the group above the rocks. Thankfully, my older brother guided me which steps to take climbing up, otherwise, it would take me too long a time to figure out how to go up there to join the group.
When I reached the middle tier of Pongas Falls, I was happy to see there were still two more trying to climb up as I get past the lower falls. However, as soon as I reached the middle terrace of the waterfall, my younger brother, my niece and nephew were already going down. Bummer! :(
My Niece and Younger Brother Going Down from the top of Pongas Falls
I asked my younger brother if he thinks I could make it to the top. He said I may probably, but it was getting late in the afternoon, so he advised me not to as it was very slippery. He had probably seen me how I crawled on some parts of the trail. I listened to my younger brother dear and settled with a picture of me on the middle terrace of Pongas Falls. :)
Me, at Pongas Falls (photo by my niece)
I am glad I listened to my younger brother not to continue further up since I actually was the last one to descend from the middle tier since I again had difficulty scrambling down the slippery rocks. At least, I reached the middle tier of Pongas Falls, haha!!
This was really a fun and enjoyable hike. Not that very long and not that very strenuous, but not devoid of challenge either. The challenge though added fun to the trek. I could imagine Pongas Falls a lot more beautiful during the rainy season (June- August) when the waterfall is at its full cascading power.
When we were shopping for some souvenir shirts later, we asked why we could not find Pongas Falls t-shirt. We were told that Pongas Falls is one of the recent finds in Sagada, thus they still had not printed out souvenir shirts of Pongas Falls. We were glad to know that we belong to the few who already had hiked this recent find. Though at the time we were there, Pongas Falls was not at its full cascading power, nevertheless, it was still a beautiful experience to be face to face with its beauty. How I wished we had enough time to linger longer at the waterfall ( and maybe, I would have reached the top as well ) and to take a plunge in its cold water. However, since we started our hike late in the afternoon already, just getting there was more than enough for me.
If given the chance to go back, I definitely would love to hike this trail again, and maybe to the other waterfalls in Sagada. Learning from the experience, I would love to:
1. Start the hike here earlier of the day next time ( if there will be, hehe) so we could enjoy the cold water cascades, and hopefully, get to the very top of the waterfall.
2. Bring a wider angle lens, some full length picture of Pongas Falls here were taken by my cell phone since the 24 mm focal length can't cover the entirety of the Falls and there is not much space to move farther away without being obstructed by rocks.
3. Don't spend so much time on the first waterfall that greeted me up close so that I will have more time on the three tier Pongas waterfalls, I really wish I realized it early enough so that I also could have reached the top without asking others to wait for me.