Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sagada via Banaue, Part 3: Spelunking @ Sumaguing Cave

Sedimentary Rock Formation Inside Sumaguing Cave, Sagada, Philippines
Our second day in Sagada started with a promise of beautiful day. Lovely skies hugged the mountain, giving us hope that rain won't get in our way. Rain was not welcome for us on that day because caving would be cancelled due to the flooding inside the cave that the rain will cause.
Promise of a beautiful day, Early Morning in our 2nd day at Sagada
We went to Sagada during a high peak season for tourists, December 27- 30. I had no other choice since I am not often in the Philippines. Also, my vacations are dictated by school calendar. Our guide in Pongas Falls hiking told us to be ready by about 6:30 am the next day if we wanted to beat the crowd in Sumaguing Cave. As instructed, we woke up early enough, but sadly, the restaurants around the area were still not open. The plan of beating the huge crowd and starting the spelunking at about 6:30 am failed because we had our breakfast at about 7:00 am. After breakfast, we took a short hike to Lumiang Cave first, which is the first cave to get into for Cave Connection. 
Going down Lumiang Cave 
Since we did not do the Cave Connection, we just spent a short time to check the pile coffins by the entrance of Lumiang Burial Cave. I will write more about Lumiang Burial Cave in the later posts of this series. 
Before entering Sumaguing Cave, the guide briefed us to carry as light as possible, advising us to carry only a bottle water and a light camera. The guide at first talked me to leave my backpack behind, but I assured him that my backpack contains only bottle water and my camera, and that, I need my backpack to free my hands so that I could walk on fours if needed. Inside the cave later, I understood the concern of the guides as I had to yield to their plea of giving my backpack to one of them since I feared my backpack with my camera would swim in one of the cave pools. :(
Cave Walk: 2 feet, 2 hands and butt, haha!, to avoid slipping down to the pool below
( photo by my brother, ian )
After the briefing, we started our downhill trek via paved staircase to the cave entrance. After a while of walking downhill in the midst of pine trees, the tree line disappeared to give way to the cave entrance.
by the Cave Entrance
From here, our guides prepared their petromax ( or kerosene lamps ) to help lighten our path inside Sumaguing Cave. At that point, I felt my inadequacy and unpreparedness, knowing that I had to be close to the guide most of the time since I had forgotten to bring my headlamp for the activity. As soon as we descended inside the cave, the cold feeling started to creep in. It was dark! Very dark! Outside the halo of the petromax, I saw only darkness. 
Start of Descent Inside the Cave
Thankfully, there were several groups going down the cave, so the combined petromax helped brighten our path. The concrete staircase disappeared to give way to very slippery rocks, coated with mixture of slimy bat's poo, slippery mud and water.
Our Descent Inside the Cave ( had to use both my hands for balance ), photo by my brother ian
For me, this was the part of our Sumaguing Cave exploration that was the most challenging since the rocks were so slippery. We had to watch our every step to avoid slipping and hitting the rocks. After a while of descending, we heard the loud cries of the bats, but it was too dark we could not see them. I wanted to wander my eyes around to look for the bats hanging on the cave's ceiling, but then, I was also scared to wander my eyes off my feet lest I would slide down, or worse, fall.
Cave Explorers Going Down on Very Slippery Rocks
If you look at the picture above, you could see how easy it was to fall if one wasn't paying attention to his steps. Some parts of the cave are really steep, almost a vertical down on slippery rocks. Thankfully, the guides were very helpful in giving us directions how to manage the more challenging parts of the descent. The first notable rock formation that the guide pointed to us were the elephants. However, it was too dark for me to even notice where the elephant formation was from the hanging stalactites above us. 
Can You See the Trunk of the Elephant Here?
What did not help also was my camera's lens, the focal length is 24-105 mm, not wide angle enough to capture the rock formations in front of me. I tried to move further away from the rock formation so I can capture the formation wider, however, there were just too many people blocking the way. Also, as soon as I moved away, the guide also moved away which meant the hanging stalactites were already in darkness. :( I do not blame my guide though because of the pressure from the influx of crowd that we just had to keep moving so we do not cause traffic. 
Start of Exploring on Bare Feet
After the elephant formation, we just took a few steps forward and we were told that we were already in the part where we had to take off our shoes. :( I am not very comfortable walking on bare feet, but knowing that it is in this part where we would see more interesting rock formations, I just happily complied. :) My desire to see and experience the beautiful rock formations inside Sumaguing Cave was much stronger than my resistance to walk on bare feet. Thankfully, the sedimentary rocks in this part were no longer rough and torturous, instead, the rock was smooth, and yes, soothing! :) Maybe, like a rocky foot spa? :)
The exploration here also became "watery". The cold water actually helped in soothing muscles of tired feet from the torturous first part of descent.
Crabs In The Pool ( thanks to my brother for pointing this to me )
It was in the watery part where I had to yield to the guides who had been asking me to give my backpack to them on probably seeing my difficulty navigating the cave with my backpack. Even though I may look awkward to them with a backpack, but my backpack was not really a hassle to me. However, I finally caved in and gave them my backpack at the watery part because at that part, I trusted the guides better than myself in protecting my camera from being submerged in the water.
Cold Water Pools Everywhere inside Sumaguing Cave
After a while of challenging descent on this smooth sedimentary rocks, where we walked on five ( 2 hands, 2 feet and a butt, haha!), used ropes and/or human ladder, tread on knee-deep water, the awe and wonder multiplied gazillion times on seeing the many awe-inspiring stalagmites and rock formations.
 Roping inside the Cave ( picture of me by my brother, steve )
I was just too excited to take pictures when I got to that part, only to realize that I did not have my backpack with my camera. :( Thankfully, finding the guide who had my backpack did not take forever. Imagine my excitement being reunited with my backpack, or actually, reunited with my camera. :) Though I wished I brought a wider angle lens with me and not the 24-105 mm, but I did not let my lens limitation spoil our happy adventure. I happily clicked again after I got my backpack back. 
Mini Waterfall Inside Sumaguing Cave
Over-all, this was a very fun and so far, probably my most adventurous exploration. Most adventurous caving since unlike the caves I've been to in US, there were no formal paths nor developed trails here for cave exploring. I love it that way since it added more thrill to the adventure. This was also the most beautiful cave I've been so far. Though the spelunking was not that long and strenuous compared to my other hikes, but it was filled with a lot of challenge. Challenges that made me feel good and more confident after conquering them. 
King's Curtain
I'd like to point out I opted for shorter exploring after the King's Curtain ( I skipped the last part where we had to go under tunnel and explore in chest deep water) because I did not waterproof my camera. Being the weakest link in my family, I knew they probably would chose the more adventurous part. However, probably I left them with no choice after I voiced out my choice. When we got out of the cave, my younger brother and sister-in-law were so inspired they were planning to go back here next time and do the more challenging and extreme adventure: "Cave Connection".
@ the lowest room we could get into ( or near the end of cave's exploration )
 End of Cave's Exploration 
What was I thankful about that I had in this trip?
Dinosaur's Teeth?
Exploring the cave with my FAMILY, though I wish hubby was with us. Nature exploring becomes more fun and more beautiful if done with your family. I really wish I had longer time there to do more bonding activities and exploring with them. Haha, before my trip to the Philippines, I must admit I was worried if my nieces and nephew can do the spelunking. After the trip, I found out, I was the "weakest link!" They were so tough and so good on rapelling and roping! They also did a lot better than me navigating those very slippery rocks in darkness.
At the King's curtain with My Niece, Younger Brother, younger brother's wife and me 
( my nephew and older brother not in this picture)
If given the chance to re-do Sumaguing Cave again ( or the more adventurous Cave Connection ), learning from our experience, the following are the things I would do to make the trip more enjoyable:
1. Bring a wider angle lens, haha! For Banaue and Sagada, I felt sorry I only have 24-105 mm lens. However, when I got to Bacolod ( my hometown), where I had the chance of photographing wildlife ( bats and butterflies), I was not sorry at all I didn't have with me my 11 mm lens. I was thankful I had my 24-105 mm lens. The 105 mm lens allowed me to zoom a little bit closer to bats! More about them in my later posts.
2. Waterproof my camera to allow me to swim in chest deep water.
3. Find a waterproof backpack for this kind of exploring.
4. Use headlamp so I can be more independent from the guides. Of course, I will not venture really farther away from them, but I would have more freedom to take pictures because I would have my own light. My limitations in taking pictures here was that, when I was ready to take pictures, I no longer had the light. :(
4. Avoid peak season. Pick a time where there are not a lot of people exploring the cave. This is really a very beautiful cave, just that we were not able to fully enjoy its awe and wonder because of too many people in the cave.
If you have some time, you may want to check my earlier posts about Sagada via Banaue below:
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Digg Delicious Reddit Technorati Mixx Linkedin


  1. I have never explored a cave before! Your tips may come in useful for me next time : )

  2. What an extraordinary cave, and it looked so very beautiful but dangerous!

    Thanks Betchai for sharing this experience and show something else that I would never be able to do..

  3. Caves scare me, LOL! You are very brave, but you had alot of people with you, should anything bad happen.

  4. That was an amazing trip, Betchai. I wonder how it feels to be dipping into that cave streams. It must be very refreshing!

  5. hi there wonderwoman...taking a break from the toxicity of work here and your Sagada adventure was just perfect to keep my mind joyful....I could almost feel the slippery rocks hahahaha gee you would have had a hard time baby sitting me had I been with you afraid of falling hahaha...that promising morning shot is so beautiful and the cave looks so interesting and worth the travel! love yah! one sweet day I hope we truly could explore together :)

  6. Kakaingit ang cave experience nyo. Talagang kinareer nyo. Hope na next time your here, punta ka uli dyan with me kasama na. Type ko rin ang ganitong exploration.

  7. Going inside the cave is fun, I have been to two different places it was memorable! Love all your photos.

  8. Wow! Wow! As in super wow! I love your caving photos! I love spelunking myself and that cave you got into is just amazing! Thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures!

  9. Whoa. I have this fear with caves..
    I had goosebumps while looking at the photos.

  10. Ate Beth, Have heard about Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico? I have been there once and the rock formation is pretty awesome! I thought you might want to visit it yourself :)But it is equally amazing we have a comparable formation in Sagada!I wish I have DSLR so I can take photos as superb as that.

  11. Wow!!!!! I feel ashamed of myself when I realize that I should be exploring my own country more than wanting to go visit other places! Please post a blog on your expenses going to sagada. Hopefully this is something I can do with my family next year. :)

  12. It sounds like quite the adventure. I have never been cave exploring but have always wanted to go.

  13. These are very wonderful photos. It is almost like being there to witness what you described.

  14. amazing pictures of the cave Sis :-) I do not know if I will go down and explore the cave :-( that freaks me out thinking about "what if" the cave will collapse...argh the panicky side of me :-( looks like y'all had a blast :-)

  15. Such a sight to behold! Truly a beautiful work of nature through our Creator. I haven't been to Sagada yet but this is a place to note of.

  16. Wow! This is so wonderful shots. This is really dream place. Oh! If I been there?

  17. Awesome pics of the cave! Unfortunately, spelunking isn't for me. Being underground with no immediate exit in sight makes me uneasy.

  18. This must have been such an amazing experience! I have never been inside a cave, I have a bit of fear of closed spaces! Plus its so dark, kudos to you for undertaking it. The pictures transport us to a different world, dont those crabs bite?
    Have a wonderful day :)

  19. that is an interesting experience..
    I have yet to go inside this type of dark caves yet..

  20. I hope I can also go on a spelunking trip soon... it will be a first time for me! I do agree with you, traveling with the family is definitely fun, it's a meaningful way to bond and create happy memories - including the bloopers and all! ;-)

  21. This is what I call a real adventure.

  22. you got me on the very first picture followed by a lovely morning shot...all shots are stunning. never been to sagada but i hope someday i can see that beautiful place. thanks for sharing.