Known ubiquitously as Kuya Mackie throughout the Philippine climbing community, Carlos Makinano Jr. has his bolting routine down pat. He is, after all, responsible for developing nearly every major rock climbing area in the country since the year 2000.
As soon as we hit the tarmac in Davao International Airport, Kuya Mackie is on his phone coordinating with Davao-based rock climbing advocate and bolting apprentice, Chico Pace, regarding the rental of an FX-type taxi, which would shave hours off our journey to the Municipality of Quezon in Bukidnon.
Even if he hadn’t slept the night before to make our 4:35am flight, and even if more than half of the day would be gone by the time we arrived at the crag, Kuya Mackie wants to ensure that we can at least test and ‘hammer’ the last route he bolted two weeks prior. He owes it to the project’s sponsors and supporters to squeeze every ounce of daylight out of this second instalment in potentially decades-worth of development in Quezon.
All told, Makinano estimates a potential for over 400 sport climbing routes in Quezon, which is to say nothing of its surrounding towns with similar topographies. The highlight of the area is a massive 180 meter sheer vertical rock face called the Kiokong White Wall located in center of an established ecotourism park. Nearing the height of the RCBC Plaza Yuchengco Tower in Makati, the limestone behemoth is more than twice the stature of the highest established rock climb in the country located in Cantabaco, Cebu.
Kuya Mackie is aware of this project’s potential to bolster tourism in the landlocked Mindanaoan province. Once developed, the Quezon area could put Philippine climbing on the international map alongside the climbing Mecca of Krabi in Thailand and the picturesque Moonhill in Yangshuo, China.
On this bolting trip – the second for this year – we focus on the Meow Pao crag in San Jose, so dubbed after an inside joke involving cats and the meat-filled Chinese steamed buns known as ‘Siopao’.
Visible from the Davao-Bukidnon Highway, Meow Pao is the first in a cluster of 60+ meter limestone crags (about the height of the Quezon Memorial Shrine in QC Circle) jutting out from behind the plots of a sugar cane plantation. With the average rock climbing rope being only 60 meters long, crags of this magnitude are usually climbed one section at a time in what’s called a ‘multi-pitch’ climb. Each section, or ‘pitch,’ is just long enough to ensure that the climber can be lowered back to his starting point.
As if designed to spec, a natural ledge about 10 meters off the ground divides the Meow Pao crag into two vertical sections and spans about two thirds of its width, making it an ideal belay station for a two-pitch sport climb.
The beauty of this ledge is that climbers can easily traverse across it to get to the particular second pitch route that they want to climb. Climbing partners of different levels don’t have to commit to a single path to reach the top.
Over on the left side of Meow Pao towers a yet-inaccessible crispy white dihedral (two climbing surfaces that meet at a corner) followed by a three to four meter roof section that will force climbers to climb horizontally, upside-down like lizards clinging to a living room ceiling. Four or more mini stalactites align like inverted road cones and lead to the lip of the cantilever where columns of wild purple orchids grow.
Climbing is free. Bolting is not.
When you arrive at the jump off of any rock climbing approach in the Philippines, you may be charged P5 for the right to pass through private land, perhaps P10 to cross a wooden bridge, or at most, around P300 per group for a ‘guided tour’ through the mountain trail, as mandated by the local government. None of this goes to the people who plan, plot, and bolt the routes that you actually climb, or even to fund the bolting of future sport climbing areas.
Bolting in the Philippines is a labor of love. Those who want to develop new areas must shell out their own cash or collect donations from friends and interested parties (often both) to pay for the literal nuts and bolts that keep us safe on the rock. At times, the local government gets involved enough to put their area on the map for rock climbers, but the releasing of funds is arduous at best.
The cost of an average route in materials alone is about P3,000 to P5,000 depending on how many bolts are used, what kind, and where they are sourced from.
Multiply that by the potential 400 routes in Bukidnon to get an idea of the financial scope and challenge ahead. Even this figure includes neither the hundreds of labor hours that go into each excursion, nor the depreciation of climbing gear and tools required for the job, including the crucial 600 US-dollar impact drill, which will surely break down before the area is half developed.
Yet pioneers like Kuya Mackie are able to find a way to keep the ball rolling, one bolting trip at a time. By trip’s end, he has already lined up a list of private individuals and small local businesses to fund the next excursion.