Earliest records of rock climbing in the Philippines can be traced to the 1980’s. Following its international roots, it began as a component of mountaineering, an incidental activity as mountaineers attempted more challenging climbs and terrains.
The University of the Philippines Mountaineers (UPM) is known as the pioneer of rock climbing in the country. The group developed a UPM Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC) based on Alan Blackshaw’s 1966 handbook, which eventually became their manual for ascending the Matutunggil rock at Anilao, Batangas.
As described in the UPM history, the group’s first rock climbing team used car engine parts and polyeurethane ropes as their makeshift gear. And along with other members of the Mountaineering Association of the Philippines (MAP, now defunct), they started establishing rock climbing routes at the municipality of Rodriguez, Rizal (formerly known as Montalban).
In the province of Cebu, spelunkers and mountaineers were also exploring the caves and cliffs of Barangay Cantabaco, Toledo City. Following the natural progression towards advanced forms of mountaineering, Cebu’s first generation of rock climbers were born, and established the first routes (all traditional style climbs) in Cantabaco. It was the early 90’s.
From mountains to walls
It was in 1993 when artificial climbing facilities were first setup in the Philippines.
In Metro Manila, members of UPM bolted hand-made foot holds and hand holds onto the surface of the 70-foot high university library. At around the same time, a group of mountaineers from the Habagat Outdoor Shop in Cebu City built a wall out of plywood sheets attached to the shop’s factory.
Being setup outdoors, however, made the use of both facilities dependent on good weather. And for the UP Main Library wall, no time was wasted by the university administration in closing the facility due to security and safety issues.
Not letting the momentum subside, the country’s first commercial wall climbing facility was opened one year after the UP Wall’s closure. Power Up Center for Climbing and Fitness was setup in Quezon City, just a stone’s throw away from the university.
The gym’s opening was a turning point in Philippine sport climbing history. Being indoors and in a more controlled environment, Power Up was able to make climbing accessible to the general public. Curious and eager Filipinos had a ready place to try climbing for the first time. For the more-familiar mountaineers, the variety of wall angles was a new playground to explore.
Climbing facilities mushroomed throughout the country to accommodate the growing community. And with the establishment of many gyms – in schools, malls, and commercial establishments – there came the need for a national group to oversee the sport’s development and keep safety standards in check.
The Sport Climbing Association of the Philippines, Inc. (SCAPI) was formed in September of 1998, linking climbing communities across the Philippine islands.
Competition climbing kicks in
It was the natural progression of having so many climbers around. Climbers were getting stronger and needed a venue to test their skills.
While individual gyms held competitions for their members, SCAPI organized national-scale events that let climbers from different regions meet and compete. The Philippine National Sport Climbing Circuit was then launched, and has since staged competitions in over ten provinces across the country.
The “Nationals” became an anticipated annual event. Climbers were exposed to more fellow climbers, spurring friendly competition. Concepts of seasonal work-outs and climbing-specific training techniques were researched and introduced.
With the growing popularity of extreme sports internationally (the first X Games in the United States was held 1996), media also easily caught on the climbing craze. This paved the way for sponsors to clamor for climbing events.
National competitions were held at prime locations such as the Glorietta Activity Center, Makati City and The Fort, Taguig City, where passers-by stopped and gathered to watch events unfold. To accommodate the growing number of competitors, SCAPI started organizing events for Open, Collegiate and Junior categories.
At the height of the National competition scene, there was an estimated three hundred active climbers. They joined regional legs and fun competitions, and vied for a place in the National Team.
Those who became part of the National Team went on to join international competitions such as the Singapore Rock On, UIAA-IFC World Cups, and the Asian X Games.
Return to the great outdoors
The hype of climbing could only last for so long. New sports and fitness regimens emerged, and climbers felt the weakening support from sponsors and media. There was less funding for climbing events, dampening the spirit of competitors.
But as the competition scene slowed down, Pinoys found a way to satisfy their climbing hunger.
2003 marked the birth of rock trips in the Philippines. Adapted from the Petzl concept of bringing together the world’s best climbers in a competition on natural rock, the local version gathered climbers from all over the country for a 3-5 day rock climbing marathon.
Climbfest 2003 was held at Dingle, Iloilo attended by 15-20 climbers from Manila and provinces of Bacolod, Cebu and of course, Iloilo. The pioneering event saw the establishment the country’s hardest lines (at that time) and an introduction of the sport to the locals.
Through the course of 3 days, climbers were also seen slacklining, doing yoga poses by candlelight, jamming, and not to be missed, feasting on shellfish and ice cold beer—a luxury that only Dingle offers, and is famous for.
The climbfest proved to be a success. Not only in the obvious pushing of grades in a non-competitive setting, but also in building climbers’ camaraderie and strengthening ties with the local community.
Climbers found a new reason to gather at least once a year, one that did not depend on large financial support from corporate sponsors or the government. All that one had to do was to go out there and climb.
From the success of Climbfest 2003, more rock trips were organized year-after-year in different outdoor spots around the country, each for the simple goal of bonding climbers across the islands as they try new lines, push each other on project routes, and party at night! And to raise some funds for bolting projects of course. Development of new areas continue to this day.