The soft sound of garlic butter sizzling over hot pan buzzed over the campsite. The cool crisp air carries with it an aroma that effortlessly wakes one up, helping forget about the searing pain that creeps from fingertips to the brain. Slipping on sandals while taking in the view from the tent is an inspiring way to start the morning. The “Gardenia Boulder” sits on the opposite side of the river that reflects the clear sky and the faint white chalk marks on “Wake me Up Cali”, evident of yesterday’s burl session.
Bouldering in Manalmon is always an unwinding experience. Go there to camp, enjoy nature’s rewards, spend seemingly endless, useless quality banter with friends, and of course...hours of bouldering.
Bouldering in Manalmon started in the later months of 2001 or perhaps the early months of 2002. Prior to becoming a bouldering area, Manalmon has already gained repute for the pristine simplicity of its landscape. A clear river runs along the banks of the campsite and a canopy of giant bamboo trees lines the trail that leads up to the summit that is equally appealing, attracting hikers to meander its trails.
The full effort though in the development of the area into one of today’s prime local bouldering destinations can’t be attributed to the single endeavor of the discovery. Dennis Diaz, together with Anthony Prieto, after returning from their journey in Koh Tao, Thailand, decided there needed to be a place Filipinos could call their very own stomping grounds. And so after sending news of the discovery and together with a huge group of eager Pinoy climbers, they hauled bags, camp gear and local prototype versions of crashpads and rushed off to Manalmon for a new climbing experience.
Type of Rock
Since most of the boulders stay close to the river, it is quite apparent that majority of the problems would present smooth features. Occasionally you can chance upon problems with crimps and slopers. On the upper sections of the banks the boulders become more grainy. Such is “Jamaican Coffee” and “Manalmoner.” The character of the boulders changes abruptly. Unlike some other bouldering areas where there is a strong constant feel on every boulder, Manalmon presents a varying array of rock each with a different texture.
By private vehicle
Take the northbound EDSA highway and then veer right to enter NLEX (North Luzon Express Way). Exit at Sta. Rita (exit 32A/32B) and then keep going straight along AH25 until San Miguel, Bulacan (about 40 km). There is a right turn at Barangay Camias marked by the Total Gas Station on the left side of the road and a local tricycle terminal on the right.
The road will then wind up to Barangay Sibul (9+ km). Take a left turn for the Sibul Springs Resort, which by looks seems old and abandoned, and at the end of the down sloping road, turn right and head up to Sitio Madlum (3 km). The dirt road branches off several times but keep going straight until the huge enough marker announcing the way to Madlum Caves. The rocky down sloping road will take you to a small parking area close to the river. From here it’s a 30-40 minute hike to the farthest bouldering area.
By public transport
A number of bus stations in Cubao, Quezon City or Pasay City have trips going to Cabanatuan. Take any of these buses and go down Barangay Camias, San Miguel, Bulacan. Make sure you tell the driver you’re going down Barangay Camias lest it speeds past towards Cabanatuan as not too many commuters go down this locale. From there take a tricycle from the nearby terminal and ferry off to Sitio Madlum. To go back, make sure to contract the tricycle to fetch you on the desired date and time.
From the parking lot the best route to take would be to cross the river on foot. After wading through the water come up to the opposite bank and then register with the Madlum guides. There is a log book where you need to sign in your names. Hike up the concrete steps to take you to the hidden opening of the Madlum Cave. The short direct cavern will open up to a bigger area and the first bouldering area.
To get to the next bouldering area requires another 30-40 minutes of hiking. Cross the river at the far bend of the first area and then just follow the obvious trail running along side the river.
Permits / Fees / Registration
As of the moment there is a standing guide fee of PhP 500.00 for a group of 10 or less or PhP 50.00 per head. Unless you are familiar with the local guides, you will be obliged to abide by the fees as set by the DOT (Department of Tourism). If you happen to be with the more familiar face of Philippine local climbing who frequent and developed the area, you might be able to dodge the fees altogether. You can try to reason, however, that you’ll be staying by the river and not the summit of “Mt. Manalmon.” See if that would be reason enough for you not to pay the fee as the guides were really institutionalized to be there for hikes to the summit and tours in the caves, and not for bouldering guides.
Food & Shelter
Camping is the main way to go if you’re planning a bouldering trip to Manalmon. If you run out of food, however, there are mini “Sari-Sari” stores in Sitio Madlum that sell beer, softdrinks, bread, etc. You can also chance “Halo-Halo”, a local fruit-milk concoction over ice shavings, too during summer.
If you happen to have a car, coming and going to the area will not be problem and so you can also probably stay at nearby motels along the main highway.
Tips from the Locals