In search of ‘Gollum Falls’

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ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 24 Oct) – I haven’t read the three books of The Lord of the Rings. I got bored with the archaic language as I was starting out The Hobbit, the series’ prequel. But I saw the movies.

"Gollum Falls" was brought to public attention only in September 2015 by blogger Lakwatsero (aka Angel Juarez). It has no official name yet, villagers say. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
“Gollum Falls” was brought to public attention only in September 2015 by blogger
Lakwatsero (aka Angel Juarez).
It has no official name yet, villagers say.
MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

When fellow trekkers shared a picture of a beautiful waterfall somewhere in Iligan christened “Gollum Falls” by award-winning blogger Lakwatsero, my curiosity was piqued. Since last year, I have made it one of my missions in life to discover all the still hidden waterfalls of my hometown, The City of Waterfalls. Then there’s this someone from somewhere who got to visit a really beautiful spot right in my backyard even before I got there. AND the spot was just above Abaga Falls (also known as Dodiongan Falls), a place I’ve visited countless times. But the thought of going up there just didn’t cross my mind.

“I think I found my newest favorite place in Iligan,” said Lakwatsero in his Instagram. The more I read his posts, the more intrigued I became. I gotta be there. “Why we fondly called it as Gollum Falls? You’ll know why when you get there.” Ohlala!

It was the end of September, fiesta time around here, when fellow trekkers reposted that photograph by Lakwatsero, software engineer Angel Juarez in real life. I wanted to go right away, but I was ill at that time. The best I could do then was to exchange messages with Lakwatsero, and review my pictures of Abaga Falls to check if I could locate Gollum Falls in the picture. There was this small cascade atop Abaga Falls but nah, it couldn’t be what Lakwatsero was talking about.

This is the waterfall above "Gollum Falls." This, too, has no official name yet. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
This is the waterfall above “Gollum Falls.” This, too, has no official name yet.
MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

If not for my bout of flu, I and my running buddies could just have easily run all the way there. It’s only 16 kilometers from home – seven kilometers of running on paved roads, seven more of mountain roads, and two kilometers on the trail. Easy. Earlier in September, I ran with my buddies all the way to Hindang Cave, which is in a neighboring barangay but farther up the mountain, 17 kilometers away, and back.

Fast forward three weeks later, I still couldn’t run the distance, but I was able to do two 10k runs, although at a much slower pace. I felt I was strong enough for a mountain trek. Three friends responded to my call for a Gollum trek. On Wednesday, October 21, we drove early to Barangay Kabacsanan in the mountains, and asked around if someone could guide us to the falls, the one above Abaga Falls. Luckily, habalhabal driver Rio volunteered.

It was evident that Rio had been there a lot of times, as he showed us the way through trails, crossing shallow rivers and a hanging bridge, walking amid lanzones trees and beautiful early morning sun rays intensified by the Indonesian haze hovering all over Mindanao.

To our surprise, he said there are actually two waterfalls there before the final drop that is Abaga Falls. Whoa! Lakwatsero didn’t mention that.

It was a boring walk of almost two kilometers, until we got close enough to the waterfalls and the landscape changed drastically. Suddenly, in front of us were big sharp rocks that could have been underwater, in the sea, millions of years ago. As we moved some more – ever so slowly, now on all fours aided by our butt, careful not to slide down the ravine and into the river below – a canyon welcomed us, the diffused sunlight reflected off the limestone walls making the scenery ethereal.

Dotdot (left) and Boknoy struggle to get to "Gollum Falls." MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
Dotdot (left) and Boknoy struggle to get to “Gollum Falls.” MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

“Are we still in the Philippines?” I teased Boknoy, Dotdot and Dagul. “Or have we been teleported to Colorado?”

We were atop the first waterfall but it was not easy going down, as we had to descend towards a small gorge, then climb up the wall like a lizard, and down again. The total height of the first waterfall is maybe 25 to 30 feet.

At the bottom was a small pool about the size of a badminton court, but deep enough to dive into and swim. Dagul and Rio took turns diving and swimming in the pool, which was shaded by the canopy of trees above. Enticing, but I didn’t want to get wet yet, to keep my hands dry so I could take pictures.

I spent some time sitting by the edge of that pool, the upper part of Lakwatsero’s Gollum Falls, enjoying the scenery of the slightly bigger pool below, and the mountain and the forest beyond it.

I wondered how we could get down to be in front of Gollum Falls, as I could see no way at all other than to jump or rappel down the falls.

Rio of course knew the way, albeit a longer way. We had to scale up a mountain, and do some more wall climbing, clinging on to roots and branches and some protruding edges of rocks. Gollum Falls is not for the faint of heart.

“Gollum Falls” is not for the faint of heart, as Dagul finds as he hangs onto rocks. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
“Gollum Falls” is not for the faint of heart, as Dagul finds out as he hangs on to rocks. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

But that wasn’t the hardest part yet.

The final approach to the falls was just a crack in the earth, maybe two meters at its widest. It was a vertical drop, as in 90 degrees, of at least 10 meters. But thanks to Lakwatsero’s earlier advice that it was not safe to scale down this part without some sort of support, we came prepared. I brought a 10-meter trekking rope. Maybe I’ve been trekking longer than the newbies who joined me, because it wasn’t that difficult for me anymore. But Boknoy, Dotdot and Dagul were struggling on their way down.

The 30-foot Gollum Falls gushing down a wall of limestone and some sprouts of green isn’t as spectacular as Abaga Falls downstream, which is much higher maybe at 70 feet cascading down a formidable rock formation. But the pool at the foot of Gollum Falls was something else.

This time around, I jumped into this pool, enjoying its cool water and the scenery. The outer edge of the pool is like an infinity pool, except that your horizon isn’t an empty sea, but the lush green of the mountains.

While it’s dangerous to stay at the edge of the pool, which continues down as Abaga Falls, fortunately there’s a natural barrier underwater to remind us not to stray too far out.

The hardest part is this final approach to the falls, passing through a crack in the earth. Boknoy hangs on to a big root as Dagul grabs the rope. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
The hardest part is this final approach to the falls, passing through a crack in the earth. Boknoy hangs on to a big
root as Dagul grabs the rope in this vertical passageway. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

Gollum, in book two of The Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers), stumbled upon The Forbidden Pool as he was searching for fish. The pool is a secret hiding place of the rangers of Ithilien, who declared that anyone trespassing would be punished by death. A waterfall conceals one of its two entrances.

Our own version of The Forbidden Pool at the foot of our Gollum Falls is just as hidden and hard to reach. It could not be seen by people down at the foot of Abaga Falls in Dodiongan, and could only be accessed through that narrow crack in the earth and the death defying vertical passages. A hiding place, indeed! Suddenly, compared to Gollum Falls, Tinago Falls just isn’t as hidden anymore.

When I asked Rio about the names of the two waterfalls, he said: “They don’t have names yet. Maybe because they’re too close to Abaga Falls, or maybe just because a few people know these waterfalls exist.”

If I had my way, I would keep Lakwatsero’s “Gollum Falls”. And the other falls upstream, maybe we can call it “Frodo Falls”? (Bobby Timonera / MindaNews)

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