Trekking the caves and waterfalls of Hindang

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 26 Sept) – Ever since I embraced distance running as a hobby, I’ve been exploring, on foot, my hometown’s hinterlands, beautiful mountain landscapes and scenic spots that I’d never visited in my youth.

Trail running, I guess, is my favorite hobby these days. I just love the early morning sun enveloping my perspiring body, and the scent of fresh air and earth and grass as my feet and legs struggle through the rough uphill terrain.

A huge place indeed, just below the entrance of Hindang Cave. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
A huge place indeed, just below the entrance of Hindang Cave. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

My running buddies and I, in an informal group we aptly call the Iligan Trail Runners, have a few favorite trails that keep us coming back. One of them is Barangay Hindang, in the outskirts up there in the mountains, in the city’s boundary with the municipality of Lugait in Misamis Oriental.

Though I’ve heard of the place many, many years, even decades, ago, I was able to visit Hindang, for the first time, only last year. More trips followed.

My first visits to both the caves and the waterfalls were with runners. We ran starting at the highway in Barangay Kiwalan, all the way to the caves, some 17 kilometers away, up to 560 meters above sea level or so, before climbing down again past the peak of Mt. Pagangon for the cave. The three-tiered Hindang Falls is actually nearer, a little past 12k, not far from the main road.

I won’t tell you what happened in those treks to Hindang, because they were uneventful, what with seasoned marathoners and ultra runners with me (the weakest among us already ran at least a full 42k marathon, and one even placed second in a 250k ultra).

But I will share with you our recent visit, on September 11, when I was the slowest in a group of three. I was playing catch-up as both Don, a champion ultra trail runner from Davao, and triathlete Yanyan easily ran the uphill portions while I struggled for a fast walk. But they really couldn’t leave me far behind, because I was the one with the camera, hehe.

Beautiful rock formations inside Hindang Cave. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
Beautiful rock formations inside Hindang Cave. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

Nothing eventful, really, except that, instead of taking the habalhabal on our way back, we decided to run the same route, for a total of 35k roundtrip. With erratic phone signal in the mountains, this sent my wife calling my other running friends if they knew where I was.

Eleven days later, on September 22, I accompanied 20 or so friends in their 20s, mostly beginners, some even first-time trekkers.

As has been my habit when non-runners ask me to accompany them to our favorite mountain destinations, I’d tell them to drive up to where their cars can take them, and I’d run my way up to that point. Then I’ll join them for the trek.

Seasoned mountaineer Elijah, who has climbed most of the country’s highest peaks, joined me in the 14k walk-run, which turned out to be mostly walk, as it was now my time to be the faster guy as I waited for him several times, especially in the uphill portions. The rest drove to the center of Barangay Hindang, enduring the bumpy ride amidst big rocks on the road.

Still, we got to the barangay center way ahead, more than 30 minutes early, of those who took the van.

We started walking a little past 9 a.m. For the first kilometer or so, it was a boring walk on an almost flat dirt road under the heat of the mid-morning sun. And then the fun began as we hit the trail.

For me, that’s the best place to run or walk – narrow foot path in the mountains. Where you’re sure there’d be no motor vehicles passing by. Where you’re surrounded by nature, the grass, the tall trees, fruit trees of various kinds, and the chirping of the birds and the weird sounds of the insects hidden in the forest. And the occasional crystal clear springs.

For the uninitiated, the sudden 200-meter climb as we neared the peak was torture. It showed in everyone’s faces, sweat dripping all over our bodies. Beginners had to crawl on all fours at the steeper part of the climb.

At the peak is the rewarding view of Iligan’s mountains and Iligan Bay on the left. On the right we could see the mountains in the neighboring towns of Misamis Oriental. And then we were welcomed with freshly boiled camote by the family of our guide, Nicanor Cosi, who lives not far from the cave.

Climbing down the mountain from Hindang Cave during a rain is a challenge, with the muddy trail. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
Climbing down the mountain from Hindang Cave during a rain is a challenge, with the muddy trail. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

But nah, we’re not there yet. It was half a kilometer more of a downhill trek through sharp rocks, before finally approaching the huge entrance of the cave. But you can tell you’re near even before seeing the cave, because it already smells bat manure and urine.

At the entrance, the climb was already worth it. We took turns posing for pictures, the stalactites hanging from the cave’s dome in the background.

Just be careful on the trek down, because the rocks are slippery, made even more treacherous by the moist bat droppings. If you make one mistake, good luck to you, because it’s all sharp rocks going down.

Right past the initial descent is a huge open space, big enough to hold a concert, or gather a sizable congregation for a Sunday worship.

Then it’s a game of ducking here and there to avoid banging your head on the stalactites as you explore the various chambers. A flashlight or a headlamp surely helps, as it is total darkness inside. And please don’t open your mouth as you look up the hundreds of bats, now disturbed by human presence.

Sadly, the vandals have been to this place, as there are names and dates etched on the walls. They are all in one place though.

On our way back, we took our lunch outside the Cosi household. Then Manoy Nick asked for a few able bodied men to help get young coconuts. Buko, yes! For me, it’s better than Gatorade as an energy drink in our long runs.

Then strong rain came as we started opening the coconuts.

There was still drizzle when we started descending. With the trail now muddy, real fun began, as the beginners kept sliding, grabbing on to roots and grass.

The middle tier of Hindang Falls. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
The middle tier of Hindang Falls. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

Shelou was murmuring as she slowly climbed down “five-by-five” (both feet and hands on the ground, plus her butt sliding on the mud): “Lord, pasayloa ko Lord! Wa pa nako makita akong mga kaliwat. Gusto pa nako makita akong mga apo. Wa pa nako na-meet akong true love. Tabangi intawon ko!” (Forgive me, Lord! I still want to have children, grandchildren even. I haven’t even met my true love yet. Help me please!”)

My group deviated a little from the path we used going up, and we were delighted to see a mabolo tree with lots of fruits, some still hanging, some on the ground. We took a few, and ate it later. It is known in the western world as velvet apple, because it’s skin is a velvety fur, usually reddish-brown. The tree is also known as kamagong, it’s lumber called “iron wood” because it is very hard.

Not far from the mabolo was a lanzones tree. We ate some fruits from the ground, and were surprised they were very sweet. So maybe if some farmer would just take the effort to plant a lot of those trees, Iligan could produce a variety of its own sweet lanzones.

Before reaching the barangay center, Manoy Nick arranged for a farmer to get us marang fruit. They were picked ripe from the tree, and sweet as can be.

Then it was a 1.5-km drive back to the waterfalls. We didn’t bother going down the lower tier as we were all tired. It was a short 300-meter walk to the second level, but still a little challenge with the uphill trail. There to meet you is a waterfall maybe 30 feet high, and a natural lagoon the size of a basketball court below it.

The most challenging part is climbing your way to the third tier. It’s a short but steep path. Make sure you grasp the branches and roots firmly, lest you fall down the ravine and into the lagoon below.

At the upper tier of Hindang Falls. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera
At the upper tier of Hindang Falls. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

The upper tier is a much higher waterfall, maybe 60 feet or more, its waters rolling down the rocky wall of the mountain, finally falling into a small pond too shallow for swimming. But braving the water droplets, letting them fall on your head and shoulders, is fun.

It was already late when we walked out of Hindang Falls, maybe quarter to 5 p.m. And to consider that Elijah and I started walking and running from the highway at 5:30 a.m.

The trip back was, of course, easier this time, as we all boarded our vehicle going down the highway, unlike that trek with Don and Yanyan 11 days ago, when we ran all the way back in the heat of the early afternoon sun.

How difficult was that trek? Out of curiosity, I checked my friends’ Facebook posts the next day.

From Elijah: “Good night! Thanks Alaxan for the relief.” The veteran mountaineer that he was, apparently he isn’t used to the ways of the trail runner, as we walked and ran non-stop.

“Omg. I can’t move. My legs and abs hate me,” said Yvette.

“Why do I have to endure such tumultuous treks? Why do I need to expose myself to harsh conditions and push my body to its limit? Why am I being cruel to myself when I can just sit at the comfort of my home instead?” wrote Leia. “But all those thoughts instantly melt away at the sight of something new. Tucked away in the hinterlands of Hindang is a beautiful deep cave with large chambers,” she added. (Bobby Timonera / MindaNews)