Climbing paradise: Sea cliffs in the Philippines

You won’t need bolts - but you will need a boat to climb this just discovered deep-water solo spot.
Incredible overhangs
The islands offered incredible overhangs © Francisco Taranto Jr.
By Evan David

This climbing trip started in an unlikely place: Google. French climber Caroline Ciavaldini typed in a simple search, 'asia seacliff'.

What she found can only be described as deep-water solo paradise. On a tiny blog about sea kayaking, she saw pictures of El Nido, in the Philippines. A local climbing website in the country confirmed knowledge of the rock, but said no one had ever climbed there.

The mission was on.

A new wall
Claiming a new wall © Francisco Taranto Jr.

After finishing a trip in Japan, she and climbing partner James Pearson headed to the heat and crowds of Manila. Two days of travel on open air buses known as jeepneys and small planes (including a 200km bus ride that cost all of €3!) they arrived in the natural reserve of El Nido, where both water and electricity are kindly described as 'intermittently available'.

Based on a boat
The boats provided a 'base' © Francisco Taranto Jr.

Inspired by the kayak blog where they'd found the pictures, Ciavaldini and Pearson proposed that as mode of transportation for exploring the seeming thousands of tiny islands dotting coast.

Nevermind the fact that neither of them had been sea kayaking in their life. Loaded with gear for several days, they headed off in search of rock among places like Cadlao Island, Helicopter Island, Lagen, Miniloc, Matinloc, Turtle Island… each of them a green wilderness, where black, sharp, spiky rock fell directly into the deep sea all around. Says Caroline: "That wasn’t exactly what we were looking for - this black rock was too sharp!"

No crash pad needed
No crash pad needed © Francisco Taranto Jr.

However, with persistance, they found what they were looking for. Caroline continues: "We were looking for white rock, the point where the cliffs becomes overhanging, allowing you to fall without bouncing on anything. There was a lot of black, but every now and again there were amazing bands of white, overhanging smooth rock. We had found it! A new deep water soloing heaven!"

A first ascent
Every route was a first ascent © Francisco Taranto Jr.

Deep water soloing is considered by some to be the purest climbing there is. No rope, no harness, no aid, just you and the rock. The consequences? Falling into the deep water beneath. "From 10m, it's pretty safe," says Ciavaldini. "At 20m, you need to be very careful about how you fall!"

The View
Not a bad view © Francisco Taranto Jr.

Over two weeks, they visited most of the islands, sleeping on the beaches, cooking freshly caught fish, and climbing the best routes they could find. The biggest challenge? "Keeping sand out of our sleeping bags!" There were storms and tired muscles, but ultimately, success. They searched, they found, they climbed.

To see more about deep-water soloing the Philippines, check out the video here.

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