September 12, 2008
Sagada Cave Connection - Lumiang Cave to Sumaging Cave
Side Trip Magazine
As I was commissioned by UP Mountaineers to write for Side Trip Magazine about the Sagada cave connection, I availed the services of Egbert (SEGA member) to be my guide. For any of the cave system, it's mandatory to get a guide - it's only prudent to do so. The cave system is pitch black, extensive, with a myriad of passageways. It's very easy to get lost. Time allowing, you can also make arrangements for your guide to prepare a Sagada delicacy, the Pinikpikan Chicken. It makes for a satisfying lunch or dinner upon your return. SEGA members (Sagada Environmental Guides Association) make excellent Pinikpikan Chicken.
For most of the tourists visiting Sagada, one of the highlights is exploring Sumaging Cave, better known as the 'Big Cave'. However, for those who want more adrenalin, there's a lesser known offering - the cave connection. This is a 3-hour spelunking from Lumiang Cave to Sumaging Cave.
According to Egbert, Lumiang Cave was first explored by Italian spelunkers back in 1985 when they mapped the Sagada cave system - Crystal Cave, Echo Valley, Lumiang and Sumaging Caves. However, it wasn't until 1992 when the first local took upon himself to explore Lumiang using the Italians' mapping. In 1997, the first commercial offering for the cave connection became available. Still, this package is reserved for the more daring. For most of the passing tourists, it has always been Sumaging Cave.
Egbert provided a helmet and brought a Petromax for lighting. From Poblacion, it's a 20-minute walk on concrete road to the trailhead for Lumiang Cave. From there, you go down a single-track to the mouth of the cave, about 8-mins walk. From that vantage point, you see the coffins of Lumiang. Unlike the hanging coffins to which Sagada is famous for, Lumiang has piled coffins (not hanging). The coffins are piled one on top of the other until it reaches the ceiling of the cave opening. It is said some coffins date back 500 years. Unfortunately, vandals and thieves have desecrated the coffins over the years.
Going Down Under
There is a huge opening on the cave, but the actual entrance is deceptively small and narrow - just enough to snugly fit 1 person. The passage takes you down through tight rock formations before it opens up. Moisture is always present on the rocks. It's slippery. It's best to secure footing before proceeding. Most of the time, I was on 5-wheel drive - all fours plus my butt.
Vertical Climb Downs
The scariest sections are the vertical climb-downs with no ropes! We descended a few of them, usually a drop of about 10 feet, where you jam your arms and legs on the narrow rock walls as you inch yourself down. This is the only way to get traction. A slip is catastrophic - there is no soft landing; just rocks.
A Little Help from the Guides
With my little background in rock climbing, I managed to do that, but I wondered how someone with no such background would fare. What happens then? The guide replied that they usually get a sense up to what extent their guest can handle. They let them reach that point before they offer assistance. That way, he said, the guests get a profound sense of accomplishment if he/she surmounts the obstacle with no help. But I asked, "what if they can't? What help do you offer?". He replied that they go as far as offering their shoulders as a human step-stool.
On 3 sections, there were built-in ropes with knots conveniently spaced. On those walls with practically no holds, it would take an expert-class climber to negotiate them without the ropes. Thank God for the ropes.
We also came upon several water sources - small falls, shallow dipping pools, deep pools (about 9 feet), rock wall run-offs, etc. It's ok to take a dip, but note, the water is cold! Bring a small towel to dry yourself. If you stay wet and cold inside the cave, you might shiver. You can try to keep dry, but inevitably, you get wet.
Upon reaching an area that opened up to a glorious cathedral-like expanse, I was told that we've reached the half-way point between Lumiang and Sumaging. It would take another hour until we reach the opening of Sumaging Cave.
Sumaging Cave has long been explored by the locals since the early days. It has even been used as refuge from the Japanese during World War II. To date, it's the most frequented tourist attraction in Sagada.
You'll be treated to awesome rock formations, huge expanses and boulder climbing. Water sources are equally as plentiful. Although it belongs to the same cave system, Sumaging offers a different flavor from Lumiang.
Sumaging is home to thousands of bats. Closer to the cave opening, we came upon the already familiar bat-dung section that draped the rocky cave-scape. While navigating on all-4s, you'll be introduced to its slippery texture and ammonia-like odor. Don't despair, it's all part of the Sumaging experience.
After being inside for nearly 3 hours, seeing the light at the exit was a sigh of relief and exhilaration. Staying underground for even that short length of time is an almost macabre and a surreal experience that defies most of what's familiar in the above-ground world.
A Word of Caution
If you're new to caving, I would suggest you try out Sumaging Cave first before the more challenging Lumiang-Sumaging cave connection To those who have already tried Sumaging Cave and want to give this one a try, be warned. Lumiang is about 3x more technical than Sumaging - the guide said so, and after my ordeal, I couldn't agree with him more.
- waterproofing - to keep things dry (Ziplock, plastic bag, etc.)
- clothing that can get wet
- headlamp - while the guide brings along a Petromax (lantern), it's best to provide for your own lighting, specially if you're in a big group
- Tribu-type scandals - for traction, you'll be barefoot a great deal
- backpack - to put your footwear and clothing, but avoid stuffing your backpack. It's hard to get through narrow passages with a bulky pack.
- small towel if you plan to take a dip in the water
- visitor registration: P10/person
- guide for cave connection - P800 per trip, maximum of 2 people. Third person adds P400. Maximum of 3 persons are allowed per guide. The fourth person will have to get an additional guide.
- pinikpikan chicken - this is not a standard rate, but it usually starts at P700 and good for 8-10 people.
- Egbert has been a Sagada guide since 1995. Still active, he remains one of the most senior and most experienced SEGA guide. Aside from guiding, he also makes the local Peetik brand wine, and occasionally conducts lectures in tourism. He can be reached at 09286902623 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Apr 13, 2010) it is on the italian spelunkers because i believe my forefathers had explored that cave long before the anglicans (missionaries) came to the mountains. and my uncles had explored that during the world war 2. and it's quite strange that the italian spelunkers were the first to explore the cave. obviously, there were coffins there, so our forefathers had been there. also, since we have high regard/respect to nature (which is apparent in our mythology), we go to places, but we just leave footprints. and try to leave the place like how it looks like when we explore it.
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