Rappelling (also known as abseiling) is an adrenaline-pumping, extreme adventure activity that had been in my bucket list for some time.
Watching climbers on TV rappel sheer rock cliffs had always made me excited to try out the sport, and it wasn’t until early this month that I got to finally do it.
I joined an adventure group before in one of their caving activities, and when I learned that they were going to rappel the 110-meter rock face of Mt. San Miguel in Bataan, I jumped at the chance to finally experience rappelling.
The tour facilitator said that it may be the highest in Luzon, equivalent to a 35-storey high building that’s pure rock. I had no prior experience (except when I went down after rock climbing once), but it certainly didn’t stop me from signing up!
The mountain is located in the small village of Sisiman in Mariveles, around 3 hours from Manila by bus. From the bus stop, we took a tricycle ride straight to the campsite, which is just a few meters from the mountain, the beach, and the Grotto.
After pitching the tents, the facilitators then gave an orientation about the equipment used in rappelling. After showing us how to put the harness, they had us demonstrate it ourselves. They checked everything, making sure that the 8-ring and the carabiners were securely attached.
They also provided gloves; two layers were used for the dominant hand to prevent rope burn.
It was lunch time when we began the roughly 20-minute trek. It wasn’t a hard walk; what made it challenging was the heat and the steepness of the slope. The view at the top, however, was breathtaking!
On one side, we could see the coastline and the power plant (okay, I didn’t like that much), and far off, the island of Corregidor. On the other side was the beach near our camp and the grotto.
Once we reached the top, it was time to gear up! Looking down into the village of Sisiman gave me the chills; the houses looked so small! We couldn’t see any people; we were just too high.
Everything seemed Lilliputian, and the thought of us going down in a rope, with the speed of descent entirely up to us, momentarily gave me butterflies in the stomach. Really, I can understand someone freezing in fear up there, maybe even backing out!
Then it was my turn to jump (or at least go down), and there was no time for second thoughts. Two facilitators, Marc and Jeff, remained at the peak to help us, while the others (SC, Lei, Vic, and Moymoy) went down to belay and assist those who were going down.
Once I took my first step down, there was no going back. I felt that I went too fast, too excited and exhilarated perhaps at the sensation of going down the mountain with only the rope supporting me.
I looked at the ground several times, and although the butterflies in my stomach were still there, the feel of the rope holding me up gave me the confidence to continue my descent.
The next day, we did it again, and this time, I used the Aussie style, which had me go down the mountain facing the ground. It was scarier than using the Swiss style since you could clearly see how far up you are, but then again, it was also more exciting!
Is rappelling dangerous? Sure, there are so many things that can go wrong; the ropes may come apart, you can rappel off the ends of the rope, or you get so flustered that you let go of your brake hand and you fall to your death.
Then again, it’s dangerous to run, too. You can get run over by a truck, get bitten by a rabid dog, or have a piano fall on you.
The point is that when you rappel, the same as when you do other sports, you should make sure of the safety of the process and the equipment used.
Go with a reputable group that doesn’t take shortcuts especially in checking, double-checking, and testing the equipment. There should be no accidents; one mistake can be fatal.
Other Things to Do in Mariveles, Bataan
Once you’re done rappelling, and while waiting for the others to finish, you can do other things in Barangay Sisiman:
- Sample the local food. Okay, there’s not much variety there in the local eateries (unless you tell them what to cook for your group) but there is one street food that will appeal to those who have a sweet tooth. It’s called hayahay and it’s sold in front of the elementary school. It’s the poor man’s crepe, as Marc called it.
- Climb the Grotto. It’s not so high, but the view at the peak is also marvelous. You can ask some of the local kids to take you there. A bunch of them are likely to follow you around when you seem friendly.
- Run along the coastline. I do a lot of running on roads, but I love trails better. You can run from one end of the beach to the other until you reach the highway or the dead end, a route which takes more or less 20 minutes at a moderate pace.
- Swim. You’re already camped near the beach, so this makes perfect sense!
- Go bouldering. There are a lot of boulders along the beach that the facilitators rated problems 1-4, and seeing them succeed (and fail) to go up those huge boulders was already fun for me.
- Scramble up the rocks. While I’m no good in bouldering, I’m very good (I think) in rock scrambling. When the local kids saw that I couldn’t hope to finish even the easiest boulders, we scrambled up the rocks instead!
How about you? Do you think you would love rappelling too?