The Hike From Hell: A Brutal Cave Hike In Coron
Sweat, blood, mud and a few salty tears of despair dripped from my broken body as I stumbled and fell the last few metres down the mountainside and onto the scorching hot sands of the beach.
There was no respite yet from the intense heat and my splintered, shattered feet were now burning in the hot sand as I dragged myself along the last few harrowing metres of beach to the water’s edge and plunged straight into the ocean.
This was the Isla Cueva, and this was supposed to be a topical, paradisaical island in the waters of Coron in the Philippines. But so far it was proving to be a brutal, defeating trip to paradise. And it was all because of the cave hike from hell.
The Hike From Hell
“It’s not so far, just an easy stroll”, our guides had told us as we landed on the Isla Cueva and looked up at the almost vertical limestone cliff face that rose dramatically from the white sands of the beach.
I was here on this tropical island with a group of travel bloggers from The Travel Continuously Summit and as we set foot on the soft white sand that was still just warming up in the morning sun, the island with its wooden huts, tall palms and high karst cliffs certainly looked positively tropical. For the moment anyway.
High up in those limestone cliffs I could see the distinct, jagged shape of a cave entrance. That was the stroll that our guides were talking about. Well, surely it wasn’t so far?
The Isla Cueva
This was the Isla Cueva, an island named for the huge cave that was visible in the cliffs from miles away. We were far out in the Coron island chain, away from the town and far from the usual tourist spots. This was new territory for tourism, and the huts on the beach were the local’s homes and houses, while this beach was their front garden.
These locals were going to take us to the cave, a supposedly easy stroll with just a few tricky areas towards the end that could still be navigated easily with the ropes that the locals had recently strung up. This was a trail though that was new, and we were some of the first tourists to attempt this.
Elvin, a local from Coron, was to be my my guide and we set off towards the forest in small groups of three to tackle the hike to the cave.
No Shoes On This Mountain
No one was prepared with shoes or hiking boots. This was Coron, a place of coral and beaches, not hiking. I had my flip flops on and I was confident that this would be just an easy stroll, if a little steep, to the cave at the top.
There was no need for shoes on this mountain, and besides, Elvin just had a pair of flip flops on too.
We were led past the beach houses and into the foliage away from the beach, but the trail soon began to deteriorate as quickly as it started to become vertical.
From the beach below the cave did look as if it was vertically sighted above, but based on the casual projections of the guides and their easy estimations of the endurance needed and the time it would take to reach the top I presumed that the trail would be a long, winding mountainside walk.
I was very wrong.
It quickly became an upward scramble, every man and woman for themselves, holding on to whatever tree stumps or roots or rocks presented themselves, struggling ever upwards on a never ending vertical death climb.
My flip flops were proving inadequate, and soon I was barefoot, blood streaming from open wounds on my ankles and feet as I pulled myself slowly upwards.
I Should Have Just Flown The Drone Up
Elvin the guide was running ahead, leaping from rock to rock, seemingly floating upwards amongst the trees and fallen logs as sweat streamed over my eyes and blurred my vision. By now Elvin was carrying all our flip flops and water bottles, and his effortless climb was proof that the people of Coron do not have sweat glands. Elvin had not even broken a millimetre of sweat on the way up.
Halfway up – maybe, I’d lost all track of time and place as the sun began to beat down relentlessly and the water ran dry – the trees began to thin and I could see out over the blue and turquoise water below.
It was nice, but it wasn’t spectacular.
I should have just flown the drone up.
I struggled further up, wanting to turn around but knowing that really it wasn’t that far and the way down would be easier to handle.
Towards the cave entrance things began to get rockier, easier even. There was a rope to pull myself along and the last stretch was soon over and I was in the shade of the huge, dark and cooling cave.
The roped area was supposed to be the hardest, but the rocks, ropes and ledges made it easier to traverse than the deathly mud slides of loose earth, vines and jagged rocks we’d somehow just navigated.
The cave was huge, and the view from the inside of the cave and out over the water was far reaching and colourful, but was it worth the blood, sweat and mud that I was now plastered in? That question, I still have not answered.
The guides turned on some thumping cave beats and began dancing to the music on their old Nokia while us tourists collapsed on the verge of death at the entrance, just far enough inside to escape the now burning hot sun.
The Downward Descent Of Death
Running low on water, having started this short ‘stroll’ just slightly under prepared, it was soon time to start the downward descent back to the beach.
I was hoping this would prove to be easier, but I soon found myself struggling slowly downhill on the near vertical, muddy and loose trail that led back the way we had already trudged again.
The flip flops soon came off and rather than running down like a barefoot warrior I was soon falling and sliding down like the broken shoe less wounded man I really was.
The hike from hell had no end in sight, and this downhill descent of death was proving to be an exhausting but inescapable finale to what was supposed to be a casual stroll up the hill.
A Final Reckoning On the Beach
I persevered, slowly slipping, sliding and falling back towards the beach. Through the trees I caught fleeting glimpses of the tropical waters and white sands below, but in the oppressive midday heat this was no longer feeling like a paradise.
I was covered in mud, the thick dust mixing violently with the moist sweat that never seemed to end and covering me in a thick paste of sludge, dirt and blood.
The beach was close now, the path was levelling out and soon I was on the sand, my bloody feet burning up as I made one last, final dash towards the ocean to escape the last horrors of the brutal cave hike.
All Words and Photographs by Richard Collett