Into the Python Pit
By Bob Manas / PCS

The cave's entrance looked like a gigantic sinkhole from where I stood. I could see the ocean to the east and figured we were at around 500 feet above sea level. Its huge mouth gaped at the overcast sky while uneven marble boulders piled up and adorned its thick lips. There were small platform ledges here and there that hung like table corals as I tried to peer into its deep dark throat. I could discern the wall's outline down to about 100 feet but beyond that was utter darkness!

"Woh! This is indeed one hell of a serious Pit!" I thought. On the road at 4:15 am that same day of May 23, 2003, I picked up Jun Sulit, a Puerto Galera born businessman now residing in Manila. Through his invitation, and permission from the PG local government, members of the Philippine Caving Society set out to explore and document what was commonly known as "Python Cave" located at Bry. Tabinay, Puerto Galera. We then met and rode with Basil and Vie Reyes, both of whom are into caving and mountaineering. Nicky Lacson, Mike Nera, Astrid Castaneda, and Billy Montinola were to follow us the next day.

We picked a grassy knoll beside a stream that laced the foothills of the mountain for our campsite. The palm leaves of the coconut trees that surrounded our basecamp barely moved an inch. It was humid and a slight shower started to trickle down. We hastily pitched our tents while Jun headed back to his hometown. I took shelter inside my tent from the persistent rain and must have sweated out a liter of calories! It felt like a sauna and the sleeping bag was drenched where I sat. The first drizzle of the rainy season eventually took a respite and I was relieved to be able to stroll around on the wet grass, drying myself of the perspiration in the cooler air. "So what's the plan, my man?" Basil asked. "Let's go up and check out the cave, but let's not bring our gears or we'll be tempted to go down. We can just assess the entrance for now. Besides if we go for a push now, it'll be dark by the time we exit." Both Basil and Vie agreed. A curious 11 yr. old local kid named Daniel agreed to show us the cave entrance. Crossing a brook that was fed by a resurging spring, he led us up the mountain via a muddy and slippery trail with loose pieces of marble all along the way. It winded up a hill in varying 30 - 45 degree angles before we reached what seemed like a circular meeting of karst boulders jotting out along the side of the mountain. I was soaking from perspiration as we all sat by the lip of this monster of a hole.

"So Delfin, have you ever gone down this hole" I asked the kid. " Nope, and I'm not Delfin. My name is Daniel" he curtly replied. I was bad with names so I apologized and he seemed to switch back to his cheery nature right away. "My grandfather told me they used to haul guano here during the 70's using a box elevator with a pulley and a rope. Then in 1980, two Americans (locals around the village tend to consider all white men as Americans) went down and one couldn't climb back so the villagers had to rescue him, Daniel added.

"So Delfin, why did they call this hole The Python Cave?" I casually asked. He stared at me with unbelieving eyes but ignored my mistake. "Someone caught a Python that had a body as big as a tree trunk years ago and they say there are more Pythons down there. They also caught a white monitor lizard." "Wow, that's rare" Basil replied. "So Delfin, what happened to the Python and the white lizard?" "The drunkards ate them! And my name is Daniel, not Delfin!" he snorted. " Well, you're going to be a Delfin before the day is over!" I said. We all chuckled including Delfin! Vie was delirious with laughter. She was hot and ready to get down and dirty into the cave, but we had to seriously assess the rigging first. After scrutinizing the formations along the entrance, we headed back to camp, took a refreshing bath by the spring, and sat around our camp discussing various ways of rigging over supper. Like three Elves of the wooded realm, we laughed and shared tales of magic mushrooms, of hippies, and of song, and of the paradise days of Puerto Galera. Afterwards we lay in our tents in silence amidst the trickling song of the brook and the gentle percussions of rain like a lullaby for a much needed sleep.

I crawled out of my tent before dawn. The Orioles were up before me, perching from tree to tree, singing their sweet whisting melodies, while tiny Finches gingerly "tweeted" as backup vocals. I made coffee amidst the din and soon the morning sunlight had draped its golden blanket across the coconut trees standing tall and serene along the hillsides. A wonderful day for caving, I thought, as I stretched and yawned to welcome the new day. Breakfast was spam and egg over rice. Having had our fill of breakfast, Basil, Vie, and I set out for the upward trek towards the cave entrance loaded with gear and supplies. This time Daniel had cousins with him to assist us in portaging our supply load. The plan was to rig a Tyrolean safety line towards a precarious ledge that would serve as a jump off point. But the safety line had to turn at a 90-degree angle. To anchor that turn, I angled a piton in a small crack and pounded it with my hammer. To my surprise the piton bounced and flew off my hand into the gaping darkness of the pit, straight down into the shadows below. Basil and I stared at each other then counted a long three seconds or so before we heard a muffled clang as it hit the bottom. "There's no way I can set pitons here! This mother is made out of solid marble and I don't want to waste my energy to even attempt to drill here." I exclaimed in mock exasperation. "Let's just use that tree trunk for an anchor," replied Basil pointing to a moderate sized tree growing along the eastern flanks of the mouth. We rigged a wire cable around a protruding marble boulder, and around the tree secured by a locking karabiner. I then attached my rope to the karabiner and Basil rigged up another backup rope on the unlikely event the tree would give way. I secured my "cows", set my "piranha" descender, and moved backwards towards the edge. I still couldn't see the bottom. My knees wobbled from both fear and excitement! I threw the coiled rope over the ledge and proceeded to rappel a few meters down. I stopped before an overhang and peered down. I still couldn't see bottom. I let go off my feet on the overhang and swooshed down, "Wheeeeeee…!" The walls were then too far to touch and the cavernous sides appeared to be turquoise in color.

I stopped and hollered "Hey, there's blue marble over here!" I continued to slowly rappel down to about 100 feet when another wall appeared just below my feet. I eased my way towards a small ledge along the wall and sat down. I wasn't sure that my rope had hit bottom so I wasn't confident to continue down. I tried to pull the rope up but something was pulling it down or felt like it was stuck. I gave it a budge, felt it loosen, and hauled it up. To my surprise a ball of nylon with nasty fishing hooks were stuck on the rope like bird's nest. I took my Swiss knife, cut the entangled nylon from my rope, and placed it out of the way in a small crevice. I threw the remaining rope to the bottom, about 60 feet or so below my stance. the entangled ball landed with a thud on the guano coated cave floor.

I continued down to the bottom chamber. There was a wide beam of sunlight illuminating part of the rocky bottom that sloped down gradually from a breakdown section. I stood, stared up, and felt like an "Illuminati", waiting to be beamed up by some alien god. But I didn't want to be beamed up yet. I looked around and discerned various chambers expanding in the dark. I tried cranking my carbide light but it didn't work. After fumbling with it for a few minutes, I figured there must be water inside the hose blocking the gas. No time to tinker with it. I switched to my Petzl Duo and checked the surroundings, expecting huge Pythons curled inside crevices. There were none to be found to my relief. Vie was down before I knew it and we proceeded to explore the inner chambers of Python Pit. Basil decided to stay topside as support.

A huge dark breakdown chamber on the west side housed the main bat population that roosted inside the cavern. They started shrieking all at once as soon as they sensed our intrusion. There were thousands of eyes staring back at us like fiery red embers in the gloomy darkness of the pit. Dark undercuts surrounding the bottom where amazing, a small coconut tree surprisingly thrives inside the cave despite the absence of sunlight and consequently, the much-needed chlorophyll in its leaves. Towards the northern side, fine silt and sand are piled up which gradually slope down into a running stream. We followed the stream east into another chamber but dead-ended into a sump at about 25 meters. The stream ran from east to west until it was siphoned by a couple of holes along a cave wall. A few small chambers are nestled along the roof and are filled with bats. Excited and disturbed by our voices and lights, they flew all over the place at dizzying speeds yet were able to instinctively avoid crashing into us. We stood there for a while until the bats settled down as they got used to our presence. We were hoping a chamber would open up to another passage but if it ever existed, we couldn't find it. Too bad, we would have been terribly excited to explorer a much more complex cave.

The stream flowing across the bottom of the pit contained freshwater pincher shrimps and small red crabs, perhaps living off on guano droppings and algae. There were also a few small brownish green frogs dining on the various insects that fed on the guano. Spiders, beetles, cockroaches, and a swarm of minute insects also plays a part in this underground ecosystem 180 feet below the surface. I took my measuring tape and Vie and I began to take notes of the cave's dimensions. Before long, it was time for us to head up. The ascent was tougher than we expected. With only one long pitch, the rope had a tendency to spin around which made the climber turn in circles. I had to focus on the rope to keep myself from getting dizzy. But as I progressed upwards, the sunlight combined with a slight rain drizzling from the huge opening above was well worth the view. I should have brought a camera. Frog leaping 180 feet up with a single rope just about drained all the 3 liters of water in my backpack. No amount of water could quench my thirst. Back in camp, Vie treated me to some wonderful exotic sugar palm syrup, mixed with water. It did the trick, and except for the sheer exhaustion, I felt a little better. "Ah,...Yo,…,You,…Ah…" looking at the kid and trying to remember his name… "Delfin!" blurted out Daniel with smiling eyes. We all cracked up once again. "Yes Delfin, thanks for helping us" I said. Daniel was wearing a happy grin.


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