Buntot Palos, warmed by the setting sun
The thundering sound of water falling from a 40-meter drop filled the huge gorge as the warm afternoon sun made the cliff walls glow. The volume of water flowing down belied the fact that it is currently summer here and the ongoing drought (brought about by the El Niño phenomenon) has wreaked havoc across the country - drying up watersheds and lakes, and reducing once magnificent waterfalls to a trickle. Buntot Palos (literally translates to “Eel’s Tail”) seemed to be immune from the effects of the drought.
trident form (notice the people for scale)
Buntot Palos is more popularly known (and aptly named too) as Hidden Falls among the locals. Situated on the edge of the Sierra Madre mountain range in the lake side town of Pangil, its close proximity to Manila makes it an ideal destination for hikers and mountaineers. Although it’s not as popular a camping destination as its neighbor Mt. Romelo (which boast of at least 5 waterfalls, including Buruwisan Falls), rappellers frequent the Hidden Falls for its vertical walls.
It rained for a few days before I trekked there with a fellow outdoor photography enthusiast. The light rains (which did not mean the end of the drought, as the weather bureau clarified) brought a brief respite from the summer heat and refilled the small streams and springs. But it meant a muddier and more slippery trail. The trails, which are shared with horses and (water) buffalos, had been battered with hooves; mud in some portions is half a foot thick. Our guide assured us that the trail’s condition is still good compared to how it is during the rainy season. (Photo above courtesy of a hiking buddy, Christian dela Cruz)
The hike was comfortable, no drastic elevation gain. We manage to reach the campsite within 2 hours of moderate hiking. We got to the campsite first; setup our tent and made coffee before another group arrived. Soon the small campsite (which can accommodate less than 20 2-person tents) was full.
The drone of the rushing water can be heard from the camp. It’s a still a few minutes hike down to the falls on steep trails. A portion runs through some slippery boulders and ropes are in place to aid climbers.
It was almost noon when I was finally able to get down to the falls and do an ocular. The midday sun prevented me from getting any useable photos. I slipped on the way down, hit my padded bag on a rock and somehow cracked by circular polarizer. Luckily my lens was unharmed. So I ended up shooting with just an ND8 filter.
more subdued lighting
After lunch we made our way down the gorge again for another try at photographing the falls. This time the passing clouds helped, covering the sun and acting like a softbox. The remaining challenge was to find a suitable POV one without people in them. By mid afternoon almost everybody from the campsite was down at the falls enjoying its cool water. With long exposures, most of my photos have “ghosts” in them.
a closer look
We stayed a bit late and waited for the sunset. I was able to take a few exposures with the remaining ambient light before it got too dark. One group foolishly remained (and they don’t even have flashlights!) and got lost on their way back to the campsite. They wandered aimlessly for more than 2 hours before being found by the search party.
I woke up early the next morning and hiked down (again) while the rest were still recovering from the “effects” of last night’s socials. Lighting was great after sunrise. The waterfall faces the northwest so it’s back lighted at sunrise but an hour after sunrise the whole gorge is filled with soft even light.
Buntot Palos after sunrise