Archive for the ‘Surigao Explorations’ Category

Another expedition to the enchanting river head spring of Hinatuan was recently conducted by a team from Surigao del Norte. On March 20, 2013, Filipino cave diver Jake Miranda and his team were able to successfully penetrate past the sand blockage that restricted the MAD Cavers from getting into the Mayor’s Chamber. The sand barrier thwarted the trimix dive plans of the 2011 exploration team.

The following report is written by Mr. Jake Miranda, SDI/TDI Instructor and published from this blog with his consent. All pictures and diagrams are credited to Mr. Miranda and to his team.



Dive Team

1. Jake Miranda, TDI Full Cave Diver #495188

2. Ivar Almhjell, TDI Full Cave Diver #488306

3. Michael Allen, PADI Divemaster

4. Johm Rey Pingkian, SDI Divemaster

The Cave


Hinatuan Enchanted River begins as an underwater spring that spouts freshwater from a deep source in the ground. The source of the water may be from aquifers surrounding the area that collect the water from heavy rainfall common in Hinatuan . The exiting water makes it all the way to sea snaking along its own river bed. The river is in the municipality of Hinatuan, in the province of Surigao del Sur.

It is a five hour drive from Surigao City or a three hour drive from Butuan City. With better roads this year, it is now just a four hour drive from Davao City. It is already a tourist destination and has ample facilities like shaded cottages, restrooms and food stalls. It is managed by its own tourism staff.

As it is with water springs, there is an underwater cave in its depths. Through past explorations of Mantaga Adventure Divers led by Dr. “Doc” Amores and Bernil Gastardo, they were able to find the cave entrance and initially map the cave area to a max depth of 87 meters. The most notable find was a good sized-chamber at a depth of 50 meters. Diving deeper than 50 meters into a further passage is the realm of trimix gases.

Diving at Enchanted River


For any kind of diving activity in the area, one needs prior consent and expressed permission from the municipal government through Ferdinand Barrios.

Mario Tecson of the tourism staff will inspect your dive licenses and let you sign a waiver. They are quite efficient to the point that they will reserve the nearest cottage for your dive group.

For cave diving, the process is quite thorough but painless. You will also have to get in touch with cave pioneers Dr. Alfonso Amores or Bernil Gastardo for coordination of dive objectives. For this expedition our objective was to check the entrance which was inaccessible in 2011.


After an easy setup at the cottage we all headed to the nearest ramp. I was Diver#1 and Ivar was Diver#2. Michael and JR were our standby rescue divers outside of the cave entrance.


Dive#1 was made at high, slack tide. This was done to ensure easy access into the cave such that the flowing water from the spring would be slowed down by the rising seawater entering the mouth of the river. At least that makes sense in theory and proven so in past dives in the area.

Diving to the bottom of the pool, you will see a large log that marks the split into a right and left lane to get to Doc’s Door and the entry point to Mayor’s Chamber. The right lane, called Bernil’s Crawl is a crawling descent to Doc’s Door. The left lane, called Patrice’s Way is an easier access, because it hugs a cavity on the left wall lessening the current flow.

We tried entering through Bernil’s Crawl but there was substantial sediment deposit in the fissure, making the current flow faster than we can manage. We ended up switching to Patrice’s Way to get to Doc’s door.

After hurdling some meters at Doc’s Door we were finally in Mayor’s Chamber. It took us 11 minutes from dive entry to reach Mayor’s Chamber. This chamber was previously measured by Doc’s team to be 37 meters long and 31 meters wide with a max height of 8 meters. This time more sedimentation on the bed made the bottom closer to the ceiling. There were several fish swimming with us inside the chamber. We also found two lines laid during Doc Amores’ second expedition. The lines and the steel bar anchors were almost buried by the deposited sand.

We then explored the chamber up to Kelvin’s Knee Cap which was at 52M depth, made our turnaround at 20 minutes and exited again through Doc’s Door and Patrice’s Way. We surfaced after a total dive time of 57 minutes.

Dive Summary of Dive#1: Entry 11:12H, maximum depth at 51.4M, on 21%O2 and 50%O2 at 17M and 100%O2 at 4M. Exit 12:09H, 57 minutes.


This time Ivar was Diver#1 and I was Diver#2. We made the dive on the descending low tide. We knew from previous expeditions that the current flow of the freshwater would be stronger with the absence of an opposing force-the flooding seawater.


True enough the current was stronger. Even Patrice’s Way proved hard to enter. We were exerting too much effort and breathing more air than usual just to try to push into the cave.

Ivar called off the dive right before Doc’s Door. We made a difficult exit as both of us were trapped on several wedged rocks. We did not have time to recover our reels. It was a humble retreat back to the main entrance.

Dive Summary of Dive#2: Entry 14:44H, maximum depth of 39.0M on 21%O2 and 50%O2 at 17M and 100%O2 at 4M, Exit 15:18H, 34 minutes



There is an observed erosion of the surrounding limestone walls both at topside and underwater, possibly caused by swimmers in the pool, and tourism development in the area. The porous and softened limestone easily breaks off and then descends to the bottom. Most of this eroded rock gets deposited at the cave entrance.

While Patrice’s way is still wide enough for divers to enter the cave, the pile-up of sediment in Bernil’s Crawl will eventually divert the water flow into Patrice’s way, thus making it harder to overcome the outgoing flow. Further erosion could amplify the current through the restrictions. We suspect that depending on the month of the year, one or both entrances could be partially blocked.

The sedimentation is an issue for cave divers. While constant water movement and immersion will dissolve it through time, it will make the cave harder to access for cave divers. The entrance particularly the limestone sand and pebble bottom will always change depending on how the water flow will shape it.

Thus the door to this nature’s wonder is ever changing. <End>


1. Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave Expedition 1 (Feb. 19-20 2010)

Team members Gastardo, Guillermo and Amores

Report written by: Dr. Alfonso Y. Amores

2. Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave Expedition 2 (July 2-8, 2010)

Team members Neilsen, Amores, Duncan, Ramos, Livingston, Laborda, Mak

Report written by: Dr. Alfonso Y. Amores

3. Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave Expedition 3 (June 11-14, 2011)

Team members Amores, Holder, Gastardo

Report written by: Dr. Alfonso Y. Amores

Thank you to Ferdinand Barrios, the tourism, planning, development officer of Hinatuan Municipality, and Mario Tecson, tourism operation assistant of Hinatuan Enchanted River Management, and to the discoverers of the cave, Mantaga Adventure Divers, led by Dr. Alfonso “Doc” Amores – NACD (USA) # 3042 and Bernil Gastardo – IANTD Cave Diver #95508, for their data from past three expeditions and their advice for our trip.

Jake Miranda, 2013

I know this took a long time coming so here it goes! Best of thanks to Hinatuan’s Municipal Planning Officer, Mr. Ferdinand Barrios for the advice on how to get to his hometown using the regular transports that ply from Nasipit/ Butuan.

From Cebu

Gothong Southern Ferries sails every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7pm to Butuan.

Take the Gothong  ferry that leaves for Butuan at 7pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Check latest schedules via internet as this info can change without prior notice.

Accommodations on inter-island ferries have definitely progressed. The bunk I got in the Tourist Section featured an 18inch flat screen monitor that was connected to a media box with a multi-card reader. It allows one to plug-in an SD card or USB drive and it’ll play your pictures or movies right there while you lay back in air-conditioned comfort and privacy.

From Nasipit Port

Get one with a sunshade!

Option 1: From Nasipit take a tricycle to Nasipit terminal and look for the bus bound for MANGAGOY. This bus will take you all the way to the Hinatuan terminal. From there, you can contract the services of a “habal-habal” motorcylce transport to take you to the Enchanted River.

For tourists who travel heavy– especially divers!

Option 2: You can take a jeep from the Nasipit terminal and get down at the Gaisano- Nasipit. There are vans for hire near Gaisano and you can direct the driver to take you straight to the Enchanted River.

Places to stay and contact numbers:

Sibadan : 0927-393-6207/0935-257-6540
C Sand Bar: 0939-788-8801
CJ Hometel: 0947-443-2548

Enchanted River Management Office: 0920-259-5554

And if you see these friendly guys at Hinatuan, please tell them the MAD Cavers said hi!

Enjoy your trip!

Doc, Bernil, & Lou

Another invitation from the ever supportive Mayor Candelario Viola Jr. and Municipal Planning Officer Mr. Ferdinand Barrios brought us back to Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

The team was composed of Doc Amores, Lou Holder and yours truly. The trip was conducted from June 11-14, 2011.



The strength of the water flow that hit my mask sideways half –flooded it when I turned to check on Doc and Lou. Hinatuan Enchanted River was coming at us extra strong and it took us all by surprise!

Clearing my mask quickly, I signaled to them the OK sign, and they gave me the same signal back.

29 meters/ 95 feet deep and 10 meters from the lip of the cave, the bubbles from my exhalation and the water rushing out and bouncing against the rock walls of the entrance sounded like traffic on a busy freeway. I did my best to lie as flat as I could on the gravel bottom, and with my arm muscles straining, I moved inch by inch deeper into the cave’s entrance as the strength of the spring water did its best to push me back out.

I had my 11 liter back-mounted twin tanks on and I left firmly clipped to the wooden log at the cave’s lip my 2 stage decompression tanks loaded with 50% and 100% oxygen. Doc was using his Evolution Closed Circuit Rebreather (CCR) and Lou had his Inspiration CCR.

Because the exhaled breaths of Doc and Lou were retained and reused by their life-support system, they didn’t produce any noticeable bubbles but I was pretty sure they were breathing as hard as I was with all the effort needed to maintain forward movement in the raging water flow.

The objective of this trip was to conduct surveys further into the Hinatuan Enchanted River Head Spring up to the depth of 90 meters/ 295 feet.

Hinatuan Enchanted River Head Spring Diagram by Doc Amores

We packed heavy on this expedition, anticipating the amount of required tanks and gas (Oxygen and Helium) to sustain us safely to the intended depth and back.

Similar to the first time we visited, the very kind Mayor Viola and the master organizer Mr. Ferdinand Barrios showed us their full support and the logistical challenges were easily managed.

Special mention and best of thanks again to Mr. Jake Miranda of Surigao Dive Club for lending to us a compressor and extra tanks. We would not have been able to complete our gas blending requirements without his help.

Click to the next page: VORTEX

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 The 1st Hinatuan Enchanted River- Surigao del Sur Exploration was conducted on Feb. 19- 21, 2010.

Mantaga Adventure Divers

Bernil, Emgee & Doc


  • Dr. Alfonso “Doc” Amores – NACD (USA) # 3042
  • Bernil H. Gastardo – IANTD Technical Cave Diver #95508


  • Emmanuel “Emgee” Guillermo, PADI Advance/Deep Diver
Report by: Doc Amores


Hinatuan’s Enchanted River is a favourite tourism destination in the island of Mindanao. People as far away as Davao, a 6-hour bus ride away, take day trip excursions just to enjoy this natural wonder – a spring with cool crystal clear water, flowing out to sea some 600 meters away. The head spring is surrounded by up to 40-meter cliffs of soft limestone and lush vegetation.

There have been up to 3 dive explorations of the area, all by non-cave divers. This expedition is an attempt to define the nature and topography of the depths of the Enchanted River head spring. It is a joint effort of MAD (Mantaga Adventure Divers), a group of cave and associate divers from Mactan Island, Cebu and the LGU of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

MAD Cavers making a courtesy call to Mayor Candelario Viola Jr…

The LGU is represented by Hon. Mayor Candelario J. Viola, Jr of Hinatuan and Mr. Ferdinand Barrios, Municipal Planning and Development Officer.


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