Mount Pinatubo will always be etched in the memories of Filipinos, most especially for residents of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales. After the ashes have subsided down during its June 1990 eruption, it claimed hundreds of lives and displaced a lot of families and communities. Thousands of lives were uprooted from their normal churn and was left out in the dark, not knowing how they will move forward from the catastrophic event.
Knowing the resiliency of Filipinos, today’s economic set-up of the three provinces have turned around to make what was a disadvantage into an opportunity. Volcanic Ash from Mount Pinatubo is now a major source of income for Pampanga with its quarrying operations but more interestingly, entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to use these ashes into hand art which we now see being marketed around the globe.
One of the biggest economic pick-ups of the event was on the tourism side. The great Mount Pinatubo which was once feared upon is now a place frequented by many to appreciate the beauty of nature. Its’ devastating eruption has resulted to the creation of a beautiful calderon at its summit. At present, the local government has substantially taken advantage of this tourism gem by allowing locals and foreigners to visit its peak to admire its beauty.
I have been long planning to visit the peak of Mount Pinatubo. I have seen beautiful pictures and heard stories about the experience and these exposures have resulted to me wanting to visit the peak more. The opportunity to trek to the peak of the revered volcano last February with a couple of my staff was hard to pass off.
The Trek – A Good Cardio Workout
My own Pinatubo adventure kicks off at four in the morning when the team and I had to take a bus from Dau Bus Station in Pampanga to Capas, Tarlac. The bus trip took about an hour and we hopped off at the Capas Municipal Office where we had to take a tricycle for San Juliana. The trip was a surprise for us because the whole trip to San Juliana took about 45 minutes from the main highway. The team did not expect that it will take that long. Nevertheless, the trip will take you to a breathtaking view of the fields of Capas as the mist covers the field.
Upon reaching San Juliana, you would notice that a lot of offices are lined up that offer a day trek to Mount Pinatubo. I suggest that you book your trip ahead to ensure that you have a slot for the trek as there are times that tourists flock the famed volcano that walk-ins can no longer be accommodated. It is also important that you arrived at the designated time as there is only one trip per day and the 4x4 jeeps leave on time. Your tour service provider will be the one to handle your registration for the trek after which you will be assigned to your 4x4, your driver, and your group’s guide.
Adrenaline junkies will surely enjoy the 1 hour 4x4 ride from San Juliana to the trek’s kick-off point. The ride will traverse the O’Donnell River Bed and will offer visitors a spectacular view of lahar formations. These formations form part of the landscape of the riverbed and look really awesome especially when the morning sunshine hits its surface. The scene is straight out of a movie “The Lost World”. Our guide was also quick to inform us that these formations are unstable. The rains can easily cause the erosion of these lahar formations as these are loose lahar. You will also be surprised to see that these formations, which rise to about fifteen stories high, was how much lahar flowed down the slope of Mount Pinatubo.
The 4x4 trip will bring you to the trek’s kick-off point. From the camp, it will be another two hours of gradual climb to the peak. The trek will be a great cardio workout that will test one’s endurance. Despite the gradual climb, one should take extra precaution since the terrain involves loose rocks and volcano debris. One wrong step could result to a sprained ankle.
The trek will be a visual delight as you will be treated with lahar formations that go as high as ten to fifteen stories high. Again, our guide informs us that these formations are unstable and that it erodes during the rainy season. He further explained that the lahar erosions in different areas during the rainy season is the main reason for the suspension of trekking trips as this poses a huge risk to both the guides and visitors. He also mentioned that the Aetas are the ones who set up the trek path after the rainy season since they are familiar with the terrain. He adds that the river bed that we were traversing can turn really nasty.
The final 15 minute trek to the crater kicks off from a mini-complex composed of open air cottages and rest areas. Our guide informed us that going to Mount Pinatubo, years back, was easier. It involved a 4x4 ride to this area and another 15 minute trek from this kick-off point. However, things have changed since and the trip now involves a 2 hour trek by foot. We took a much needed rest in one of the open air cottages and recharged ourselves for the final 15 minute trek to the summit.
The last stretch is an uphill climb which will take around 15 minutes for an average person to traverse. The trek will go through lush vegetation and slippery rocks. I reckon the lush vegetation was somewhat a curtain that is slowly unveiling the site that we were anticipating. The final uphill climb was full of excitement for me as I was excited to see the view that I was merely looking at from pictures and videos of those who have gone there before me. I did not anticipate the feeling of awe once I get to the peak.
Standing at the Peak of Mount Pinatubo
The view was simply breath-taking as you take the last steps to a platform that gives you a full view of the calderon and the serene lake of Mount Pinatubo. The beauty of the view in front of me cannot be captured by any photographer on film or video. The feeling was just a feeling of awe. Nature really has a way of showing that there really is an awesome God above us that makes beautiful things.
From the platform, one navigates down the stairs to a viewing platform to have a perfect view of Mount Pinatubo’s crater-lake. All I could hear from my team were comments on how beautiful the scene that was in front of us. The local development have actually taken steps in the developing the area with picnic sheds, however, they probably did not anticipate the number of tourists visiting the area and these are not sufficient. Hence, trekkers try to find their own spot along the slopes where they can share the packed lunch that they have brought with them.
Traversing the steep stairs downhill will lead you to the shores of the crater’s lake. Here one can pitch a tent or find a secluded and shaded area where one can rest. One thing that I’ve noticed is that despite the heat from the sun, the weather remains cool because of the high altitude. It is best that you bring with you a windbreaker to protect you from the sun or rain and from the cold. Our team decided to take our lunch in one of shaded areas. We also tried to take a nap, enjoying the cool weather.
After taking a nap and getting a tan from doing so, I decided to take a dip in the crater-lake. My fears overcame me as I could see that the water was still and I could sense that it was deep. In fact, there is a warning to take extra precaution as the depth of the water is not yet known. But there were still brave individuals who still took a dip in the cold water. Apart from swimming, one can also rent a small boat to bring you to the center of the lake or to the other side of the lake. I decided to just simply dip my feet to the cold sulphur rich water of the lake while enjoying the view.
I have to admit that a very strong force that made me want to trek up the slopes of Mount Pinatubo was a scene from the indie movie “100”. I got enthralled by the backdrop of the scene when the lead character, played by Mylene Dizon, dipped her feet into the waters of the lake. It really made me want to trek up the slopes of Mount Pinatubo. I knew that it was going to be an experience for a lifetime.
After spending a couple of hours at the slopes of Mount Pinatubo’s crater-lake, it was time to head back home. Our guide tells us that we had to leave the lake by 2pm for safety reasons. As we were hiking up to the slopes, we caught a glimpse of overnight campers setting up their tents. Our guide was again quick to share with us that campers need to secure their tents really well as the winds and the cold can turn very nasty in the evening. The picture of Mount Pinatubo’s crater that welcomed you just a few hours back is the same scene that will bid you goodbye as you head back to civilization.
The trek back offers a different view of the scenes that you have seen earlier in the morning. A slight drizzle along the way was like a small goodbye gift from the great Mount Pinatubo. On our way back to San Juliana, aboard the 4x4, we also had the opportunity to see the gentle residents of the area, the Aeatas, who were spending an afternoon along the riverbed.
I learned a lot from the trek, apart from getting the fulfilment of having conquered Mount Pinatubo. I admire the resiliency of our fellow Aetas and the residents of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales. These people are great examples of how people will rise up from the ashes despite of the adversities brought about by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. They have turned a disadvantage into an opportunity - an opportunity that I did enjoy and will encourage others to also enjoy. It was tough going up the slopes of Mount Pinatubo but it clearly tells us that there will always be hope. And as the movie “Jurassic Park” phrases it…life will find a way.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.