Friday, April 18, 2014

Bucket Lists and Conquering Mount Pinatubo

An early morning 4x4 adventure across a barren desert wasteland, a trek up the crater of Mount perfect day. 

Last year, my former high school classmates decided to get together and do something different. A bucket list worthy adventure up the crater of Mount Pinatubo. For more photos on Mount Pinatubo, checkout my previous post in my other blog here at

Our expedition begins way before dawn, as we assembled at Angeles, Pampanga to meet our guides. Boarding the assigned 4x4, we then proceed to the check point, a leisurely one hour drive from Angeles City. Once the passes were secured, we entered the desert-like landscape, covered in fine, powdery volcanic ash. The contrasting features of the terrain feels like entering another country, with white ash extending beyond the horizon.

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo is said to have been the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century, causing widespread damage to neighboring provinces with its deadly lahar, or ash flows. The valley formed one of the major channels for the deadly ash flows. Once fertile lands were then transformed to deserts covered in volcanic ash. A river is replaced by a patchwork of multiple streams across the landscape, and each crossing is an adventure in itself. The two hour drive is just the first part of the adventure, the rest of the trail will be covered on foot.

Finally, we reach the start-off point as the 4x4's park and we prepare for the 7-kilometer trek (the trail has since been improved allowing the 4x4s to drive further up inland, reducing the trek to a more leisurely 3-kilometer hike). One quick, last check of the provisions before the trek: water,check. Gatorade, check. Beer? Just leave it at the 4x4s.

My former high school batch mates, in all shapes and sizes, begin the trek up the Mount Pinatubo crater, and for a moment, we were all young boys again. The familiar banter from many years back can be heard once more, as we proceed with a renewed spirit up the trail.

As we look back and leave the 4x4s behind, the trail starts off relatively easy, until it narrows over multiple river crossings and large rocks. The trails becomes more challenging the closer you get to the base of Mount Pinatubo, with no visible trail at all, just rocks and boulders. And this is where a walking stick comes in handy.  

Along the trail, rains charms made with delicately piled rocks by the ethnic Aeta tribe can be seen at regular intervals and serve as protection against ravaging floods, a reminder of the destructive force of nature. And finally, we reach the final kilometer, a steep ascent on steps carved from rock. Halfway up the steep trail, we took a short breather when a group of elderly ladies walked down with parasols and flip-flops. "Almost there, just a few more steps..." said one of the ladies, who noticed our gassed out state.  Embarrassed, we cut our break short and surge on to the top. She did say "a few more steps," right? Then, we hear a yell from the first members of our group that reached the top...

...and we finally reached the crater. Your long trek is rewarded by this magnificent view, all that remains of Mount Pinatubo's peak after the eruption filled with pure rainwater. The shifting colors of the rain-filled lake range from a bright blue to turquoise and vibrant emerald green.

The tranquil waters at the crater, collected from years of rainfall, is serene, almost zen-like, in contrast with its violent formation so many years ago. Steps carved from stone leads you down the beach made of pure volcanic ash. If you decide to take a swim, check with the local authorities first for high levels of sulfur.

After a few hours at the crater, we prepare for the long trek back to base camp. The trek down is easier, and having conquered the peak, a sense of satisfaction takes over. And one check for the bucket list.

If you're ready to trek Mt. Pinatubo, here's a few tips:
  • Wear dependable all-terrain hiking shoes, the rocks can be unforgiving and the trail is littered with discarded shoes that didn't make the cut. Bring a back-up pair just in case.
  • Sun protection. Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat or a cap. You'll need it for the mid-afternoon trek back.
  • Pack light, but bring the essentials. An extra shirt and a towel should be fine.
  • But bring a camera. Just to prove to your buddies you've successfully reached the crater.
  • Water. Better yet, bring some Gatorade. And leave the beer at the base camp. Beer's much better after the trek. 
  • Pack some snacks. No meals are available at the crater.
  • Bring a lightweight but sturdy walking stick. If you don't have any, you can purchase a bamboo pole at the check point for a small fee. This will come in handy during the trek, and crossing the many streams along the trail.
  • Trek at your own pace. Make frequent stops if you have to, it's not a race. 

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