Trekking Mt. Pinatubo had been in my bucket list for many years and when I finally did, it was awesome! It was beyond all my expectations. It was as if I was in another world.
Mt. Pinatubo is an active stratovolcano located in the island of Luzon in the Philippines near the tripoint of the provinces of Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga. After lying dormant for almost 500 years, its eruption on June 15, 1991 resulted as the second largest terrestrial volcanic eruption of the 20th century. Surrounding towns and cities were severely damaged by streams of pyroclastic flows, ash deposits and later on by lahars or thick volcanic mudflows caused by rainwaters re-mobilizing earlier volcanic deposits. The accurate and timely prediction of the eruption and its effects by the scientists of both the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOCS) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) led to massive evacuations thus saving thousands of lives. Still, about 800 people died and made about 50,000 people homeless as thick volcanic ash buried the surrounding areas which included villages, rice farmlands, fishponds, rivers, valleys and bridges. Volcanic ash silted river valleys resulting to extensive flooding that devastated six provinces.
The eruption also had significant global environmental effects. Mt Pinatubo ejected millions of tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere which contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer which caused a worldwide decrease in temperature by almost 1 degree Fahrenheit for several years after the eruption.
Today, Mt. Pinatubo is still active but is closely monitored. It is a safe place to visit attracting many visitors worldwide. It is approximately about three hours drive from Manila. Trekking it has become a popular activity. It is safe and you can do it on your own but joining a tour is highly advisable because you will be with local guides who are very knowledgeable of the area.
I trekked Mt. Pinatubo with about forty members of my family. We hired the services of Pinaykeypoint to arrange our trek. We chose them because of very good reviews. They have very knowledgeable guides and they took good care of us. Ours was a private all-inclusive package which included a very hearty lunch at the pavilion near the crater lake.
My family was picked up by Pinaykeypoint at around 5:30 am at Microtel Hotel, Hacienda Luisita, Luisita, Tarlac where we stayed overnight. By 6 am we were at the 4X4 parking area in Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac where we were given a short safety briefing of the do’s and don’ts, the dangers in the area and what to do in case of emergency and pack up time. After the briefing we were divided into small groups. For every ten trekkers, three guides were assigned and only 4 to 5 trekkers per 4X4 vehicle. After the local tourism staff and local officials checked our clearance and climbing permit, off we went to our adventure. There was a brief final checkpoint done by the Philippine Air Force since the Mt. Pinatubo area is a military camp controlled by them. Military activities are often conducted in the area thus only a small window of time for the trekkers to pass by the area.
The off road driving for about an hour and a half was fun and we enjoyed it so much. With the breathtaking view of the surroundings throughout the ride, we did not mind that it was mostly bumpy and dusty. We enjoyed too the river crossings and when passing difficult terrain. There were quick stops to take pictures.
The jump off point for the trek is at Lipit Station. This is the farthest that the 4X4’s could go. From here, it is a 7 kilometers walk to the crater lake. Since we are not expert trekkers, it took most of us about 2.5 hours to reach the crater lake.
There were many rough terrains so packing lightly was a must. We only brought the essentials like water, some energy food like chocolates and granola bars, sunscreens, rain protection and an extra pair of clothes and rubber or leather slippers.
Wear sturdy footwear like trekking sandals that is quick drying because there are many streams and rivers to cross. I love these crossings because the cold water was so soothing to my tired feet. This also gave us a chance to take out the sand and small rocks that entered our socks. Wearing of socks is highly recommended to prevent blisters because of the volcanic sands hitting our feet.
There were stops along the way to rest and load up on energy food and light snacks. We walked at our own pace. There was always one of the guides waiting for the slow trekkers. The three pictures below were taken on our way down from the crater lake late in the afternoon.
The breathtaking surroundings all around made us feel as if we were in another world. It was like scenes of a movie. It was so surreal.
It was bush trekking for a few minutes before reaching the crater lake.
After more than two hours of walking under the heat of the sun, we were rewarded with the magnificent view of the Mt. Pinatubo crater lake. The silting of the river channels and trapping of rain water formed this beautiful Lake Pinatubo. Swimming is prohibited because of sudden drops and the lake is roughly 300 feet deep. Permanently submerged in the lake are about 500 structures that included houses, churches and schools.
As a contribution to the environment, our group planted five tree seedlings near the lake.
On our way down, we met some Aetas, the indigenous people who live in the area. We gave them candies, biscuits and light snacks. We were discouraged from giving money because it has no use up in the mountains.
My family unanimously agreed that trekking Mt. Pinatubo was one of our best annual vacation. It was very tiring but it was all so worth it. We were so tired that upon sitting in our chartered bus, many of us immediately fell asleep. The whole activity lasted for about thirteen hours including the one hour extension we requested to stay at the crater lake.
Trekking Mt. Pinatubo is not as difficult as it used to be. There are now a number of agencies organizing the trek. There are pick up points in Manila or you can bring your car up to the meeting place. There are both public and private tours. If you are a big group, I recommend the private tours. My family was very satified with Pinaykeypoint. You can check them out at their website at http://www.pinaykeypoint.org/.
The catastrophic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 was tragic but God is so good. He turned the then destruction into an awesome tourist destination at present giving work to many locals, some of whom were survivors of the earthquake.