Rough Ride and Trek to Mt. Pinatubo

More than twenty years since its catastrophic eruption in June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Central Luzon.  I’ve been longing to see this volcano with its picture-perfect crater lake for the longest time so I decided a day trek to Mt. Pinatubo would be a great way to start my travel year 2012.

Despite lack of sleep, I found myself on my way to the meeting place one cold January morning. It was the first long weekend of the year, so we left Manila earlier than usual because we wanted to be ahead of the 500 climbers that were expected that day. We spent just over an hour traversing the NLEX and in less than two hours our van was at the Tourism Office of Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac. Everyone needs to register at the Barangay Hall. We were loaded in 4 x 4 vehicles and met our daredevil driver (didn’t get his name) and our local guide, Mario. 

The one-hour ride in the 4 x 4 jeep to the jump-off point was a rough and rugged one. The ride itself was an experience like no other. We passed through lahar beds, grasslands, streams, canyons, and mountains. The panorama changed every so often before I was able to take good pictures. Besides, I was seated in front of the vehicle and was holding on to dear life.

 

It was from the jump-off point where we began the arduous 2.5 hour trek through the old route. The Skyway Trail is the shorter route, taking only about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how fast you walk, but some portions were damaged during typhoons Kiko and Ondoy, and it is currently closed. Mt. Pinatubo is classified as a minor climb with a 2/9 difficulty level and trail class 1  (Source: pinoymountaineer.com). It was a relatively easy and relaxed trek through stretches of sand and boulders of rock. There was a point where I found it easier and faster to walk barefoot on sand.

 

After two hours we reached a roofed structure where we had a short and much-needed rest. A lot of green was added to the scenery and we knew we were near the crater. Upon reading this sign, everyone exclaimed “What the hell have we been doing all the while?” We all suddenly had the urge to reach the top in less than 20 minutes, so we won’t be categorized as a senior citizen.

The crater lake finally! What a site to behold. Who would have thought that the 1991 eruption that claimed thousands of lives and whose effects were felt worldwide would produce such a jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring view. We just sat there for a while, admiring the blue-green color of the lake, and the immense Alpine-like mountain from afar. Sometimes the color of the lake changes depending on the time of day and the month, from blue to brown, to green, then back to blue. Today, I can say the lake is an amazing turquoise color. 

One can ride a boat and go to the other side of the lake where the water is warmer. The depth of the lake remains unknown and swimming is not encouraged but allowed only for expert swimmers. I didn’t even bother having my foot wet for fear of the sudden drop of the deep sulfuric waters.

After eating our packed lunch of canned sausages and tuna with egg, and after taking more pictures and lingering for awhile, we decided it was time to go down. The mountain was getting crowded by then. There was also a Balikatan exercise going on which explained the truckloads of uniformed men we saw along the way.

The trek down proved to be more difficult because of the combined effects of gravity and the midday heat of the sun. A scene from Exodus was running through my head and I compared ourselves to Biblical figures walking through the desert to the Promised Land. It seemed like forever!

What a relief to reach the jump-off point and riding the 4 x 4 jeep back to base camp at Sta. Juliana. The way back was dustier but our daredevil driver didn’t care and he drove like crazy back to camp. After washing off the dust with water from shower stalls nearby, I would have wanted to avail of the massage at the Pinatubo Spa, but I was traveling with a group and we had to go back to Manila before we get caught in weekend traffic.

On our way back home, I asked myself if all the exhaustion, leg and body pains, not to mention enduring the heat were all worth it. I could say a resounding yes. As I reminisce, I’m glad I made the climb, for Mt. Pinatubo always changes, and it might not be the same the next time around.

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