The Smashing Pumpkins were rumbling through the chorus of Today on my iPod as I climbed the final steps towards the viewing deck of Mount Pinatubo. I was panting a bit, not really used to hiking for hours. I stepped towards the chasm and looked out upon the crater that has caused so much trouble to people of Central Luzon. I suppressed a gasp.
Everyone knows what a cliché it is to have a view take one’s breath away. But you won’t care about that once your eyes lay upon Mount Pinatubo’s emerald crater.
That was more than five years ago and I haven’t climbed Mount Pinatubo again after.
Those memories were running through my mind as our 4x4 truck rumbled through the ash-ridden desolation of the Crow Valley. After more than half a decade, I am finally returning to Pinatubo; the first mountain I’ve ever climbed. Not that there are many, but yeah, it is my first.
There were a number of tourists lagging behind our truck that day. It seemed the Pinatubo climb is a hundred times more popular now than when I first stamped my foot on its ashen pathways. The 4x4’s noisily jangled through the makeshift roads towards the trail jump-off, splashing through shallow streams and sending off dust clouds in their wake.
The view was as scenic as I remembered it to be. Hundred-foot stacks of lahar deposits surrounded us, mimicking and competing in awesomeness to El Nido’s majestic karsts. But everything is as fragile as it looks. A mere shout directed to these walls could cause these formations to crumble and disastrously fall down.
It took a good 90 minutes from our truck jump-off in Brgy. Sta. Juliana at Capas, Tarlac to the start of the Pinatubo hiking trail in Zambales; passing local Aetas and farmers going about their daily lives at this barren landscape. I remember asking our driver if one can forego the 4x4 ride and simply hike all the way to the start of the trail area. Well, you most absolutely can, he says, but it might take you eight to twelve hours to do so.
Alright, I’ll definitely take their 4x4 trucks. That is unless a few willing souls are crazy enough to accompany me to hike and sleep overnight at Pinatubo’s Crow Valley. I can just imagine how beautiful these pyroclastic formations are when blanketed by unending stars and the Milky Way.
I shrugged those thoughts away as our group started the hike to Mount Pinatubo’s crater.
We were a loose bunch of travelers from different media companies grouped into a single unit by Microtel Luisita and TVCP Tarlac for the Tara Quin Tarlac Tour; a tourism familiarization of places of interest in the province. The group was comprised of young and old bodies alike, so our pace was somewhat relaxed.
Which really is fine by me. Honestly, I’m no mountaineer. I like walking, but I like doing it on flat surfaces, with no inclines whatsoever. Inclines make me cramp. Walking fast on inclines makes me cramp even faster. So armed with two bottles of Gatorades, I started the Pinatubo trek, crossing my fingers that my legs wouldn’t betray me this time.
The trail to Mount Pinatubo isn’t really as hardcore as first-time climbers would’ve thought it to be. Well it is a volcano, but the 4x4 ride takes care of more than 3/4 of the way there. More I would surmise. The trek to the volcano’s mouth will only take about an hour or so, depending on your pace and the number of photographs you would take along the way.
And you can probably guess that I’ll be one of the last to arrive.
Renting a 4x4 would automatically give your group a guide. And these guys are invaluable especially for non-trekkers. They can help haul your things, assist you when crossing streams—and there are a lot of them—and basically showing you where to head. The trail to Pinatubo, especially when there aren’t a lot of tourists around isn’t really that apparent. And getting lost amongst these ashen landscapes isn’t something you’d want to happen.
And after two scorching hours, our group finally made it to The Park. I was taken aback when I reached Pinatubo’s viewing deck. It now really resembles a park, complete with paved pathways and gazebos. It looked ill at ease with the absolute rawness of the place.
I’m guessing a zipline’s not too far in the future too eh?
A few steps further and the awesomeness of Mount Pinatubo’s Crater Lake opened up. Only, it wasn’t as awesome as when I first saw it. The water is somewhat grayish and unappealing as the super emerald one I witnessed about half a decade ago.
I asked our guide about this and he said that it was due to the season. That eye-popping emerald water usually shows up during and right after the rainy season. Since it wasn’t raining so much, the water starts to stagnate and loses is iconic vibrant color.
Wanting to take a closer look, everyone went down a flight of stairs. A very very long flight of stairs, mind you. We stepped across the water’s edge, where hordes of tourists were taking selfies of themselves. I noticed that swimming is now prohibited on the crater and there are no more kayaks nor boats available for rent to cross the water.
I count myself lucky that I was able to swim through Pinatubo during my first visit. During that time, we were told that wading across the volcano’s water is therapeutic, its waters having medicinal properties. Now they’re saying otherwise.
Oh well, now I’m not really sure if I’m lucky I swam through Pinatubo’s crater lake before.
Since our group didn’t bring any substantial food with us, we have nothing but Skyflakes to picnic on while enjoying the view. There are food vendors at the viewing deck but their prices are very prohibitive. Example, a bottle of SanMig Light will cost you a hundred pesos. Well, considering how far this place is from town, I guess it is quite understandable.
Everyone took the time to have a breather at Pinatubo’s viewing deck before heading back. Even if the trail was relatively easy, the sun is now at its peak and we haven’t had anything to eat for lunch. Grudgingly, we bade fare thee well to Mount Pinatubo, turned our back to her sometimes gorgeous, sometimes so-so crater, and headed to the desolation of the ashes. It was still a good second visit, non-emerald crater lake notwithstanding.
THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN CLIMBING MOUNT PINATUBO
- Wear proper clothing. A pair of light pants and comfortable shirt (with spare). Sandals or trek shoes are okay, if you have something that you can submerge in water, better. A hat or an umbrella if you must. Use sunblock. Bring a scarf or a headware for the dusty 4x4 ride.
- Bring water. The hike usually takes place in the middle of the day so it can get quite hot.
- Bring food. The crater is a nice place for a picnic, bring packed lunches. While there are food at the Pinatubo viewing deck, they are very expensive.
- Don’t rush through the trek. Slow down and enjoy the scenery, Pinatubo has one of the most unique landscapes in the Philippines.
CLIMBING MOUNT PINATUBO DIY
There are many tour groups offering package trips to Mount Pinatubo. These are relatively cheap and hassle free, but it is possible to climb Pinatubo, DIY style. First, you would need to drive or commute all the way to Sta. Juliana, the jump-off point for the 4x4 ride, book a truck via the tourism office, pay the necessary fees, and walah! You’re off to Pinatubo! Make sure you contact the tourism office first before going to make sure there are availalble slots for the day you want to climb.
Capas Tourism Office Contact Number:
(045) 925-0112 local 109 or 124
(0922) 280-7921 | (0918) 285-3019 | (0906) 462-3388
Mount Pinatubo Climb
4x4 Jump-Off Point: Brgy. Sta. Juliana at Capas, Tarlac
4x4 Ride Time: 1.5 hours one way
Hiking Time: 1.5 to 2 hours one way
Climbing Difficulaty: Easy
4x4 Rental Fee: Php3,000.00 good for 4 persons
Guide Fee: Php500.00 good for 5 persons
Environmental Fee: Php450.00 per person
GPS Coordinates: 15°19'36.0"N 120°25'39.0"E