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Trekking a beautiful disaster: Mt. Pinatubo

In February 2011, my siblings and I reached the summit of the country’s highest peak, Mt. Apo. It was a four-day trek going up and down the mountain and during those times, the bond that I had with my brother and sister grew stronger. It was definitely a bucket list item and the sense of adventure I felt back then made me appreciate nature even more. Since then, I knew trekking or mountaineering would be something I would love and, if ever given the chance, I would definitely do again.

Mt. Apo | Feb 2011
Mt. Apo | Feb 2011

Two weeks ago the universe gave me a chance to conquer one of natures majestic creations once more.

After Maan and I enjoyed Nagsasa in Zambales and the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark, we headed to Tarlac for the last leg of our South Central Luzon adventure and tick off another item in our bucket list: trek the crater of Mt. Pinatubo.

Touchdown at the crater
Touchdown at the crater

For this last leg, we decided to tag along with a touring group since we found it more practical and convenient. We went with Mt. Pinatubo Adventure Philippines as we have received great recommendations from Facebook friends about them. Their package costs around Php 2,000.00 / head and includes climb permit, 4×4 off-road ride, and guide payment among others. Van transfers to and from Manila are also included, with pickup points in McDonald’s Quezon North Ave., SM Pampanga, and McDonald’s in Capas, Tarlac. In our case, since we’re already in Angeles City, Pampanga, we opted to be picked up in Capas since it’s nearer, compared to going back to SM Pampanga. It’s the last pickup point and from there, it’s a 30-40 minutes drive to the briefing area in Santa Juliana, Capas, Tarlac.

The initial pickup time in Capas that was agreed upon was 5:30AM but due to a last-minute advisory by the Tourism office saying that tours for that day have to finish early, our pickup time was adjusted to 3:30AM. From Angeles, it’s also a 30-40 minutes bus ride going to Capas. Maan and I woke up at around 2:30AM, heated the pizza from the previous night, got out of the guest house, and rode a jeep to Mabalacat (Dau) bus terminal. Thank God public transportation in the city runs 24 hours. We arrived in the terminal just in time to get on a bus headed to Dagupan and arrived in Capas just in time that the tour van arrived there to pick us up. We arrived in Santa Juliana for the tour/trek briefing at around 4:15AM.

The place was packed with tourists, guides, and drivers and everyone seemed so busy when we got there. Kuya Dudz, the field coordinator for our group, was so accommodating and we didn’t have to worry much about everything except our own stuff. He even asked us for our food choices for the lunch once we get back. Our grouping was already organized as well so we didn’t have to worry which 4×4 jeep we’re riding and with who. Each jeep consists of at most 5 guests and we were thankful that Miss Hydee, the office coordinator for the tour, grouped us with cool people.

There are kids in the briefing area selling sticks (trekking sticks). For seasoned mountaineers, I guess this isn’t totally necessary but for someone like us who haven’t done trekking in a while, it’s a pretty good idea to buy one. Besides, it’s only Php 20.00 each and by buying one, you’re helping the community. My only problem with having a trekking stick is that I can’t use my GoPro since I have to keep one hand free to assist Maan when the terrain is a little bit rocky and/or slippery.

Just before 5AM we hopped into our assigned jeep and one by one, the jeeps started rolling out. The 4×4 off-road ride from the briefing area to the staging area (where you actually start trekking) takes about an hour and since it was still very dark, all we could see are the head lights of the jeeps ahead and the ones trailing behind us. From time to time we would stand for a couple of minutes just to try and see what’s ahead of us. It was a good idea that I brought my hoodie as the air was very cold.

Pit stop.
Pit stop

After thirty minutes or so, the morning light started to seep in. The sky was starting to become blue and slowly, we can see the surroundings. It was awesome to finally see our path and from the distance, I could see all other jeeps trailing behind us. Apparently, we were one of the first groups to leave the briefing area. It was a little past 6AM when we arrived at the staging area. From that point, it would take us 2 hours of trekking to reach the crater lake. So, the real challenge begins.

Sun is rising
Sun is rising

Maan and I started trekking on our own pace while Debbie, Mike, and Jerome (the three other guys in our group) all went ahead. They didn’t seem to need guiding/assistance as they are seasoned mountaineers. Our guide noticed this and tried to stay in between the three of them and me and Maan.

It was already 6:30AM and we could still feel the cold air but we can clearly see our surroundings.We continued trekking for another hour until we reached the pre-final landing site. I’m not sure what it’s called, really. I just came up with that name. From here on, it’s just 15-20 minutes to the crater, depending on your age group. Here you can rest, drink up, pee, and even buy some ice candies in the shelter.

After resting for a bit, we continued on the last leg of the trek towards the crater. From wide open, rocky, and semi-flat to wet, lush, and steep terrain, we immediately felt that, yeah, this is really where the trek begins. But on a rather more serious note, in the past, the 4×4 jeeps were allowed to drive up to the pre-final landing area. Rain and erosion must have probably changed the terrain drastically.

So you mean we haven't been trekking?
So you mean we haven’t been trekking?

As usual, Maan and I took our time and after more than 20 minutes, we finally reached the crater. The sight was truly amazing. The sky was blue, there were no clouds in sight, and the lake was calm. There were even no ripples in the water. After catching our breath, we made our way down the lake where the other guests were resting and enjoying the view.

The view was even more magnificent up close. It was like we were in Norway or some place in Europe. The water was clear and there were no trash around. Swimming in the lake was permitted before but after a non-trekking-related incident in 2013 that happened while a guest was swimming, it was already forbidden.

After taking some photos with my phone, I finally decided to rest and enjoy the view. I concluded that something as magnificent as this should be enjoyed by your own eyes, and not through someone else’s photos of the place.

Reflections | Lenovo S850
Reflections | Lenovo S850

While Maan and I were busy making up stories about the crater lake, other guests were busy munching on their food. Some guests even packed a whole lunch meal for their group. It was like a fiesta in there. Too bad we didn’t bring any for ourselves.

After two hours, our group decided to go back up and head back to the staging site, which is another 2 hours of trekking. But before leaving, Maan and I took more photos and some video clips. Be sure to do this yourselves when you get there as it might just be the only chance you’ll ever get.

Here's a selfie
Here’s a selfie
Say hi to Maan | Blaggir pose
Maan’s blaggir pose
My turn to do the blaggir pose (c) maanbcajipe
My turn to do the blaggir pose (c) maanbcajipe

Heading back to the staging area was relatively faster but was a lot more exhausting. It was already around 10:30AM this time and the sun was sky high. We were getting fried but didn’t think about it too much. We just enjoyed each other’s company and the trek going down, taking our time, even though a lot of guests had already passed us and the three fellas from our group are probably back in the jeep by now.

Backtrack to staging area
Backtrack to staging area

Along the way, we encountered Aeta kids. Aeta‘s are the natives that live around the volcano and even in some places in the Mountain Province. Maan still have one power bar left and decided to give it to them, but not without a group picture first. They were a bunch of happy kids and they didn’t seem to worry about anything at all.

#SquadGoals
#SquadGoals | Also probably a good idea to bring slippers for the kids

By the time we arrived in the staging area, some of the jeeps have already left. Debbie, Mike, and Jerome are relaxing in our jeep even though it was scorching hot. Once we were settled in the jeep, we rode off. Just a few more hours and we’re home.

R-L: Mike, Debbie, Jerome, Maan, and Me
R-L: Mike, Debbie, Jerome, Maan, and Me
On our way home | Didn't notice the water spots on the GoPro case. Psshh.
On our way home | Didn’t notice the water spots on the GoPro case. Psshh.
Lahar. Lahar everywhere
Probably a good idea to go ahead with the other groups so as not to eat their jeep’s dust

After more than an hour, we finally arrived in the briefing area. I couldn’t wait to take my shoes off and drink some cold water. But apart from the cold water and being able to take my shoes off, there’s one more thing that I have been looking forward to: some cold nonstop shower.

We finished our shower and changing clothes just in time for lunch to be served. Once we finished eating and fixed our stuff, I went to the Tourism Office to look for our guide. I handed him some tip and thanked him for his patience (since he had to stop always and wait for us to finish taking photos while trekking).

Before 2PM, we were all inside the van and after doing the head count and clarifying that we’re all good to go, Kuya Dudz stepped on the gas and we were on our way to Manila.

As the van drove off, I looked around and imagined how it was like before and during the time the volcano erupted. Then I took my phone and browsed through the photos that I took earlier. I smiled to myself, realizing that although hundreds and thousands of lives were lost that day, and how it gives livelihood to the people around it through tourism, Mt. Pinatubo is, indeed, a beautiful disaster.

Itinerary:

  • 2:30AM – left guest house at Angeles City, got on a bus in Mabalacat (Dau) Terminal
  • 3:40AM – arrived at McDonald’s Capas, Tarlac
  • 4:10AM – arrived in briefing area, Santa Juliana, Capas, Tarlac
  • 4:55AM – left briefing area
  • 6:00AM – arrived in staging area
  • 7:15AM – arrived in pre-landing area
  • 7:50AM – reached the crater
  • 10:00AM – left the crater
  • 12:00NN – arrived in staging area
  • 1:00PM – arrived in briefing area
  • 2:00PM – left Tarlac for Manila
  • 5:00PM – arrived in McDonald’s Quezon North Ave.,

Expenses:

  • Mt. Pinatubo tour – Php 2,000.00 each
  • Lunch – Php 150.00 each
  • Trek stick – Php 20.00 each
  • Shower – Php 50.00 each

Things to bring:

  • Trek food
  • Lunch/brunch
  • Some extra food/snacks for the Aeta kids/people
  • Trash bag
  • Slippers and towel (for taking a shower, of course)
  • Change clothes
  • Face towel
  • Sunblock
  • Some stuff you would like to give to your guide (like a pair of old snickers/trek shoes) or the Aeta‘s

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