Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mt. Pinatubo

(Please click the photos to enlarge)

A lot has been written about the magnificent Mt. Pinatubo caldera. With a width of 2.5 km, depth of 77 m and an inviting crater lake, my mind just went blank upon laying my eyes on its waters.

This photo doesn't do justice to how awesome the lake is. I would also like to highlight that 800 people died when this lake was formed during the 1991 eruption. It was one of the most destructive volcanic activity in recent history.

If dust bath, trekking on loose ground, and volcanoes are your cup of tea, then seeing the Mt. Pinatubo crater is definitely a must-do in this lifetime.

Let me share with you my Pinatubo experience.

At about 90 kms direct distance from Manila, we left Balintawak (Manila end of NLEX) at 4 AM. This gave us ample time to pick up a friend in Angeles, have breakfast in Capas Tarlac and be at the PDC Spa Town (Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac) by 6:30 AM. The trek starts at 5:30 in the morning and the operator stops deploying trekkers at 7:30 AM.

Click to enlarge. Map courtesy of Marissa (Capas Dept of Tourism)

If you prefer a straight driver, 1.5 hrs is sufficient to reach the jump off point.

Pay Trek Fee at the Admin Office.

You can opt to have an arranged trip which can cost about PhP 3500 per person including van transfers from Manila or you can organize it yourselves via the Department of Tourism. I did just that and for a group of 5, the trek cost us PhP 1600/person excluding transfers from Manila to Sta. Juliana. There are pros and cons, and it's up to your group to decide.

You have to register at the PDC Spa Town Admin office and pay the following fees:

4x4 "Skyway" Toll                PhP 500
Local Guide                         PhP 500
Conservation Fee                PhP 60/person
Lunch at the Spa                 PhP 250 /person
Use of Shower Facility       PhP 100/person

I suggest that you avail of the use of shower facility because you definitely want to take a shower after the dust bath. The shower is clean and provides towel so no need to bring one.

4x4 ride (PhP 2500 per jeep)

You have 2 options to reach the crater, hike the 30-km trail along the O'Donnell River or take a 4x4 jeep to Sitio Dapili then hike the rest of the trail. The jeep can accommodate 5 people.

The first leg of the all-terrain vehicle ride consists of navigating the dusty flatland. Just a suggestion, the Capas Municipality can organize an ATV adventure on this flatland. That would be fun.

Photo by Nestee Cunanan

Then you will be greeted by this beautiful lahar-scape.

Photo by Nestee Cunanan

You can take photos at this point before starting the ascent to Sitio Dapili via the skyway. This is the point where you get amazed by the capability of the 1960s Toyota 4x4. It navigates the steep ascent with so much stability.

First Leg: 30-min Hike

After the dusty, bun-exercising, 45-min 4x4 ride, the 4x4 driver handed us over to Manong Bong, our trek guide. We started our descent towards the O'Donnell River. I find this part of the hike challenging because the rocks are loose and kinda difficult to manage.

Nonetheless, the view is gorgeous. The lahar mountain walls are pretty and the mixture of loose rocks is a good topic among nerd trekkers. We spent the whole time spotting igneous rocks and hard to find sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. Oh, we also spent a good time discussing what minerals are causing this color.

It was quite windy and cold so your windbreaker is your best friend. I also don't recommend wearing shorts because the weather is a bit chilly at this time of the year. Footwear with good traction is highly recommended (trek shoes and mountaineering slippers). My 7.0 Free wasn't the best choice. Our guide's Spartan tsinelas held up pretty well.

Yes, it is for the young and the old but it is not an easy trail. The loose trail is really a challenge so cardio and endurance training before the hike can work well for anyone.

See that old Korean lady, that's really inspiring.

Second Leg: 20-min Hike

Our group rested at this break point midway along the trail.

According to the wooden information board, you can make it in 15 minutes if you're young and 20 minutes if you're old. We made it in 30. Haha!

You can enjoy your trail mix and energy bars as well as use the comfort room.

The second leg has a different view compared to the first leg. Trees dot the trail and a shallow stream provides a soothing sound as you walk the path to the crater.

The Caldera


The caldera is truly beautiful. It provides a good backdrop for photos and just the bragging right that you've actually seen and been to an active stratovolcano is more than enough to make the trip.

Photo by Nestee Cunanan

Most groups descend to the lake shore and we did just that. Along the shore, groups camp out, lounge and swim. The water is cold and the sand is soft and loose.

The Other Side of the Lake (PhP 250/person)

You can opt to take a boat and row to the other side of lake.

Photo by Dennis Tagaza

This is definitely the highlight of my trip.

The view is more awesome at the other side of the lake. The water is warmer. And it is more quiet.

The crater wall has a breathtaking formation.

The water is warm and the sand is HOT. It is so hot that digging your toes into the sand is definitely not an option. If you bury egg in the sand, give it 20 mins and you get hard-boiled egg. We are going back just to do this experiment. And yes, there are small steam vents in the water, it's actually nice to observe that.

The other side of the lake is perfect for:

Swimming. Bragging right #2. I took a dip in a volcano crater! Make sure your feet don't touch the sand for more than 2 secs because they will literally get burned!

Do jump shot.

Photo by the Manong Bangkero

Have a quiet talk.

And laugh.

In Summary:

1. Mt. Pinatubo is worth the trip for its magnificence. The picturesque trail, the lovely crater walls and the caldera are all worth it.

2. The trek is for all ages but... the ride is bumpy, the trek is on loose ground and preparing by exercising is highly recommended. Bringing water and trail food is also a must.

3. Arranging the trip on your own is cheaper if you don't mind the extra work and driving yourselves to Capas Tarlac. I highly recommend Miss Marissa of Capas Dept of Tourism, kindly send me a message/tweet if you're interested to get her contact detail.

Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake
Botolan, Zambales

PDC Spa Town
Sta Juliana
Capas, Tarlac

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