Trekking Mount Pinatubo is a popular physical activity a few hours from Manila. Located in Luzon, Mount Pinatubo is near the three provinces of Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga.
Mount Pinatubo was a mountain with a summit of 1,745 meters above sea level. In the nineties, it was a popular hiking destination for US soldiers from a nearby military base.
In June 1991, the mountain erupted for nine hours, producing high-speed avalanches of ash, gas and lava. The mountain was actually part of a chain of volcanoes on the west coast of Luzon. It was thought to be a dormant volcano and the eruption displaced thousands of families and killed about 800 people.
The eruption caused the summit of Mount Pinatubo to completely collapse, creating a caldera with a 2.5 kilometer diameter. The new summit was now 145 meters lower than before the explosion. Over the years, the caldera collected water from the rains. As such, a lake in the crater of Mount Pinatubo has formed there today. It is one of the highlights of the trek.
During the eruption, a tropical storm was passing to the northeast of the mountain, causing the volcanic ash to mix with water vapor. It is believed the coinciding typhoon significantly increased the death toll from the eruption.
A massive ash cloud covered nearby areas and some ash fall reached neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Before starting the trek, visitors head to the local tourism office and rent a 4×4 jeep with a driver. The jeep will run across Crow Valley, which is surrounded by huge lahar formations and fields of ash. Gray and silent, it is a moonlike terrain.
There are various trails with different levels of intensity. The most popular beginner’s trail is a two to three hour climb to the crater. It involves going through ash-covered terrain and several rocky streams. The trail closest to the crater has been damaged by a recent typhoon and cannot be used for safety reasons.
The crater lake is a picturesque wonder. A marker bearing a welcome to “The Majestic Crater of Mount Pinatubo” overlooks the lake. A large wooden cross is erected a few meters away. There is a small hut as well where trekkers can take a rest and eat snacks.
From that point, trekkers climb down towards the lake. It is usually blue-green depending on the recent weather and algae activity. The lake looks very calm against the crater’s walls. However, the lake quickly slopes downwards. After a trekker drowned in the lake a couple of years back, swimming in the lake has been prohibited.
The trek back to the jeeps and base point takes another couple of hours. A community of Aetas, an indigenous people in Luzon, lives nearby. They own the area as their ancestral land.
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo is considered the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.
If not joining of a group tour, take a any bus that will pass by Capas Junction, Tarlac (usually, this is a bus going to Baguio, Pangasinan or Tarlac). Alight at Capas Junction and take a tricycle to the Pinatubo Tourism Office to arrange your trek.