Awashed in sulphuric waters (Mt. Pinatubo experience)
Simplistic as it may sound, bad things almost always end up being good. After the cosmic chaos, a bright twinkling star is born.
Hiking through the vast stretch of rocks and sand, one cannot imagine that Mt. Pinatubo was once the site of one of the worst volcanic eruptions in the world. But walking and climbing the mountain 15 years after its violent eruption provides no immediate trace of destruction, but only peace and serenity.
All other obligations be damned, I readily signed up for the climb as soon as Sir Ernie and Sir Oliver informed us that Tukad would scale Mt. Pinatubo. It was chance that I am not ready to miss.
Like my previous climb in Mt. Napulauan, I prepared late for this trek. I abruptly adjourned a meeting at 2200H that Friday to pack my stuff, and be ready to load the bus by Saturday at 0200H.
Level 2, minor climb
The slopes of Mt. Pinatubo have been the home of Aeta tribes for hundreds of years. For them, the mountain is a sacred place as home to their god, Apo Mallari (Namallari). They also believed that their dead go to the top of the mountain to rest.The Aetas respect the mountain, which they consider the giver of life. They hunt their foods in its slopes, and the water that flows from the mountain nourishes them. In fact they consider the mountain interacting with them.
Before its violent explosion in 1991, Mt. Pinatubo stood at 1,750 meters above sea level. After the eruption, 150 meters of matter were blown off its top, diminishing its height to 1,600 meters above sea level.
Geologists believed that during the prehistoric times, Mt. Pinatubo might have once stood more than 2,300 meters above sea level. Its biggest eruption might have happened 35,000 years ago, where the volcano distributed 100 meters of pyroclastic flows on all its side and which is the precursor of modern day volcanoes. In fact, Mts. Cuadrado, Negron, Mataba, Bituin Plug, and Tapungho Plug are vents of this ancient volcano.
The last known eruption before the 1991 episode happened around 500 years ago. It is actually a recorded cycle of the volcano to erupt after some 500-600 years of dormancy. The 1991 eruption was considered the biggest eruption of the century. It ejected ashes 25 kilometers into the atmosphere, covering 200 square kilometers. Its haze circled around the globe altering its temperature. The lahar flow buried whole towns.
Mt. Pinatubo has been relatively quiet since the 1991-1992 eruption, but it is still active. Geologists remain wary of the possibility that the volcano may erupt during the current period.
For the Aetas, the 1991 eruption was the result of abuses made by men like illegal logging and mining. But despite the violent and deadly eruption that wiped out their community dwellings, the tribes’ respect for the mountain never waned. They believe that one day, they will be able to return to their homes.
The long wait
The climbers came from different groups. There is Tukad (to which I am climbing with for the second time), and there are other mountaineering groups coming as far as Sta. Rosa, Laguna.Some Tukad members decided to meet at the Congressional Avenue cor. EDSA and wait for the bus that will take us to Capas, Tarlac. I joined them 10 minutes before the designated time.
As it turned out, the 0200H time would become 0400H as the bus had to fetch other climbers who came late. Nevertheless, Tukad climbers and the PUP Mountaineering Society had a grand time ribbing each other, while waiting for the bus to pick us up.
We disembarked at Capas, Tarlac at around 0800H. After making last minute checks and eating a hurried breakfast, the group – around a hundred climbers – boarded rented jeepneys that will take us to the jump-off point.The Capas trail is considered the easiest route to climb Mt. Pinatubo. If you intend to drive a private car, you can take the North Expressway, then exit at Sta. Inez. You take the McArthur Highway, passing by Banban until you will finally reach Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas, Tarlac.
If you’re using public transport, take a bus from Manila bound for Lingayen or Dagupan and alight at Capas, Tarlac. From the Capas public market, jeeps and tricycles bound for Brgy. Sta. Juliana are available.
Then from the Sta. Juliana Barangay Hall, you can get information as well as guides from the barangay hall itself.
From Brgy. Sta. Juliana, trekking to the crater takes 6-8 hours on foot passing by “lahar deserts.” The vast expanse of lahar-covered area between the barangay where we disembarked and the jump-off point serves as manifestation of the destruction brought by the eruption. Hectares and hectares of once teeming rice fields are now covered with fine volcanic ashes.
Trekking the gullies
From the jump-off point, the group hiked for the rest of the morning. Unlike my previous climb, the trek was relatively easy and relaxed. But since it was a long time since my last climb, my shoulders were aching as I carried by backpack. I had to shift my weight several times because of the odd pain I was experiencing.
Notwithstanding the pain, everything was a sight to behold. All around us were amazing formations of rocks, hard ash, and lush greeneries that have grown over the years. One would never imagine that this was the site of one the worst volcanic eruptions in the world.
I took my time hiking the place, taking pictures, and soaking myself with mental pictures of the trail. Streams and gullies snaked their way across our path.
After our third turn in the trail, we reached the falls where we will take our lunch. Lunch was a hurried affair, with most climbers wanting to catch up on rest, and possible snatch a doze. The group decided to delay the trek for two hours to avoid the heat of the peaking sun.
It is advisable to trek early in the morning or later in the afternoon, so as to avoid the raging heat of the sun. The trail becomes very hot during the summer months since the ashes are reflecting the sun’s rays, and there is a scant number of vegetation to take refuge against the heat.
Race to the top
The final stretch to the peak was tough and rough: we had to climb over slippery rocks and traverse running streams. With the sun’s catching up on us, and the fine sand finding their way between our toes, all we wanted was to reach our destination. But the peak still seemed so far away.
Past 1600H, the group was able to reach the crater. The difficult climb was all worth it, as we beheld the magnificent view of the crater’s pristine blue waters.
We set up camp by the ledge of the crater – the designated place for campers. We proceeded in preparing our dinner – cooking rice, chopping meat and vegetables, and making sure that everyone will have a fair share of food.
I sighed, promising myself to give myself either one of these gears as a Christmas gift.
After eating dinner, I tried to get some rest before the evening socials. Unfortunately, though, I underestimated the body’s tiredness: I just slept all throughout that night, missing the evening socials with the whole group!
The sun just woke up when I got out of our tent the following day. With my camera in tow, I proceeded down the crater to get a closer glimpse of the majestic lake. It was a sight to behold!
After eating a breakfast of leftovers from the night before, the group took a dip in the crater’s lukewarm blue water. We could never believe that the once placid lake was a deep chasm of fire and molten rocks.
We approached the lake with skepticism, because the lake takes a steep slope downward just several feet from the shore. Sir Ernie quipped: “Wala akong tiwala sa tubig tabang, kasi at least sa tubig alat, alam mong lulutang ka talaga.”
But adventurous souls that we are, Sir Pete and I attempted to cross the lake, swimming to the nearest crater wall opposite the shore. It was the longest 100-meter continuous swim of my life. Thank God for my Sunday laps in the Marikina Sports Center, or else I would have drowned.
The other climbers “toured” the expanse of the lake, as kayaks and bancas were available for rent.
After frolicking in the waters, we all went back to camp to prepare the trek back to civilization.
Back in Brgy. Sta Juliana, the group washed away the dust with running water from the showers that are readily available in the barangay hall. For our aching body, we washed it with Emperador brandy and one round in the videoke machine.
As we embarked on our travel back to Manila, I reminisced the climb we had, and the fellowship we made with nature and with other climbers.
The mountains have always had an enigmatic effect on my person. Whenever I am up there, there is only the here and now. No worries, no hassles, no anxieties. It was an experience well worth the effort and decision to forego my other commitments that weekend.
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