Blessed with fair weather, the weekend trip to Mt. Pinatubo and its famous crater lake was yet another open invitation to sunburn and the occasional heat stroke. Intensified by the desert-like terrain covered in volcanic ash, the heat struck harshly as the sun rose to its midday glory.
The Pinatubo experience starts with a 4×4 jeep ride to the jump off point. After a quick stop at the Philippine Air Force checkpoint, the one-hour ride takes tourists and mountaineers alike through wide expanses of open lands left by the deadly “lahar” or pyroclastic flows of the 90s. There are only a few patches of areas covered in grass (and these were sighted at the start of the ride only). Towering land formations line the paths and provide the much needed shade at some points. The 4×4 skillfully maneuvers its way through portions of the O’Donnell River and over big loose rocks spewed by the volcano.
There used to be two jump off points where the actual trek commences: a 15-minute trail and a 2-hour trail. Since the “Pinatubo skyway” was not passable due to the beating it took during last year’s strong typhoons, all treks take the long route (note: per the local guide’s estimate, the skyway may be opened by April 2012 if and when the workers finish; last 2009, during the author’s first trip to Pinatubo, there is a skyway fee of Php500.00 for each 4×4 jeep). The longer trail follows the course of the O’Donnell River all the way to the crater. The trail has no cover and becomes very hot as the day progresses. Ash, sandy soil and even loose rocks complete the picture. Trekkers go through a lot of stream crossings that provide a contrasting relief to the heat of the trail.
After 1.5 hours of walking, the 15-minute trail is finally reached. Pinatubo suddenly transforms into a tourist facility with cottages and toilets at the foot of the final ascent. It gets more developed as the trek advances to the crater. It was a total turnaround from its rustic charm from a couple of years back. A signage, several gazebos and stone stair paths occupy the areas going to the beautiful crater lake.
Although flocked by numerous weekend tourists, the serenity of the crater lake can still be enjoyed. Its appeal still lay on the awesome sight of this enchanting crater lake with the unusual color of aqua green surrounded by balding peaks with traces of lava flows permanently scarring its facade.
Costs to expect are:
Php3,000.00 4×4 jeep (capacity: 4 to 5 persons)
500.00 guide (per 4×4 vehicle)
300.00 conservation fee
200.00 optional packed lunch (four viands, one big serving of rice, one banana and one bottled water)
The detailed schedule of a Pinatubo dayhike is as follows:
05:00 Depart Metro Manila
07:30 ETA Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac; settle fees at the Municipal Tourism Satellite Office
07:45 4×4 ride to jump off point
08:45 ETA jump off point
09:00 Start of trek
10:45 ETA Pinatubo Crater Lake
11:00 Lunch; swim
12:30 Start descent
14:10 ETA jump off point
14:30 4×4 ride back
15:30 ETA Municipal Tourism Satellite Office; wash up
16:30 Depart Capas, Tarlac
Mt. Pinatubo is accessible via private or public transportation. From the North Luzon Expressway, take the Sta. Ines exit and proceed to ply the highway to Mabalacat, Pampanga all the way to Bamban and Capas in Tarlac. At downtown Capas, at the heart of the public market, take a left at Brgy. Sto. Rosario’s marker and then a right at the first corner. After Brgy. Aranguren, turn left at the Iglesia ni Cristo and continue driving all the way to Barangays Cristo Rey, Sta. Lucia, O’Donnell and finally Sta. Juliana. There is a military checkpoint around 3 KM before reaching the Municipal Tourism Satellite Office and the Pinatubo Spa Town. If commuting, take the bus bound for either Dagupan or Lingayen and alight at Capas. As of posting, the Victory Liner website shows that the fare ranges from Php155.00 to Php170.00 per way. From the Capas public market, rent a tricycle and asked to be taken to the Sta. Juliana Tourism Office (Php300.00 per tricycle).
For registration and reservations, please contact Wendell Mercado of the Capas 4Wheelers Club at +63 919 6084313.