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.