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Swimming on Mt. Pinatubo's CraterMarch 31, 2007

Swimming on Mt. Pinatubo's Crater

An Unexpected Invite
While in Baguio, I texted my friends to say Hi and find out what's happening. Jim Ward, of Bliss Café, replied with an invite to climb Mt. Pinatubo with 6 of his friends. It was a very tempting offer. I've heard so much about the crater of Mt. Pinatubo. It didn't take long to convince myself to join the crowd. It's one of those doors that just open when I go with the flow.

Mt. Pinatubo Background
The volcano erupted in 1991 after being dormant for 635 years. The eruption produced the largest and most violent terrestrial explosion of this century with its ashes scattering around the world, effectively lowering down global temperature by 1 degree. The explosion blew up the last 800 meters of its vertical height, creating a 2.5 km crater that has since been filled with rain water.

Hooking Up
I hooked up with Jim and his wife Shanti at the Baguio Victory bus station and took the Manila-bound bus. We got off at Capas, Tarlac and met the rest of the group, who still came from Manila. We contracted a jeep to take us straight to Santa Juliana. Upon arrival, arrangements were made at the barangay hall for a guide and a 4x4 jeep transport.

The Crew
What can I say? This crew is a lot of fun. The personalities meshed well, there was support and cooperation, each one carried his/her own weight, and everyone was familiar to the rudiments of mountaineering. The culture was very different from UP Mountaineers but its all good. I've always wanted to know what it's like to be with other climbers.

The 1 Hour 4x4 Jeep Travel
There was no road. We were going through the path created by the lahar flow. The landscape is nothing less than surreal...think Lord of the Rings meet Mad Max in Mars. What used to be impenetrable mountain jungle is now a flat gray desert-like canyon. The heat was scorching. The jeep made several crosses into the meandering river, some with 1-foot drops. After an hour's ride, the jeep could go no further - the river crossing was too deep. We disembarked to start our trek.

The 3.5 Hour Trek
The landscape was pretty much the same for the next 2.5 hours. We were baked, roasted and fried by the unforgiving sun. Call it dorky, but I took out my umbrella...I have nothing to prove. The canyon gradually narrowed down to a single-track. There were more greens where the upland streams converged. A water source is available 20 minutes before reaching the crater. After a short mild climb, we were at ground zero. I didn't realize that the whole time we were on the 4x4 and while we were trekking, we were already ascending a mild grade. It is the only 1300-meter climb that I didn't feel.

The Crater Site
There was a fenced view deck giving a panoramic view of the 'bowl'. The steep descent to the water is about 100 feet down. The water level used to be at the view deck, but the risk of a rim collapse, triggering a catastrophic flow-over of all that water will result in another lahar devastation into the surrounding towns. In 2001, a notch was created to drain a quarter of the crater water down to its present level.

Crater Fun
With the recent rain, the water wasn't as clear, but it was warm and fun to frolic, swim, and go for a canoe ride. There is a cordon that marks the off-limit area. The guides advised that the middle of the crater is deceptively calm. It has strong spiraling winds that can make the canoe unstable. Some remote sections of the crater are still boiling. It was tempting to ignore the warning and canoe beyond the demarcation line, but prudence got the better of us.

We camped on the outer rim surrounding the crater. No one is allowed to camp down by the water since the area is a flow-path for boulders running off from the slope. There weren't too many level areas to pitch a tent on so it's best to stake your ground upon arriving. Nights go down to a comfortable 180C. There isn't a sizeable tree to put a hammock on.

Ending Thoughts
Mt. Pinatubo is by far the most surreal of all the mountains I've climbed on. The sensory experience is out of this world - the eerie landscape, the arid emptiness of a desert, the scorching heat, swimming on the crater. It's a rare treat.

--- TheLoneRider

** My digicam jammed. Pictures courtesy of Reggie Aquino and Aarone Sunglao. (Did I leave anyone out?)
    Getting There from Baguio:
  1. take Victory Bus bound for Manila and get off at the public market in Capas, Tarlac (P230, 3.5 hours)
  2. board a jeep to Panlit (P22, 1 hour)
  3. from Panlit, take a tricycle to the jump-off point, Santa Juliana (P20, 30 min.)
  4. register at the barangay hall and make arrangements for guide and 4x4 jeep
    Trek Costs:
  • guide - P500/day for 5 people
  • 4x4 jeep - P3000, for 4 people
  • registration - P50
  • don't go there during the rainy season - there could be flash-flooding that may result in lahar flow
  • bring your food and water - there are no restaurants in the crater
  • bring an umbrella - the sun is no joke
  • bring only enough water for your 3-hour trek - there is a water source 20 minutes from the crater.
  • on the return, if you are heading north from Capas, Tarlac, stop by Razon's for the best halo-halo in town. It's close to the Victory Bus station in Tarlac, Tarlac.
  • it's NOT bikeable - you'll be pushing 95% of the way, according to one who did it. Your tires will sink in the sand.
  • For more information, contact:
    Department of Tourism
    Regional Office No. 3
    City of San Fernando, Pampanga: Tel. No. (6345) 961 2665/2612
    Angeles City Tourism Office: Tel. No. (6345) 322 0507/4484
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Reader Comments:

Aarone Sunglao<Aarone Sunglao
(10 Apr 2007) Ang ganda naman ng web site mo. Marami ka rin pa lang activities bukod sa mountaineering. Sinilip ko yung site mo and your article about Pinatubo. Sana makasama ka uli namin sa future climbs. We are planning to climb Mt. Ugu, Nueva Viscaya this coming May. Nice meeting you.

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