Mt. Pinatubo trek guide

An Encyclopedic Guide on Trekking Mt. Pinatubo

Saturday, April 07, 2012Ryan Mach

Hiking through the volcanic landscape of Mt. Pinatubo is perhaps the closest thing you can have in experiencing a Tolkienesque world. With unique and stunning scenery of sculpted sandstone and long winding streams, you'll be in for an interesting trek. For starters, you'll wind your way through sand dunes and dust carpeted plains, through rocky gullies and canyon walls. The trek, supervised by local guides (each group has one assigned), can be a wondrous journey but it should be noted that it can also be quite dangerous especially when there's rain. Flash floods quickly occur so make sure to pay the weather man absolute attention when planning a trek. That being said, only go when there is no rain in the forecast.

Hard-core hikers may consider trekking to Mt. Pinatubo as cliche because of its popularity and the easiness of the trail. Regardless, the landscape offers scenic vistas and the turqoise blue crater lake is a destination that's worth seeing. And yes, trekking to the most sought after crater is physically demanding.

Are you convinced yet to trek Mt. Pinatubo? Well, here is a guide that might help you survive the hike. I'm not saying trekking to a volcano is dangerous but a little preparation and knowledge will definitely come in handy. You don't have to be a complete health buff to hike. What you need are two legs. And a good weather.

Package tours and tour guides are not exactly our cup of tea but we're suckers for cheap online promos. When Ensogo offered a Mt. Pinatubo Trek deal, our friend Phyl booked a group reservation for only 999 which is relatively cheaper compared to other tour packages' normal rate of 2900 per person. The caveat, it didn't include bus transfer, food and other fees. But we love to commute. We hate the add-on fees but we love to trek.

1. Treks are normally scheduled on a weekend. Sunday, to be specific. If you're based in Manila, you can take the 3 or 4am trip to Baguio at Victony Liner (Cubao or Pasay) then drop off at Capas, Tarlac. Bus conductors know the place by heart so they don't need reminding come getting-off time. One-way fare is Php170.

I'll probably get hungry. Are there convenience stores around? Yes. There are food stalls inside and 7-11 outside the terminal.

I haven't been to Victory Liner. How do I get there? If you're from Makati and you decide to take a bus, tell the driver to drop you off at Baliwag Transit. Victory Liner is just across.

Why 3am? You need to be in Santa Juliana by 6am. 4x4s leave at 7am. Travel time is around an hour and a half. Remember, early birds get the worm. Whatever that means.

Can I bring my own car? By all means. You can park it near the restaurant in Sta Juliana under the canopy of huge mango trees. Not sure though if there are parking fees. Just assume there is, because everything in that place seems to charge anything they think can be charged.
2. If you decide to commute, you need to drop off at McDo in Capas, Tarlac otherwise you'll be rubbing  sand in your eyes in Baguio. There are trikes waiting at the gasoline station which is just across McDo. One way fare is 100 per person, non-negotiable. You can try to haggle but drivers will tell you they can't go beyond 100. They'll console you though that you won't have to worry about your transpo in getting back to the same spot. That means you're hiring the same trike. Slick.

From McDo, the trike will wind its way through idyllic villages while you chatter your teeth and have goosebumps all over. The wind gushing from the mountainside will welcome you with chilling coolness.

There aren't jeepneys around?

There are but they don't ply to Santa Juliana (SJ). We don't know why, but we guess it has something to do with the breadth of the road that leads to SJ. It's cemented but very narrow, a jeepney can hardly fit there. We forgot to ask the driver of the trike because we're busy covering ourselves up with any clothing available to shield us against the cold.
3. You don't necessarily have to wear your hike outfit when you travel to Tarlac because you have one hour to change clothes at the hiker's place (Kubo Grill restaurant) in SJ. Be ready to join the long lines at the CR, they only have two and they charge 5 pesos for using it. If you don't have qualms about showing your body, then by all means you're free to change in one of the kiosks. Before the call-time, you should have already applied your sunblock and worn your cap, rashguard and hike shoes.

4. If you want to get the best possible price, don't book on package tours. Hop on a bus to Capas, ride a trike to SJ and look for Manong Mario Kadiang. There will be  numerous people who will be jumping at the chance to organize your hike to the crater, 4x4 included. So drop your backs in Capas and sort it out from there.

Who is Mario Kadiang? He's our assigned tour guide. He has 8 kids, a self-confessed pabling and a tanod on weekdays.

I want to contact him. Does he have a cellphone number?
Sorry, he doesn't have a cellphone. But he says he's always around the tourism office and everyone knows him. Everyone knows anyone in the province, that's a given. He might be booked during the weekends so your best bet is to do the trek on a weekday, less people.

5. Upon arrival at Sta. Juliana, you will be given until 6:45 to take your breakfast. For most tour companies, departure is at exactly 7am. Different story when you're not with a tour company. You can choose your own pace though it's best to leave early if you're doing a day hike and taking a 4x4 is a must.

No habal-habal or mountain bike available? Good idea, buddy but I'm not really sure how a habal-habal or mountain bike will fare on the rugged terrain. Hey, if you can pull off a stunt like that, you'll be my hero.
6. Seating arrangement on the 4x4 jeeps is strictly implemented even on the way back from the crater. Jeeps can only accommodate 5 people, plus the tour guide. Renting one can cost you 2,500 - that's 500 per person if you're a group of five. All 4wds convoy and in case you're separated from your companions, you can rejoin them at the jump off point after the 45 minute ride. Not really the case all the time because some 4wds get to the jump off spot faster and the guides seem to run on a busy schedule. They advise to stay with the assigned tour guide at all time, but this rule is not written in stone, you can wander off the beaten path. Don't get too far though and stay away from  the mountainside.
Can I stand on the jeep while it's on the move? I don't see any reason you can't. There are several bumps on the road though so don't get complacent on your footing. And strap your camera pretty well. The ride can get real crazy.

7. Bring water and trail food. It's a two-hour trek from the jump-off point. There's barely shade so you're completely exposed to sunlight, and that means you will easily get dehydrated and hungry. You will also be burning tons of calories (yes!), and chocolates and candies can give you a quick sugar boost.

Suppose I have to make water, are there comfort rooms on the way to the crater? Yeah, plenty of space to do your business. There are shrubs and rocks that can hide you from those prying eyes. Or you can simply dip in the rivulet and pretend you tripped over. To make your drama more effective, complain to anyone who would listen that you've sprained your ankle and can barely stand up. If you're too decent to do that, there's a real comfort room waiting for you near the crater.
8. What should I wear? Wear something comfortable for your feet. Shoes, sandals, boots, flip flops, doesn't matter. Whatever works for you as footwear while hiking. But please, buy one that's waterproof.  You will be crossing small rivers and wet feet can cause blisters, and blisters cause you to hate hiking. We want you to love hiking.
Light colored and light weight clothing that wicks moisture is a necessity. And sunscreen. And hat.

9. Keep your own stride, don't hurry but avoid slackening down. Go at your own pace. Falling behind the rest of the group kinda sucks especially if you have them all waiting on you.

10. Be a responsible hiker. Don't litter. Leave only footprints.

11. I'm planning on bringing a tent. Can I stay there overnight? That I'm not very sure. Suppose you can. Ask someone from the tourism office before you pack your camp gears.

12. Before noon, you will have reached the crater. Take your souvenir photos with the crater in the background. Don't be an a-hole by staying too long at the sign fronting the crater, other trekkers would want to have their photos taken at that spot. Look for a shade around the camp and prepare for your lunch. Head down to the crater for a swim.
 I heard the water's deep. Is it true? Yes, it is. Some guys from PhiVolcs have tried to measure its depth but they came up with nothing. It's an unfathomable abyss - extremely deep. Remember it's a volcano crater, so who knows how deep the water is. If you're not  good swimmer, best to stay at the shallow part. Or wear a life jacket. Or simply enjoy the view. If it's any consolation, no one has drowned there yet.

13. Departure from the crater lake is around 2pm. It's another 2 hours of trekking down. Have fun!

I sincerely hope that this guide will help you plan your trek to Mt. Pinatubo. Oh, another piece of advice - be prepared physically and temporarily limiting your booze intake can give you an advantage. Happy trekking!

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