20 years after fallout Mt. Pinatubo resurrects from Ashes

June 15, 1991 marked the day of the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century. The location: Mt. Pinatubo, Luzon, Philippines. Amongst the Cabusilan Mountains stands Pinatubo 1,485 m (4,872 ft) above sea-level, but before this grand act of nature it stood nearly 300 meters more at 1,745 m (5,725 ft). Pinatubo’s violence devastated the surround area shooting volcanic debris and ash some 500 m into the atmosphere. Nearly 1000 natives lost their lives sadly because of the fallout, however nearly 60,000 Aeta people were saved because of proper seismic readings, predictions and evacuation to surrounding areas including Manila.


So now over 20 years later the change is still evident, but the beauty as well. Planned day treks to the center of Pinatubo are available from both Manila and Angeles but of course I enjoy the do-it-yourself sort of way where ever possible. I will say, that part of path I chose still involved hiring a 4×4 driver and guide to trek up to Pinatubo which you cannot get around. However packing a lunch and getting to San Juliana by my own means but my cost in half.

Pinatubo landmarks one the great destination points of the Manila/Angeles area of Luzon but is often overlooked in favor of Lake Taal. It does still draws plenty of Filipinos as evident of the Sunday trek I made with my mate Matthew Levitt. Again setting out for our third adventure together (Malaysian Grand Prix and Lukban Pahiyas festival the other two) we made our way from Manila to Angeles via bus Saturday night. No time for the glitz and/or grit of Angeles but we did catch the Chelsea Bayer Munich Champions League Final. An epic match but terrible result for my Tottenham Hotspurs. Chelsea’s victory cost the Spurs their spot next year in the Champions League. But that’s another story for another day.

From Angeles Matt and I caught a bus from Dau Station to San Rafael. Make sure you tell the driver to drop you there because you’ll need to catch a long Jeepney from there. We overshot that and had to backtrack down the MacArthur Highway. So Jeepney to Capas and then a tricycle (or motorbike with sidecar) to San Juliana where the base of your trek through and up the valley begins. Renting a jeep and a guide is 4100 pesos. You can split that up to five ways, so if you can get a group together it’ll be that much more cost effective. Remember this is after finding a way to San Juliana. If your group is on a budget and is ok going without a tour, this is your option; else look for a tour.

From San Juliana our 4×4 departed with the driver and Jesse our foot guide. Matt and I were curious as to the need of 4×4 and wondered if we could actually just rent a car or bike and go ourselves. Turns out you really need to go this route. Yeah maybe you could rent bike but man it would be tough to get through the shifting river bank of the valley of volcanic ash. And if it really started raining you would be up sh*ts creek literally. So we drove in the back of a 4×4 approximately 45 minutes through the winding valley to get to a drop off point. Here the driver waited and Jesse would take us the rest of the way.

Now our trek really picked up as we headed up the valley towards Pinatubo. Matthew and I were joined by a group wonderful Filipino women that, as always, brighted up the day. Irene, Melba, Vanity, Benilyn et al. accompanied us for the 90 minute ascent.  The valley continued to twist and turn and the rock formation became more and more shapely framing the path. Angles in all degrees pointing in all different directions as a result of the massive eruption. Jesse being an Aeta knew the land well and pointed out key areas that had changed as a result. My amazement came when he stated that the valley was nearly 200 meters deeper before 1991 then it currently was. After the many years it took for fallout to settle, it painted this landscape a beautifully contrasting green grey color. Jesse’s expertise also came in crossing the stream at the right spots. A false step could have lead to a sprained ankle or something worse dampening the day.

Once we made it through the valley we arrived at the base before the more bushy last leg of the trip. The next 1km provided some lush greenery including the Mimosa or Touch-Me-Not which as you would suspect closes upon the touch or other seismonastic movements. Signs reminds trekkers to “Watch Your Steps” and rightfully so. The difficulty level of the last stretch is above average but not difficult. The tricky part is just making sure you follow what the sign reads because a false step could again lead to a twisted ankle. Near the top are final steps onto the stone paved landing. And yeah…hell yeah as a matter of fact.

The lake settling inside Pinatubo shines a turquoise blue in the sun. Pair that with the greens of the brush and red and grey of the rock and the blue sky and…well you get the idea. It’s natural eye candy at it’s finest. The way the eruption shaped the mountain again frames the lake in a truly epic fashion. The lake inside Pinatubo is over 1 Km wide and if you take a row boat for 350 pesos you can get to the hot springs part of the lake fed by the volcano itself. The water overall is lukewarm, clear and refreshing especially after the long trek. And yeah to come this far and not take a swim would be a crime. After that relax on the small beach of ash and have some lunch, after all that it’s well deserved.

After a couple of hours we commence our trek back. Fortunate for me I brought my poncho slicker. A must in case of afternoon showers. And did it shower. Intense rains and swirling winds in the valley pushed water all over the place and increased the rising stream. Jesse and the other guides encouraged us to pick up the pace because we still had a 4×4 trip ahead.  If the valley became too washed out it becomes very difficult to navigate. Luckily the rains let up and we were able to dry out before the drive back.

Our Filipino girls were good to us and gave us a lift back to San Rafael. Good fortune indeed. A well worthy day trip regardless of how you go, the end result will etch a memory in you mind you’ll not soon forget.

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>