Mount Pinatubo by Jo Castro

This is the second installment of the Mount Pinatubo adventure

For the first installment, please click back to “Adventure in the Philippines. Along the Pumice Trail”.

We arrive at a little bamboo shelter and begin to walk

To begin with the terrain was flat and soft – sand-like lahar squelched into our rubber sandals as we waded through small streams. Wide open canyons were topped with banana palms and grassy hilltops, the sheer sides of which were carved into Tolkien shaped pinnacles and fascinating downward spiral shapes. It was like walking on another planet and each corner threw up a vista which was similar, and yet dissimilar in its moonscape.

Mount Pinatubo,

Some streams were hot, and others were cool, our feet were constantly wet. We had to remind ourselves to keep on drinking from our water bottles, because dehydration was a constant threat, along with the possibility of stepping into boiling hot quicksand, or being sprayed by falling pebbles from unstable cliffs.

Ash, Pumice and Volcanic Rock

The scenery changed and we walked through a tight canyon, formed perhaps by the huge mushrooms of debris chucked out from the mountain on that fateful day in June 91, when the active vent swept ash, pumice and volcanic rock into the air.

Mount Pinatubo,

Many of these gullies would have been formed by the pyroclastic flows which cascaded down the mountainside. We climbed over some large boulders around which water gushed; I picked up some pumice stone, which I’d seen for sale in the Manila craft shops, and rubbed it over my hands.

Mount Pinatubo,

We changed into walking boots as we began to walk through a drier, jungle-like pass where our guide climbed up a gully to a place where he said there was a fresh spring to replenish our diminishing water supplies.

By now the sun was at its zenith and we were all feeling the heat. It was only a twist, a turn and a bit of an upward climb before we would be at the crater, and the thought spurred us on.

Pinatubo was no indoor firework

At 11.30am we turned the last steep corner and there it was, a massive lake of sulphurous water surrounded by awe-inspiring peaks, pinnacles and stupendous sheer drops of mountain. We were dwarfed by the magnitude of the power of nature, and were standing, theoretically, in the epicentre of the former mountain.

The force of the volcano and what it blew out really struck home. Pinatubo was no indoor firework. Pinatubo chucked out huge boulders for over a month and on June 14th a 40km radius danger zone was enforced around it as the summit of the once huge mountain collapsed and inverted to form the crater in which we were now standing.

Later, we braved the steep, crumbling pathway and swam in the lake which tasted, our son said, “of  blood.” We sumised this was due to the large amounts of minerals seeping from the surrounding rocks. The water was a deep shade of aqua green, and the atmosphere was surreal. The lake water rises by 20 meters each rainy season ensuring that the crater’s form changes constantly.

Mount Pinatubo, Jo Castro

A camp fire and fresh chicken curry

Our guide lit a camp fire and we had coffee, followed later by a huge meal of (fresh) chicken curry, rice and chop-suey vegetables. At 7.30pm we were in our tents, struggling to get comfortable in our thin sleeping bags, ignoring the small pebbles digging into our hips. We tried to sleep, listening to reggae music from one  tent, Tagalog and laughter from another.

I tensed as I heard the rumble of rocks which ricocheted down the mountainsides. The constant rumbling and thwacking was eerie, and even with the safety of the season, and the kindness of the weather, we were lying on remarkably unstable territory. As I lay there I fancied I could feel the earth beneath me, feel the energy of the mountain and the rocks below agitating and rubbing together, building up force for another eruption.

A moonscape of lahar

Dawn. Eggs were cooked over a camp fire. Rubbing stiff limbs we re-loaded our rucksacks and set off down the mountain. Going down the scenery altered from tropical to moonscape and back to wet streams gurgling through beds of lahar shielded by huge canyons with ever changing patterns of silvery grey.

Just before midday we arrived at the bamboo shelter. We were a tired, dusty bunch of lahar streaked people who piled back into that red jeepney.

But it had been a trip to remember. One I knew we’d never forget as I rubbed the little piece of pumice stone now resident in my pocket.

Watch the Video and Read More

Here’s a cute video of some of Zigazag’s readers dancing on the summit of Mount Pinatubo.

and Justin’s useful tips about climbing the volcano:-  “Mount Pinatubo – What you need to know”


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  1. another great travel memoir – wonderfully written. I really like the inclusion of the fun little movie clip.
    Keep up the great work. Can’t wait to see your book in print!

  2. The movie clip was fun, wasn’t it? Thanks for your kind words Jill about my travel memoir. It’s great to have encouragement 🙂

  3. Looks like there were some belly-laughs making the video despite the scares and rumbles. Who was the choreographer?

  4. Mount Pinatubo is no joke to hike, but the breathtaking lake and atmosphere was indeed surreal! It’s worth a visit. About the video, thank you for including it to your post. The choreography is originally from Sole Sisters of we had fun making this video… And by the way, I brought home a little piece of pumice stone too! 🙂

  5. Thanks for commenting, Justin 🙂 Great to know a bit more about the video – it’s such fun to watch. I did wonder how anyone would have the energy to dance at the top – you all looked like you’d been dropped off by helicopter at the top – all so fresh and sprightly! Yes, I agree, it is surreal at the lake. Aha, so we are bonded by pumice stone! I wonder how many others out there have a little piece of Pinatubo pumice on their mantelpiece?

  6. Pingback: Mount Pinatubo: What You Need To Know | Mabuhay!

  7. Oh what a great post. I felt like I was there with you and could almost hear those rocks during the night. That pumice stone will hold treasured memories forever.

  8. Thanks Jackie, I’m so glad it was a vivid experience for you 🙂 And yes, it’s always good to have a treasure that brings back memories 🙂

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