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    The Conquest of Mount Pinatubo: Trek via Capas, Tarlas Trail

    In June 1991, one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the century happened in the Philippines, about 100 kilometers north of Manila. A few hundred people were killed and hundreds of thousand people rendered homeless, mostly Aeta people (the aborigines who call the mountain "Apo Malyari (The Great Provider)" and believe the mountain is home to spirits). The death toll could've been much more if then Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology (Philvocs) weren't able to persuade people living around the volcano including the Americans to vacate the area. The Americans, then still occupying Clark Airbase, were driven out. The big explosion occurred on June 15 where large volumes of sulfur, volcanic ash and other gases that cooled world temperatures for a few years. The situation was worsened by a tropical deppression present in the area turning ashes on the slopes into rampaging and deadly lahar.

    I was in Manila at that time, and I can still remember how the sky transformed from sunny to dark and gloomy with portent of things to come. The following day, volcanic ash from Pinatubo covered the big Manila making it look like a giant "espasol" (can't help the comparison, I love that rice flour-covered sweet Filipino delicacy).

    This time around, the tutubi is set to scale the mountain responsible for driving the American war machinery out of the largest overseas US military base.(The Americans didn't return to Clark. They turned over the destroyed facility to the Philippines later that year)

    Mt Pinatubo: The Road to Middle Earth

    Having learned of a friend's intention on scaling the mountain to reach the crater, I instantly made arrangements for the trip, not actually a mountaineer, that I bought a 50 liter backpack in Landmark, Bombproof gear trekking pants in Robinsons Galleria, sleeping bag and earth mat at a certain Buendia mountaineering shop in Makati, to equip the tutubi for the overnight trip to the once angry crater.

    Meeting with the group at Chowking, EDSA Central, we boarded a van chartered by our guides and headed to North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) exiting Dau toll plaza, passed by O'Donnell and ended in Sta. Juliana, Capas town in Tarlac province.

    In Capas town, our guides negotiated for us to board 4x4 vehicles that took us to the jump-off point of the trail, traversing miles and miles of volcanic sand offering glimpses on the destruction wrought by the gargantuan explosion that ravaged thousands of hectares of rice fields and forests turning them into sand deserts. The bumpy ride with numerous stream crossings took about an hour.

    The real trek began.

    Loading our heavy backpacks, loaded with clothes, sleeping bags, earth mat, tent, food, water, and other things needed to survive this "sad fate," we ourselves asked for, was quite easy. Bringing them all the way to our destination was another thing.

    The trail is just sand, sand and sand through valleys created by the rampage of Pinatubo aided by typhoons that helped carved the geologic beauty.
    Stream crossings avoiding slippery rocks. I wore my usual open sandals that's why I can get my feet wet. It's also a good thing it's partly cloudy.

    The trek is called to a stop for short water breaks, comfort breaks, lunch, or when someone's too far back. A leader, "middleman," and a sweeper composed our guides and made sure we're all accounted for.

    We even encountered a group of politicians, television crewmen and perhaps tourism people who took video footage of the place before us. (too bad they didn't catch a glimpse of the kawai tutubi :)

    The last photo-op of the group on the last push towards the crater for a trek that lasted three hours
    Pinatubo crater, at first sight: We're not alone!

    The guides immediately brought out their rappelling equipment for us to rappel down the crater lake on a cliff. This took a long time and I gave way for the ladies to rappel down first so I just did what i like best: descend on the lake taking pictures along the way.

    Down the lake, our guides inflated their kayak. It was I who first dipped into the water even tried to taste how the water tasted like to satisfy the curiosity of the tutubi: it's just like ordinary fresh water, even odorless without any tinge of sulfur. But it's also like swimming in salt water where I floated effortlessly. There's also the added bonus of bathing in sulfur-soaked water without paying an arm and a leg at the nearby Pinatubo Spa where they smother their guests with volcanic sand to achieve their claimed therapeutic properties.

    At sundown, we pitched our tents on the roofed portion of the place (Capas local government also provided toilets to the place sans running water. We had to fetch water from the nearby waterfall) and prepared dinner mostly packed or canned goods strictly observed no trash to be left behind.

    Early in the morning, I decided to get up to catch the early morning light to light up my photographic subject: Pinatubo crater at its serene best!

    mt pinatubo crater lake

    mt. pinatubo crater lakeThere's life in Pinatubo: one of the best in my portfolio (as if I have one) that I sometimes print to a large size and give to my friends.

    The return trip to the point where we boarded the 4x4 anew took only ninety minutes against 3 hours on the ascent. Big smiles can be seen from our faces, even if exhausted and sunburned, knowing we earned the bragging rights to proudly say: we survived Pinatubo!


    How to get to Mt. Pinatubo

    Pinatubo crater can also be reached via a more difficult trail in Porac, Pampanga suited for the people looking for more difficult challenge. Mt. Pinatubo i located at the boundary of the three provinces of Tarlac, Pampanga and Zambales in Central Luzon.

    How to get to Mt. Pinatubo via Capas, Tarlac backpacking way:

    From Manila, take the North Luzon Expressway; exit Dau Toll Plaza; take north-bound MacArthur Highway. Upon reaching town market in Capas, Tarlac, turn left to Bgy. Sto. Rosario; proceed to Bgy. Sta. Juliana. Register with local officials and 4x4 jeep.

    Mt. Pinatubo Tour cost/rates:

    Costs: 4x4 jeep PhP3,500.00 (3-4 persons), guide PhP500 (per 5 persons).
    Warning: Avoid the Korean-owned Pinatubo Spa. Touristy prices aside from Korean-centric in the land of Filipinos. Try bathing at the crater instead for your dose of therapeutic, sulfur-rich sand. (If you don't have the money or time, try Dr, Kauffman's medicinal sulfur soap :)

    Labels: , , ,

    posted by backpacking philippines @ 10:35 PM,


    At Jun 13, 2007, 5:54:00 PM, Anonymous kyels said...


    Sounds like a big challenge to climb Mount Pinatubo!

    At Jun 14, 2007, 12:16:00 AM, Blogger jhenny said...

    wow... tito ganda ng pics!! sobra.. i hope i can conquer mt. pinatubo too :)

    At Jun 14, 2007, 5:42:00 AM, Blogger carlotta said...

    congrats sa pag conquer ng mt pinatubo! =)

    i love your pics of the crater. yung isa naman with the ladies kayaking parang sa kayangan lake sa coron. =)

    At Jun 14, 2007, 4:29:00 PM, Blogger Wil said...

    Mt. Pinatubo is still active, isn't it?

    At Jun 14, 2007, 6:27:00 PM, Anonymous tutubi said...


    you're almost always be the first commenter here :)

    it's not that hard, no slippery and muddy trail, just sand, sand and sand :)


    sure you can. i heard koreans wanting to build cable car up to the peak but there's no thrill in that


    para nga syang kayangan lake...gusto ko rin balik dun sa coron


    mt pinatubo is still active? I don't know. The last time it woke up before 1991 was 500 years ago. So I guess it sleeps again

    At Jun 14, 2007, 8:30:00 PM, Blogger tin said...

    Wow! That was an adventure! And nice shots! Love the pics. :)

    i just hope mt.pinatubo wouldn't cause too much destruction again.

    At Jun 15, 2007, 7:45:00 PM, Anonymous lino said...

    waaaah!!! nainggit na naman ako, it's because i havent tried trekking, dapat talaga sumubok na ko... hehehe
    great photos tutubi...sana makapunta rin ako dyan... :)
    thanks for the update.... :)

    At Jun 16, 2007, 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous estan said...

    so much has changed since the explosion. its always good that life and greenery has come back. sayang, di ko pa napupuntahan to pero there is always time.

    At Jun 16, 2007, 11:45:00 AM, Anonymous estan said...

    o nga no, it was exactly 16 years ago :p

    At Jun 16, 2007, 8:08:00 PM, Anonymous miss.adventures said...

    hi! i've always wanted to trek pinatubo crater, and taal as well. can you please share the expected expenses if one is planning to go there? thanks!

    At Jun 17, 2007, 9:31:00 AM, Anonymous Ferdz said...

    Nakupo. I was searching for a Pinatubo dusk/dawn pic a few weeks before for an Intl publication, dapat pala sayo ako humingi.

    At Jun 17, 2007, 11:48:00 PM, Anonymous DatuPanot said...

    wow turqouise waters! pwede bang mamingwit ng isda diyan?

    At Jun 18, 2007, 1:30:00 AM, Blogger Photo Cache said...

    i am from tarlac and with some luck, our town was spared from the lahar flow, but we heard a loud bang, then the earth shook, and before we knew it ash was coming down pretty fast and pretty heavily. when all settled, our roofs are heavy with ash, it was a sight not to be erased from our memory forever. we did receive group counselling after that, and our school started a massive fundraising campaign. we delivered this to capas, concepcion, and bamban. i regret not keeping a diary of that period, but it was nice to know that the once agricultural land has transformed into an adventure locale. thanks for thi post.

    At Jun 18, 2007, 2:36:00 PM, Anonymous Major Tom said...

    Oh what a sight! I couldn't believe how a gigantic and extremely destructive explosion could end at this beauty on earth...

    At Jun 18, 2007, 4:13:00 PM, Anonymous mousey said...

    wow! ang ganda nga ng kinalabasan ng malupit na Mt. Pinatubo noon.

    At Jun 18, 2007, 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous banggigay said...

    grabe! tutubi! i really like how your photos gave justice to pinatubo's beauty. we went there too, last feb. and even to date, im still raving how splendid my experience was. too bad, my shoddy hands fell short to capture its beauty in photography :-) but yours are just perfect. galing mo!

    thumbs up di ba? :-)

    At Jun 18, 2007, 4:58:00 PM, Blogger sheilamarie said...

    Beautiful place! Lovely pictures!

    Sana naman I also get a chance to visit that lake someday. It looks absolutely gorgeous from your photos.

    Glad you and your group had a great time!

    At Jun 18, 2007, 6:43:00 PM, Blogger ted pagalanan said...


    Your vivid recounting compliments well your enviable pictures. I wish I'll have the time and opportunity to visit Apo M. before it rises up again. Sleep sounder and longer, crater.

    Excellent work.


    At Jun 19, 2007, 10:15:00 AM, Anonymous rhodora said...

    Gosh, I am reminded of the ash fall when Mt. Pinatubo erupted endlessly! It was creepy...

    Nice photos and great adventure, Tutubi! :)

    At Jun 19, 2007, 11:59:00 AM, Anonymous Toe said...

    Oh my goodness! Your photos are so beautiful. Madami na pala nagt-trek ng Pinatubo. I can't imagine how somethine so beautiful could be so destructive. That must really be how nature works. I remember 1991 when the skies turned dark in Manila. It was really horrifying... parang end of the world na.

    At Jun 19, 2007, 7:02:00 PM, Blogger BW said...

    I still recall the time when Pinatubo just exploded and I was at the NAIA airport flying back and was concerned that they would prevent planes from flying due to the ashes.

    Nice pics... the crater looks extremely dormant now :)

    At Aug 28, 2007, 3:10:00 PM, Blogger deng said...

    Sino po guide nyo sa pinatubo?

    At Aug 29, 2007, 4:02:00 PM, Anonymous tutubi said...

    sorry deng, i don't remember :(

    i just joined a gang of friends from explore philippines yahoogroups

    ask ko muna sila

    At Apr 3, 2008, 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    question: what if we are not mountaineers and we want to "counquer" pinatubo as well, do we have to pitch camp there? do the guides provide everything we need to scale the mountain? thankS! -aepril

    At Apr 3, 2008, 2:54:00 PM, Blogger tutubi philippines said...

    anonymous, you don't have to be a mountaineer. you can conquer it in a day without spending the night there. we pitched tents because we like to camp out. no special gears needed to scale it since you won't even notice the trail is sloping. I heard the jump-off point is nearer now to the crater unlike before when i went there. it's an easy climb actually

    At Jul 2, 2008, 8:14:00 PM, Anonymous mnemo said...

    I've been wanting to this since last year. Hope I will do it this December at may mabully akong kaibigan na sumama sa akin...just a question, do you need to book/arrange for the 4x4 jeep and guide in advance?

    At Jul 2, 2008, 9:13:00 PM, Blogger tutubi philippines said...

    mnemo, nope.there are many guides and 4x4 trucks there waiting for tourists. but if you're going there just the two of you, it may be more expensive unless you can invite others

    At Sep 20, 2008, 9:25:00 PM, Blogger carla said...

    hi! love your pics. can you send me contact details of your guides? thank you. please send it to my email ad thanx

    At Oct 15, 2008, 1:38:00 AM, Anonymous Big Boss/ Naked Snake said...

    thanks for the post. :)

    At Nov 21, 2008, 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Allan Barredo said...

    Great adventure, beautiful photos. Been wanting to go there also

    At Nov 21, 2008, 8:37:00 PM, Blogger tutubi said...

    allan, going there just got easier, heard the trek now just takes 30 minutes. I don't find it too challenging though, the trek's worthwhile and the crater lake's beauty beckons

    At Apr 1, 2009, 10:46:00 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

    beautiful pictures, i must say. i'll be in angeles this coming good friday weekend and i'd love to take a day trip up the crater. from what i can read, do i just get transport to the starting point and hire a 4x4 and a guide? alternatively, do you know of where i can pre-arrange something from angeles? thanks in advance. others out there who are in the area and want to go up over this coming good friday weekend can email me at

    At Apr 2, 2009, 9:24:00 PM, Blogger backpacking philippines said...

    andy, you got it right. hire a vehicle to tarlac then coordinate with tourim people at the jump-off point. Don't know any tour operators in angeles city, sorry

    At Apr 10, 2009, 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Pancet said...

    Hi! I just want to ask who were your guides during the trek? Me and my friends are planning to trek Mt. Pinatubo and we're looking for people who organize these treks. Thanks=)

    At Apr 10, 2009, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger backpacking philippines said...

    pancet, if you've read my post in its entirety, it said there you only need to go to Sta. Juliana in Tarlac and get guides and 4x4 vehicles, plenty of them waiting for you

    At Jun 15, 2011, 6:50:00 PM, Anonymous thepinaysolobackpacker said...

    wow! 20 yrs na pala. last yr ko lng napuntahan ang Mt. Pinatubo at my cemented walk way na xa, unlike before,. love the pix! never ko pa xa nakita na ganyang ka bluegreenish. inggit!

    At Jun 15, 2011, 10:06:00 PM, Blogger backpacking philippines said...

    thepinaysolobackpacker, yeah, may concrete path sa trail plus 15 minutes "travel time" to trek to the crater. wala thrill. we stayed overnight there with tents. camp site then did rappelling and kayaking

    At Aug 15, 2011, 9:35:00 PM, Blogger ardee sean said...

    this adventure is wonderful.. i really enjoyed the conquest to mount pinatubo :P

    At Aug 18, 2011, 5:46:00 PM, Blogger yodz said...

    Being on nature and traversing a demanding terrain in Pinatubo has taught me that life is simple, and you can cross any pass if you have the spirit. The mysterious appearance of a place, a tiny leaf or a colored rock on a trail can reveal to you something about the complexities of life hidden within.
    Really awesome place!!!

    At Sep 11, 2011, 12:50:00 AM, Blogger zhuchiko said...

    I want to ask if its okey to the locals not to rent a 4x4 wheels. I think it is a bit expensive cause I am trekking the place alone. Solo backpacking. Thanks.

    At Jan 19, 2012, 1:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    hi, me and my friends would like to climb mt.pinatubo and stay there for a night. Do you think you can give me your contact person that can help us in going there? thanks a bunch! my email add is One more thing, how much does it cost per person? thanks a bunch!

    At Feb 9, 2013, 4:23:00 PM, Anonymous Cille | Penfires! said...

    Hahaha napatawa ako sa hirit about Dr Kauffman hehe \o/

    Nakakamangha that after such massive destruction eto na sya ngayon - sobrang ganda na ng Mt. Pinatubo.

    At Feb 10, 2013, 7:07:00 PM, Blogger backpacking philippines said...

    Cille, the crater lake actually was formed because of the volcanic eruption in 1991 :P


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