Desolate Mountain

Desolation can be beautiful. The starkness of the stone-strewn canyon, the glare of the sand reflecting the hot rays of the summer sun, and the massive cliffs of hardened lahar magnified the poetry of the ravaged landscape. It was a Sunday mid-morning and I was leading a group of trekkers to the Pinatubo crater. I had just watched Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Fando and Lis” and could not help but hark back to that rocky landscape where the two characters meet their fate. As I stepped from one stone to another and rounded yet another bend in the seemingly-endless canyon, I could almost imagine the brutal Fando pushing Lis on a cart. Walking under the heat of the sun with sand clinging on my feet, I understood why Jodorosky chose such a landscape in his masterpiece to portray his vision of sadomasochistic love and corrupted innocence. He was baring the human soul in all its desolation and ambiguities and yet, ironically, it in such stark landscape that one actually finds the beauty of it all.

Pinatubo is one of my favorite climbs, if you could call it that, as I don’t even call it a trekk. It’s really more of a walk. The “skyway” cut the 4×4 travel time and from where it terminates, it was just a mere 30-40 minute walk. Absolutely no sweat. The walk may not be as scenic as the longer 3 hour route which we took a year back, but the sights were still exciting enough. Looking back at last Sunday’s walk, “exciting” best describes it.

4 x 4

What really is Fate? What makes us choose one thing over another? Those were the questions that hammered on my mind as I stood in front of the 4 x 4 ahead of our vehicle that had rolled over twice at a slightly-elevated path. I was seated in front with JM, James, and Lawrence at the asleep at the back. I saw the vehicle on reverse then suddenly uncontrollably maneuvering to the right. It stopped then slowly rolled to its side twice. I was stunned and couldn’t react at first. I jumped out and rushed to the vehicle which we had to push to free one guy’s foot that was pinned to the ground. They all seemed okay albeit a little unnerved. Later on, I would find out that Gary, the EL, had to accompany two of them back to the spa (the starting point and registration center).

I chose the 4 x 4 we took because it seemed fairly better than the others. It didn’t have any doors but I figured it would be much cooler. I forgot all about the dust, though. “What if I had chosen that one..” I thought as I sat looking at the parked 4 x 4 as we waited for the others to arrive at the jump-off point for the walk.

Take the lead

With Gary staying at the accident site and Jay having had to go back to the site, Kelly and Jong were left to manage the group. There were almost 60 participants and most looked like it was the first-time. Sizing-up the crowd at 3 in the morning earlier at Chowking Balintawak, it looked like a picnic group. Kelly stayed behind with Tet to wait for Jay, Jong assigned me as lead while he was sweeper. It was a short walk so I didn’t think of taking any stops. Several times, I strayed from the path to walk along the river. I did pace enough to see the group behind. It was only when we got to the water source, about 10 minutes from the crater, that it became apparent that the walk was a little tiring to them. Another thing I like about Pinatubo and the surprise you get as you emerge from the trail, clamber up the cemented steps, and suddenly, you behold the crater in all its serene glory. Mesmerizing is all you can say as the deep emerald waters beckon you to forgo any rest at the shades and instead run down to the crater slopes. A couple of Indians were at the viewing deck by the crater trail and a couple of Caucasians that passed us earlier had already gone swimming. It was almost noon and I was famished. I had my salmon belly and crab stick wraps and my melted chocolate biscuits. Reminder: wrap the salmon belly well as the oil had seeped out of the container and wet my bag. As for chocolate-coated biscuits, they’re better off in cooler climes. “I wish I brought more food with me,” said James as he polished off his Mcdo meal. My golden rule in climbing: you can never bring enough food at a climb.

Row row your boat

The crater lake was more beautiful than I expected when viewed from a kayak. For 250 each, we got on kayak paddled by a local. Kelly and I, with two others got on one and I took the other paddle and paddled ūüôā It was difficult at first as I didn’t lift the paddle high enough to clear the water resulting in a lot of splashing. I soon got the rhythm and the movement right and it was just like paddling through a really really big swimming pool. The repetitive movement, the splashing sound, and the green green water was relaxing. There wasn’t much of a wind and the water was smooth. I could just imagined how wonderful it would be to paddle alone in the middle of the lake with nothing but the sound of water around you. From the view sites, the crater seems just one big circular lake. By kayak, you get to round a bend and get to the side not seen from the view decks. Here, the water is warm and on the shoreline, you see bubbles. We get off the kayak to explore the landscape. High above, the crater walls are white with stones and dust. The slightly-elevated slope is covered with stones. A little further off, the locals point to where the water is really hot the kayaks dare not venture out as the pressure underneath the surface might suck the boat or worse, melt it. On the opposite side, they point to a small channel that was created to drain water off from the lake and empty to the sea.

We trooped back to the jump-off point at almost 3 pm and were back at the spa at about 4 pm. Showering cost P 100 so I opted to just use the sink at the rest room which was clean anyway. The Korean-owned spa is nice and clean enough and is a good source of information for the walk. You can wash-up, have a massage, buy some souvenirs, and eat. Except for the caged wild cat and the chained monkey, it was nice enough. According to Gary, though, if it weren’t for the major at the military check-point, the lady who briefed us wouldn’t have extended any help to them who had to stay behind because of the accident considering they already paid for the registration, guide, vehicle, and other fees. They could have at least made-up for it. They didn’t even offer to bring the 2 injured to the clinic for an x-ray. Gary had to “force” them a bit. Oh well. That has to change or else they’re gonna get flak.

Pinatubo is beautiful. On the road to Tarlac, James asked what place in the Philippines I would like to keep going back to. Pinatubo is one of them.

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Mt. Pinatubo (June 10-11, 2007)

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Into the Crater

¬†¬†I just got home about an hour ago from one of the most enjoyable and exhilirating climbs I’ve ever had.¬† The trail was awesome, the trek leisurely, and the company cool.¬† This was a climb I am not likely to forget soon.¬† So what if I had to be at the ¬†even Victory Liner bus station in Cubao at 4:30 am without any sleep at all.¬† Pinatubo has always been tops in my list of peaks to climb this year and there it was beckoning to me courtesy of the 12 Kasabit Climb of the raucously fun Sabit Mountaineers.

Other than the Sta. Juliana entry via Capas, Tarlac, other points are Porac and of course the Delta Trail.¬† Trekking Pinatubo, it is difficult to see it as a mountain.¬† After all, mountains are supposed to be¬†covered with flora, even if it’s only cogon, and its trails composed of soil or loose-rock, or a combination of both.¬† At the very least, you walk on green.¬† But Pinatubo is no ordinary mountain.¬† To the Aytas who have made it home for centuries, it is the abode of Apo Mallari, their most revered deity.¬† To¬†everyone else, it’s just another volcano you’ve heard about in elementary geography class or at a Nat Sci 1 class.¬† As if asserting its presence, Pinatubo finally blew its top after¬†¬†when it erupted after 600 years of quiet ferment.¬† Spewing ash that blanketed Luzon, sending torrents of lahar and pyroclastic flows that forever changed Central Luzon topography, wreaking havoc on the delicate atmosphere, Pinatubo showed the world that it was not to be ignored.

Out of that devastation emerged a unique and beautifully desolate landscape we were about to experience. 

Bed of Lahar 

Heading to the jump-off point on board a 4×4 with DadiX and Six-Pack plus sisters Pong and May of the Sabit Mountaineers, I hope for good weather.¬†¬†Pinatubo’s exposed trail was notorious for its taxing heat that exhausts¬†even the most intrepid hiker.¬† We rumble across the river bed as wide as EDSA and criss-crossed with tiny rivers and littered with stones and boulders.¬† Towering peaks of hardened lahar inscribed with narrow water trails looking like ancient petroglyphs hemm the canyon-like passageway.¬† They are beautiful and magnificent.¬† But when the rains come hard and strong, they are deadly crashing towers of mud.¬†It starts to rain hard enough for me to bring out my plastic poncho and cover my side of the 4×4 to keep the water from coming in.¬† We arrive at the jump-off point about an hour from where we took off at the baranggay.¬† It’s only a little past 11 and we are hungry.¬† Packed lunch is pasta with basil and mushrooms, dumplings, and shrimp rolls.¬†¬†A light rain is still falling when we begin our trek.¬†¬†¬†With the sum partly hidden by clouds, it is cool and pleasant.¬† God had answered my prayers.

 I had  hoped to try my Hi-Tec shoes which I bought last December but had never used for trekking.  But since there were numerous river-crossings, I stay with my weathered Sandugo outdoor sandals.  It was  a good choice as I could cross the rivers, treading on the shallo water and enjoying its coolness walk rather than trying to hop from one stone to another.  Often times, I leave the sandy path and trail the river.  The bubbling water and the smooth pebbles jostling at my feet feel good. 

The pace¬†is ¬†leisurely punctuated with numerous stops.¬† Normally, I would keep going and going till I reach the campsite.¬† But as a guest together with DadiX and Six-Pack, I had to be courteous enough to keep pace with the rest of the group.¬†¬†¬†I didn’t mind as I was hiking with a really nice and friendly bunch of mountaineers.¬† And of course, the scenery is just to gorgeous to ignore.¬† It¬†is an errie landscape of sand, ash, lahar, water, and stones and boulders.¬† Think of a long rocky beach carved out of¬†jagged cliffs of sand that seem to¬†wind endlessly.¬† Better yet, imagine “Lord of the Rings” or “Space Oddysey 2010”.¬† With no clear path except to follow the passage carved-out of the mountain by the rampaging waters, we each take to our own trails.¬†¬† Never have I felt so physically small.¬† It was simply overwhelming.¬†

From the moon-like landscape, we¬†take the river that leads us to a shaded trail.¬† It is cool and leafy almost forest-like.¬† We reach the water source and replenish our bottles.¬† From there, ¬†it¬†is an easy 10-minute walk along the river up¬† a short flight of cemented steps.¬† We pass by¬†two cubicles (at¬†least I know where to **$%) then on¬†to the campsite¬†where a spectacular view of the green lake at the crater¬†greet us.¬†¬† I’ve seen the crater in pictures and tv shows but nothing quite prepares you for the breathtaking view, especially since you see nothing but stones, rocks, and rumbling water and sand all throughout the trek.¬† It is so peaceful and tranquil with jagged peaks surrounding it.¬† You half expect the Loch Ness monster to make its appearance.¬†

¬†The camp area is quite cramp and the flat spaces are quickly taken.¬† We choose a spot near the view deck.¬† ¬†I’m hungry and I eat my Tofu and Crabstick¬†sandwhiches.¬† My number # 1 rule of thumb:¬†¬†Make sure you have something filling and ready-to-eat when you get to camp.¬†

¬†It¬†is ¬†past 4 pm and we spend most of the daylight taking pictures and taking the steep concrete steps down the crater for what else, more pictures.¬† There are boats for rent and the guides say they’ll charge us Php 50.00/person/hour which is a good price. But we opt to stay on land.


Because of its high sulfur content, the water is green.  All is quiet as only Kelly and I descend to the crater.  It is easy to get lost in solitude.  Except for the screech of a black-colored bird, perhaps a crow, the  only sound is the soft lapping of the water on the lake shore.  The sun is out again and the water looks inviting.  I remind myself that it is a crater and a few steps can mean plunging down to the abyss.  Six-pack and Mavie arrive and we take picture upon picture of ourselves.  What else do you climb for but to get great photo ops!  The rest stay at camp so we have the lake all to ourselves.

DadiX has cooked dinner by the time we get back up.¬† We have Chicken¬† and Mushrooms in¬† Basil Tomato Sauce and¬† hotdogs.¬† Dessert of course is Cognac Jelly.¬† Since there’s still some daylight left, we trekk back to the water source to refill our bottles and to bathe.¬† We wash away the grime with the cool cool mountain water.¬† We use one of the pots as tabo.¬† After recent climbs on waterless mountains, it feels so refreshing to bathe after a half day’s trek.¬† We climb back up and plop on our tents feeling like newly-bathed babies.¬† It is barely 7 pm¬†but sleep beckons.¬†

 Magic Show and Free Slippers

About a couple of¬† hours later, we wake-up for socials at a small shed nearby.¬† Six-pack is so sleepy he stays behind while DadiX and I fulfil our social obligations.¬† There’s a raffle and we give our climb badges to Jay.¬† Someone gets a neck wallet and another a utenstil set, which I actually wanted.¬† Surprise! Surprise! My name gets called and I win a pair of Conquer slippers I can claim at their Pioneer store.¬† Cool! I never won a raffle before!¬† Entertainment comes courtesy of some magic tricks performed by one of the members.¬† I even get to participate in a card trick which was awesome.¬† My favorite was the one with the piso coin.¬† I’m really sleepy so I go back to my tent.

I wake-up¬†around 5:30 the next morning and rush to the cr.¬† Yes, toilet-freaks, there are two cubicles with a toilet bowl at the campsite.¬† Problem is, unless the guides have refilled the water containers, you’d have to bring your own water for flushing.¬† Unless of course, you wanna show-off what your digestive track has done to yesterday’s meal.¬† As I enter the¬† empty cubicle, the next one slams open and a girl comes rushing out shouting, “Hindi ako humihinga!”¬†

Breakfast is dried alumahan , tomato omellette, and garlic rice.¬† Sarap!¬† One of the advantages of having DadiX on your meal group is he’s always willing and ready¬†to do the cooking.¬† There are swarms of flies and cockroaches, the first time I’ve ever experienced having them on top of a mountain. Well, I guess, where there are humans, there are pests.¬† DadiX, Six-pack and I go descend to the lake for one final set of shots.¬† I have to admit, gay guys are probably the most avid photogs in the world.¬† Who else would spend hours shooting each other clambering up rocks, posing as if Pinatubo were about to¬†erupt again.¬†¬† We break camp and start our long trek back to the jump-off.

 Wild River Run

The pace is much quicker with less stops.  We meet other climbers on a day hike.  The sun stays mostly hidden and dark clouds brew overhead.  About 15 minutes away from the jump-off, it starts to rain heavily.  In spite of the poncho, I am totally soaked and cold.  We finally reach the short climb up the elevated pathway to the stairs leading to the jump-off.  The rain has turned into a really heavy downpour now.  There are only 3 4x4s waiting as the other 2 have already left with the others.  We quickly get in.  So begins the ride of our lives.

The almost barren landscape we trekked the previous day is now a rampaging landscape of rolling mud and lahar.¬† I must admit as the rain poured on and on, excitement was slowly being replaced by apprehension.¬† Looking-up at the mounds of lahar that bordered us on both sides, I could see water trickling down its face sending down sand.¬† Images of a catastrophic flood of mud and lahar and me struggling in the middle of it flashed on my mind. Would I save my camera or my cellphone, I thought.¬† It’s a rough and tumble drive.¬† The driver and guide say that if the rain doesn’t stop, soon everything will be covered with water.¬† I am amazed at the driver’s grit and dexterity at maneuvering the vehicle and knowing where to pass as I couldn’t see any pathway.¬† The rain tapers down as we near the baranggay.¬† We arrive wet and relieved.

We wash-up and have lunch.¬† Not really finding the food at the next door carinderia palatable, we opt to cook Ma-ling and make a tomato and red-egg salad.¬† After lunch, we take the jeep back to Sta. Juliana.¬†The rain has completely stopped and we arrive at the town center about an hour later.¬† ¬†After snacks at McDo, we hie off to the road side and try to flag down the passing buses.¬† After about an hour and a thousand buses, a Dagupan bus finally let’s us in, albeit standing.

I arrive home very late already. This climb is going to be on my top 10 list for a very long time.

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