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Mount Pinatubo is an active stratovolcano located on the island of Luzon, at the intersection of the borders of the Philippine provinces of Zambales, Tarlac, and Pampanga. The Volcano's cataclysmic eruption in June 1991 produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century and the largest eruption in living memory.
The colossal 1991 eruption had a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6. Surrounding areas were severely damaged by pyroclastic flows, ash deposits, and later by lahars caused by rainwater remobilizing earlier volcanic deposits. Thousands of houses and other buildings were totally destroyed.
The effects of the eruption were felt worldwide. It ejected roughly 10 billion metric tonnes of magma, and 20 million tons of Sulphur Dioxide, spewing vast quantities of minerals and metals to the surface environment. It injected large amounts of aerosols into the stratosphere-more than any eruption since that of Krakatoa in 1883.
Over the following months, the aerosols formed a global layer of sulphuric acid haze. Global temperatures dropped by 0.5 °C, and ozone depletion temporarily increased substantially.
The birth of modern Pinatubo occurred in the most explosive eruption in its history, which deposited pyroclastic flow material up to 100 meters thick on all sides of the mountain. The total volume of material erupted may have been up to 25 cubic kilometres, and the removal of this amount of material from the underlying magma chamber led to the formation of a large caldera. This was also the largest earthquake recorded, comparable in size to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
The ash cloud from the volcano covered an area of some 125,000 km², and could easily be seen from space, bringing total darkness to much of central Luzon. In total, 364 communities and 2.1 million people were affected by the eruption, with livelihoods and houses being damaged or destroyed.
More than 8,000 houses were completely destroyed, and a further 73,000 were damaged. Up to 900 people were killed and 100,000 became homeless following the Mount Pinatubo eruption. In addition to the severe damage sustained by these communities, roads and communications were damaged or destroyed by pyroclastic flows and lahars throughout the areas surrounding the volcano. The arduous journey would take us through raging rivers and across extremely rough terrain.
This is not the first time that I have harboured a yearning to visit Mount Pinatubo. During my first visit to Angeles City in 1986 during a tour of the Far East, I was fascinated with the Volcano. At that time, I was an active skydiver with more than a thousand jumps under my belt, and it was my intention to skydive over Mount Pinatubo and land on the summit. Sadly that never transpired and I made my last skydive in the last year of the last Century. Now I am again here in Angeles, I couldn’t resist the urge to visit the site of the most powerful eruption in living history, and made a plan to visit Mount Pinatubo this time round…
Well, the pick up was arranged for 6 a.m. at Margarita Station, Angeles City, So I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and consequently woke up at 3 a.m! Full of anticipation, I made my way to Margarita and had several beers which I would suggest is not the most efficient way to prepare for a trek up Mt. Pinatubo. The driver, June arrived promptly at 6 a.m. and we set off in the 4x4 jeep. We were accompanied on the trip by 4 Koreans who never spoke a word throughout the journey and, as my Korean is less than atrocious, the trip to Pinatubo was very quiet.
The journey to St.Juliana, the so called ‘base camp’ was uneventful and took around 1 hour. There we registered and paid the additional 350 PHP for the privilege of hiring a boat to sail on lake Pinatubo, (which turned out to be a total waste of time as when I arrived at the crater there was no boat to be found). They did issue a refund however on our return. I digress, and why not? It’s a free country.
At this point, we were joined by the Mountain guide, - Didoy and, after registration, we set off again across the rugged terrain towards the base of Mt. Pinatubo where we immediately became stranded in a raging river. Luckily, we flagged down a passing jeep (as you do), who towed us out of the river. Following a further 20 minutes or so of bouncing across the rough landscape, we arrived at a clearing where we could drive no further. The rest of the climb would be on foot.
The trek started off relatively easy, but soon escalated into a full on intense climb over rocks and across rivers. Didoy ran on ahead like he was a school boy on a Sunday picnic flying up the Mountain as if he did that everyday, which in fact he did, leaving the rest of us to find the way to the summit on our own. This wasn't as difficult as it sounds though, as the only two choices were over stepping stones up the river, or into the dark, dense jungle which was probably full of snakes and other creepy crawlies. I opted for the stepping stones.
As I was in front, spurred on by the San Miguel, the Koreans followed me as if I knew where I was going. I think that the camouflage jungle hat that I was wearing gave them the false notion that I was some kind of Indiana Jones. The trip towards the crater was gruelling and hot, but the scenery was spectacular and almost made me forget the aches and pains in my lower extremities. After some 60 minutes of exertion, (the likes of which I hadn't experienced for a good few years), we were met by the awe inspiring view of Lake Pinatubo. The Koreans behind me clapped and cheered at the sight. (Although I personally think that they were just relieved that we had been going the right way).
After eruptions had ended, a crater lake, Lake Pinatubo, formed in the 1991 caldera, with the 1992 lava dome forming an island. At first, the lake was small, hot and highly acidic, with a minimum pH of 2 and a temperature of about 40 °C. But that wasn’t going to worry us. We were made of sterner stuff. We sat down for a rest, with Didoy the guide, looking on in bemusement. There then followed a steep climb down to the turquoise blue water of Lake Pinatubo. The Lake was tranquil and serene and we were sticky and sweaty as we jumped into the welcoming water and spent the next half hour languishing in the cool lake. I briefly pondered upon what would happen if this sleeping giant chose this point in time to erupt again and wondered if there would be a refund. I decided to get dressed just in case. After sandwiches and a couple of beers which I had hauled diligently all the way from the sari-sari store, I headed back up to the crater rim. One last look at Lake Pinatubo and then it was time for the relatively easier climb down back to civilisation.
On the way down, assisted greatly by gravity, one of the stepping stones which turned out not to be a stepping stone, but instead, a large leaf, gave way under my feet and plunged me into the river. Unperturbed by my drenching, I jumped up quickly and attempted to look nonchalant which wasn’t easy with my jungle hat dripping water and coconut leaves hanging from my shorts. I continued down the mountain to the waiting jeeps. At this point, the Koreans went in one jeep back to St.Juliana and I went in another direction with Didoy and June in search of the hot springs of Pinatubo. Was it something I had said I wondered, or were they just hungry for the lunch that was awaiting them? I presumed the latter and continued across the moonlike landscape towards the Spas, through an unreal and nebulous landscape, arriving at a picturesque expanse complete with palm trees and water falls. These were the thermal springs of Mt. Pinatubo, which cascade straight from the Volcano itself and where temperatures range from a mild 40 degrees Centigrade to a Sauna-like, skin blistering 70 degrees Centigrade !
Spectacular views, towering lahar canyons, therapeutic hot and cool springs together with cascading waterfalls. All that was missing was a bar! Not being one to take the easy option, I jumped into the 70 degree Spa, and jumped out twice as fast! After a few tentative attempts, I eventually became relatively accustomed to the blazing temperature and basked there for 15 minutes or so pleasantly wallowing in the Sulphurous liquid. I felt like a broiled chicken, but as there was no restaurant there, I settled for a cold beer.
I was told by Didoy that the Spa had almost magical powers of healing, and right now I could do with all the magical powers of healing that I could find. Didoy and June were desperately trying to hide their laughing, as I emerged from the hot Spa resembling an over cooked lobster! I cooled myself down in the tepid second and third Spas before returning to the jeep and making our way back to St.Juliana. Back over the plains of Pinatubo we were greeted by the friendly Aetas, an indigenous group of people who live on the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo. They waved and smiled but looked somewhat bemused as we passed by.
In the St.Juliana restaurant, the Koreans were already into their third course as we trundled in and sat down at the table. The meal was included in the price, which unfortunately for me consisted of Adobo, Pansit and other Pinoy delicacies. I was looking for a burger and chips. Not to worry though, the Koreans enjoyed it and the sari-sari store was still open and selling beer. We drove back to Angeles City where June dropped off the Koreans at their hotel and dropped me off at Margarita Station for a few more beers to celebrate my achievement. After all, it was only 2.30 in the afternoon and far too early to go home.
The total cost of the trip was just 3,500 PHP which was in my estimation, very reasonable and money well spent. After a relaxing massage, it was time for a spot of bar hopping down Fields Avenue but could anything else really compare to trekking up the slopes of Mount Pinatubo and swimming in the Crater of Lake Pinatubo???
10 MAY 2009