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Climbing Mount Pinatubo: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Updated on March 9, 2016

Famous for its devastating eruption last 1991, Mount Pinatubo is an active volcano located in the Luzon island of the Philippines. Now, years after the event, the mountain has become a popular hiker's destination for beginners and experienced hikers alike.

For this trip, we booked a package tour that included a roundtrip bus from Manila, 4x4 jeeps, and local guides for PHP2290 (approx. 49USD) each person (19 total).

I've personally climbed mountains from places like Batangas, Zambales, and Benguet, and I can say that the experience of riding the 4x4 jeeps and hiking through the unique landscape of Mount Pinatubo was an adventure quite unlike any other.

Some observations about the Mountain Trail:

  • The trail is suitable for beginners. There are no extreme ascents save for the stairs at the crater lake itself, and the trail involves just 2-3 hours of hiking.
  • The landscape is full of rocks the size of your head and the soil has the consistency of wet cement so it won't be too slippery when it rains.
  • Most of the trail will have no cover so prepare the proper clothes for hiking in direct sunlight. Also, since the Philippines is in a tropical country make sure you're also prepared for sudden rains.
  • The trail follows a stream that runs through a canyon and you'd need to cross it multiple times so some proper footwear should help.

The Jump Off Point in Brgy. Sta. Juliana

A markersanta juliana -
Santa Juliana, Capas, Tarlac, Philippines
get directions

The Jump-off point to Mt. Pinatubo.

Some Precautions: Remember to Check the Weather!

Although the streams were mostly quiet when we climbed, a little rainfall during our descent showed us exactly how sensitive the landscape was. The mountain’s water systems became a bit more active and the streams in the volcanic ash canyons of the O’Donnell river cut further into the soil making some sections slightly more difficult for our vehicles to pass through. Since most of the journey involve areas that have once been covered in lahar (a type of volcanic mud) and become unstable when wet, you may need to reschedule your trip if the weather becomes uncooperative.

(In fact, we originally planned to go on February 7, but since a heavy storm approached, we had to reschedule it to February 25.)

What to Wear:

Most of the trail is under direct sunlight so wearing comfortable and breathable clothes is a must. You can also bring a hat and some sunglasses as well.

The trail itself has little to no talahib (tall grass that can cut skin) so shorts and t-shirts are fine.

For your footwear, some regular hiking shoes would do (even running shoes or sandals would work - the trail is very easy). Unlike the soil you’ll find in areas like Batangas and Zambales which get very muddy and slippery when wet, Pinatubo’s trail is mostly filled with large stones and volcanic ash and it stays pretty stable even after some mild rainfall.

Things to Bring for your Trip:

 
 
Water
Around 2-3 Liters will do. The locals in the mountain's rest stops also sell food and drink so you can buy from them if you run out.
Food
Since the hike lasts a few hours, it's best to bring some food to have enough energy for the whole trip.
Sunblock
Most of the trail has no tree cover so you'll need sunblock if you want to avoid getting sunburned.
Water Resistant Bags
"Waterproof your stuff," my experienced mountaineer friends always say. In the Philippines, rains pop up when you least expect them so it's best to come prepared. Drybags and Rain Covers are your best friend.

Other Notes:

You may want to bring some extra clothes as there are places in town where you can pay to take a shower. Personally, I put my change of clothes and towels inside a drybag just in case.

We recommend that you also bring first aid kits, just in case.

Time Table of our Trip:

Time
Activity
2:00am
Meet up at McDonald's in Mindanao Avenue (Near Trinoma)
2:45am
Leave for Brgy. Sta. Juliana.
6:00am
Arrive at Brgy. Sta. Juliana and register with the local authorities. Sign waiver forms.
6:20am
Ride the 4x4 Jeep and leave for the trail.
6:50am
Picture-taking at O'Donnell river.
8:00am
Arrival at Mt. Pinatubo trail (North side). Start ascent.
9:05am
Arrival at the first (and only) rest stop. Snacks and Bathroom break.
9:37am
Start final ascent for the Crater Lake.
10:00am
Arrival at the Crater Lake. Lunch and picture-taking.
12:00pm
Start descent.
1:20pm
Return to the waiting 4x4 Jeeps.
2:45pm
Return to Brgy. Sta. Juliana. Take showers and change clothes.
3:25pm
Leave for Manila.
5:00pm
Snacks at NLEX.
7:00pm
Return to Manila.

Register with the Authorities and Sign Waivers

The Jump-off point of Brgy. Sta. Juliana.
The Jump-off point of Brgy. Sta. Juliana.
There's usually a big crowd during weekends and holidays. Make sure to sign your waivers to ride the Jeeps!
There's usually a big crowd during weekends and holidays. Make sure to sign your waivers to ride the Jeeps!

Riding the 4x4 Jeeps

These things are TOUGH!
These things are TOUGH!
Riding through the fields of volcanic ash.
Riding through the fields of volcanic ash.
This is FAR more fun than it looks.
This is FAR more fun than it looks.
The morning breeze feels nice.
The morning breeze feels nice.

O'Donnell River

An early morning adventure.
An early morning adventure.
A stream of water flowing through the wasteland.
A stream of water flowing through the wasteland.
Time for a quick picture taking session!
Time for a quick picture taking session!

Through the Valleys

Fields of volcanic ash.
Fields of volcanic ash.
You can see the mountain formations around the river.
You can see the mountain formations around the river.
Mt. Pinatubo in the distance.
Mt. Pinatubo in the distance.
Prepare for a BUMPY ride.
Prepare for a BUMPY ride.
The land gets rougher as you approach the volcano.
The land gets rougher as you approach the volcano.
The trail begins.
The trail begins.

Climbing Mt. Pinatubo

The Trek

Follow the hikers and the guides!
Follow the hikers and the guides!
See that stream? You'll get well-acquainted with it after a few hours.
See that stream? You'll get well-acquainted with it after a few hours.
The landscape looks and feels desolate from the start. This atmosphere sets it apart from most other mountains in Luzon.
The landscape looks and feels desolate from the start. This atmosphere sets it apart from most other mountains in Luzon.
The trail is quite solid and well worn.
The trail is quite solid and well worn.
Again, look around the canyon when you get here to appreciate the rock formations.
Again, look around the canyon when you get here to appreciate the rock formations.
Here you find the author basking in the glory of nature... and catching his breath.
Here you find the author basking in the glory of nature... and catching his breath.
Boulders are VERY comfortable.
Boulders are VERY comfortable.

Rest Stop

Eventually, after a couple of hours of hiking, you come across your final rest stop.
Eventually, after a couple of hours of hiking, you come across your final rest stop.
It's a lot bigger than how it looks, and there are toilets nearby!
It's a lot bigger than how it looks, and there are toilets nearby!
Look behind you and you'll see all the other hikers heading for the crater lake.
Look behind you and you'll see all the other hikers heading for the crater lake.
The sign says: "20 minutes to crater Welcome to Mt. Pinatubo Your trek starts here for: Young age 15 minutes Middle age 18 minutes Senior citize.. 20 minutes Where do you belong?" Guess who took off running...
The sign says: "20 minutes to crater Welcome to Mt. Pinatubo Your trek starts here for: Young age 15 minutes Middle age 18 minutes Senior citize.. 20 minutes Where do you belong?" Guess who took off running...
When you're ready, continue the trek.
When you're ready, continue the trek.

The Final Stretch

After that rest stop, the landscape changes drastically.
After that rest stop, the landscape changes drastically.
The area starts looking more and more like a dense jungle.
The area starts looking more and more like a dense jungle.
The trail is rather straightforward.
The trail is rather straightforward.
Try not to get your shoes wet!
Try not to get your shoes wet!
Hiking along a forest stream.
Hiking along a forest stream.
A few of these pictures have been taken after some rainfall. You'll see a more vibrant green after it happens and the stream grows far more beautiful.
A few of these pictures have been taken after some rainfall. You'll see a more vibrant green after it happens and the stream grows far more beautiful.
Clean water.
Clean water.
If you don't have good balance, the sticks sold in town may help.
If you don't have good balance, the sticks sold in town may help.
If you're too busy looking at the rocky trail in below you, you might miss the beautiful landscape around you.
If you're too busy looking at the rocky trail in below you, you might miss the beautiful landscape around you.
Can you feel the breeze?
Can you feel the breeze?
Just a little more!
Just a little more!

The Crater Lake of Mount Pinatubo

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU MADE IT! (Note: It took us 22 minutes to get here from the rest stop. I guess we're slower than centennarians then!)
CONGRATULATIONS! YOU MADE IT! (Note: It took us 22 minutes to get here from the rest stop. I guess we're slower than centennarians then!)
Right after the sign, you'll instantly catch a glimpse of the crate lake.
Right after the sign, you'll instantly catch a glimpse of the crate lake.
You'll see some huts for tourists along the way. Some locals sell food and drink here.
You'll see some huts for tourists along the way. Some locals sell food and drink here.
It's MUCH bigger than what you'd expect.
It's MUCH bigger than what you'd expect.
You can descend a set of stairs to get to the crater lake.
You can descend a set of stairs to get to the crater lake.
The toughest part of the trip, bar none: Those Stairs!
The toughest part of the trip, bar none: Those Stairs!
Time for photographs!
Time for photographs!
You'd think you went to the beach.
You'd think you went to the beach.
I love it when there's mild rainfall whenever I go hiking.
I love it when there's mild rainfall whenever I go hiking.
While you're here, take your time and appreciate the beauty of everything around you. Feel the breeze and relax. Let Mount Pinatubo stay as a part of your memories.
While you're here, take your time and appreciate the beauty of everything around you. Feel the breeze and relax. Let Mount Pinatubo stay as a part of your memories.

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© 2016 Ray Lucero

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