“Which came first, the phoenix or the flame?”
The classic story of the phoenix is that of resilience and hope. For centuries, this mythical bird became a symbolic reminder of people who has risen from the ashes. Those who bounced back up after their world came crashing down. Those who built themselves after falling apart.
Most of us talk about the phoenix but rarely of the flame. Just as how in life we see more of the outcome and less of the process. That is why this entry is not just about standing above the crater of Mt. Pinatubo. It is about zooming in to the beauty of the disaster we found during our 42-kilometer hike.
Mount Pinatubo straddles at the tripoint boundary of the provinces of Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga. This active stratovolcano is known for its colossal eruption back in 1991. But what once was a site of destruction is now a place of excitement for many.
Organized by Jeffrey of Bandana Stories, I along with James, Chiarra, Carol, Lovely, Belle, Ivan, Intet, Charie, Nicole, Stefan and Maureen packed our bags and headed north of Luzon.
The most popular gateway to Mt. Pinatubo is in Capas, Tarlac. Here, it involves an hour 4×4 ride in a lahar field and a 3km trek to the crater lake. However, there is an alternative route passing through the Golden Trail in Porac, Pampanga, which offers a completely different experience. A relatively new trail compared to the Delta V Trail (via Sapang Uwak) which is known to most hikers, Golden Trail flaunts a 42km trek that would take you to sandy flats, shallow streams and rocky terrain.
We left the jump off point at 1 am. During the first few hours, we hiked through a seemingly endless volcanic sand. The trail was mostly plain and open which can be arduous to those who climb during the day when the sun is up. To the untrained eyes, we’d probably look like predators with our headlamps illuminating in the dark. It was almost 3 hours on dusty lahar before we reached the first campsite. We were supposed to have our breakfast but due to unforeseen circumstances, it took our porters (who carried all our food and cooksets) 2 hours to reach the place.
With our itinerary delayed, each of us knew that we’d have to double our next pacing to reach our target. We reached the sand mountains that looked like huge toblerones from afar. Meanwhile, some of us thought of Jurassic park. Chocolates or dinosaurs, which is which?
After eating, we continued into the barren plains and soon reached the landslide area which caught most of us by surprise. This used to be part of the mountains surrounding the plains where 4×4 trail mods pass through. Now, they’re huge sand boulders that we needed to walk into.
We skidded and slid, scooting and crawling on fours. At some point, our guides had to take our backpacks because we can’t fit into the gap. It ends with a final descent going to the river.
By the time we reached the riverbed, most of us changed from hiking shoes to sandals. This part of the 42km trek requires multiple river crossings for hours. The water is mostly shallow but the current could be strong at times. It’s a good and refreshing shift from hours of walking on dry sand.
Reaching Inararo Falls, a 50-feet high single-tiered cascade, meant that we were finally close. We took a little time appreciating its beauty then moved forward with the hike.
It was almost 11:30 when we reached Ana-an falls, also known as Mt. Pinatubo Twin Falls. We had to climb atop the waterfalls where the campsite is located. Gathering our remaining strength, we faced the ascending trail and arrived just in time for the light rain.
After having our lunch and pitching our tents, we continued with our hike to the crater lake which was still 2 hours away. In contrast to the barren plains we passed by earlier, the terrain going to the summit was ringed with lush mountains. It reminded us of Dalaguete’s landscapes. Who would have thought spew of lahar devastated these verdant greens?
The trek this time was easier since we were not carrying full packs. Soon enough, we got a glimpse of the crater lake which took our breaths away. It was a sweet reward after a day of long walk, sun burn, and sticky sweat.
The beauty of Mt. Pinatubo is not only seen on its summit. Looking back, we saw and experienced the beauty in its disaster. The long stretch of lahar field that glimmered like gem, the sand boulders that awakened our sense of thrill, the river and falls that made us appreciate every drop of water, and the green mountains that proved us that nature always finds a way to thrive.
This 42km adventure was indeed a golden one. It came with imperfections but our treasure trove was filled with memories, laughter and new bonds.
One personal note, YOU DO NOTE,
Ours was a two-day event. I would not suggest trekking Mt. Pinatubo via Golden Trail in a day if you have no proper training. It’s a very long hike and unexpected things may happen along the way. There was another group hiking ahead of us who opted to finish the 42km circuit trail in a day hike (die-hike). They had to be rescued because (1) they came unprepared, no proper gears; (2) they underestimated the trail, their pacing are really slow to think it’s a day hike; and (3) they miscoordinated, for some reason they only have 1 guide despite their number.
For booking and reservation, message Golden Trail Traveler’s Resort & Adventure.
If you ever go and do it for the Gram, take your trash with you — every piece, every gram.