Mt. Pinatubo (1760+MASL)
Sapang Uwak – Delta V Extended Dayhike
Major Jump-off Point: Brgy. Pidpid, Porac, Pampanga
Coordinates: 15°8’35″N, 120°20’54″E, 1468MASL
Days Required/Hours to Crater: 1-2days, 9-10hrs
Specs: Major Climb, 8/9, Trail Class 1-3
I have always been fascinated with the stories and documentaries of the historic eruption of the Pinatubo Volcano. And that one day, I will visit whatever is left of this volcano and witness this beautiful disaster for my own eyes to see. And that day came eventually.
Mt. Pinatubo is an active stratovolcano that is nestled at the Cabusilan Mountain Range which is the tripoint of the provinces of Pampanga, Zambales, and Tarlac, located 55miles northwest of the capital city of Manila.
Mount Pinatubo is part of a chain of composite volcanoes along the Luzon arc on the west coast of the island (area map). The arc of volcanoes is due to the subduction of the Manila trench to the west. The volcano experienced major eruptions approximately 500, 3000, and 5500 years ago.(Rosenberg, 2017).
It was home to thousands of indigenous tribes of Aetas who sought refuge in its tropical forests and made a living with its rich natural resources during the Spanish conquest.
It laid dormant for over half a century, but on that fateful day of June 15, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo erupted in its mightiest and most frightening form yet. Spewing out cubic kilometers of ashes and pyroclastic materials that ravaged the surrounding communities and municipalities in the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales. Successful predictions by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) and the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) at the onset of this cataclysmic eruption lessened the number of fatalities, by evacuating tens of thousands of people, saving lives that may have been gone to the ashes.
But the aftermath still left 847 dead, hundreds missing, thousands displaced by the lahar flow, cost millions of pesos of damage to infrastractures and means of livelihood, and billions of pesos for the recovery period. What made this eruption more devastating is the arrival of typhoon Diding several days after, that unleashed floods with lethal mixes of ash, tephra, streams of pyroclastic materials and rocks that remobilized the lahar deposits to the mourning communities, inflicting again damage to what’s left in the vast plains of this three provinces.
This Plinian/ Ultraplinian eruption produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century. It ejected vast quantities of materials into the stratosphere including millions of tonnes of Sulfuric Dioxide that created a sulfuric acid haze, subsequent effects of it were the global cooling, reducing worldwide temperature by 0.9°Fahrenheit, but also depleted the ozone layer substantially from years 1991-93.
The Long Walk to Mt. Mcdonald
I signed up for the Mt. Pinatubo Sapang Uwak to Delta-V day hike organized by Sir Jherry Guiao, this climb was the first of its kind as no group has ever attempted a day hike that traverses the volcano the other way around aside from the traditional Delta-V to Sapang Uwak hike. From Manila, it took us almost two hours before we reached the Porac Exit of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). From the exit, the surroundings were dank and dark, only tall grasses surrounded the area, the once paved roads became rough. We happened to pass by two military check points asking for our permit and identification cards before we finally reached the community of Sapang Uwak. At the end of the once again paved road, our service came to a halt, with no further ado, we started the very early morning trek at two in the morning.
The trail was wide open on a series of uphills and downhills, fog and pitch black darkness enveloped the whole team with only our headlamps and flashlights as source of light. Everything was a spot-on blur with the following four hours with no one talking, surely everyone got a little exhausted with this non-stop walk, but this is all just a warm-up, I told myself.
As the sun slowly rose, so does the surroundings came into life. The once grass covered trail with nothing to see turned into slopes and valleys teeming with life.
Sir Jherry started to point out several other mountains and peaks that has not been fully explored by the city people, some of what he mentioned was the Mt. Babatibat, Mt. Siang-Kabayo, Mt. Bale-Hangin and the formidable looking Mt. Negron and its knife edged ridges that is said to be a hunting ground for wild boars and where rare and endemic flora and fauna still thrives due to its obscurity from the modern man.
An hour and a half passed, through meandering and really long ridge walks, we have finally arrived at Mt. Mcdonald by 7:30 in the morning and rested for a while.
From afar, the jagged peaks of the Pinatubo Volcano, seemingly resembling the fangs of that of a wild beast, intimidated us a lot that made the hike more exciting than ever.
After that much needed rest, we then continued down Mt. Mcdonald to reach the much awaited crater rim. But this is where the challenge really started.
The way down was a lot steeper than what I expected, the trail was an almost 90 degree wall with paths that is just as wide as a ruler, one wrong step, and voila.
After that steep descent, boulders and rocks welcomed us, then we eventually covered the gap that seperates Mt. Pinatubo from Mt. Mcdonald. From the foot of the volcano, the crater rim is just a stone throw away.
But the ascent trail proved to be more tricky since there are hardly any trails leading to the crater summit due to the alternating patches of boulders and grasses, that it became really hard to tell which one are the hole gaps and which one is safe to put your weight upon.
After two hours and a half of descent then ascent, the final leg proved to be more breath taking than ever, from that point, just a few meters away from the crater, the surrounding valleys and mountains inside the Cabusilan Range was like taken straight out of a fiction book. Isla Nublar, Michael Crichton’s fictional Central American island of the Jurrasic Park came into mind, as I was expecting dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes grazing this vast fields. I was day dreaming that time, the heat of the sun was bearable due to the cool breeze. But I continued on.
All things must come to an end, but after all of this, there is rebirth, to a more beautiful, stronger, and a more resilient one. Mt. Pinatubo proved this into reality.
Just a few more steps, I felt an even more strong surge of wind signalling that I am coming closer to the crater, and that a wide panoramic space awaits me on that steep edge. Then as I set my eyes upon the wholeness of the crater, I was simply struck in awe. I was cursing and cussing at that same catatonic moment, and that everything that came out of my mouth is still not enough to express what I felt during that moment.
After what seemed like to be a split second eternity, everything before my own eyes is still hard to digest. All that hours of endless walk paid off, big time, even more than that. This, I should admit, is one of the most beautiful sights that I have seen to date. Definitely, this is a beautiful kind of rebirth, the one that leaves a lasting memory of what it feels like to be surprised in the most unconventional way, but still leaves you speechless everytime it crosses your mind.
A kind of lasting story that is worth telling, like that kind of lasting love that is worth keeping, and like of that of a lasting impression that is hard to erase.
The jagged peaks that seemed to be the crowning glory of this volcanic edifice surrounded the almost triangular Pinatubo lake, spanning 2.7km wide, that is painted in hues of emerald. The crater rim is heavily eroded, and from this viewpoint, one should exercise caution as the edges seem to be fragile that you’ll plunge down to your death on a little mishap.
The gently sloping apron coated in lahar and hardened lava, rising just 200 meters above the surrounding ancient volcanic relics hides the volcano from the lowlands.
The Thrill of the Delta V
But it is still mandatory to come down even though we’re still in a state of euphoria. The journey is still halfway from over so we have to push through with the Delta-V. By 12noon, we descended down to a new trail since the traditonal trail still needs some bush whacking after the typhoon months. It took us more than an hour to finish the Patal Mai, that is mostly composed of cramped up mountain walls on both sides and boulders of all shapes and sizes as trails covered in moss and vegetation.
We reached the infamous Delta-V river after several minutes more, and by 2:00pm, we reached the Pinatubo Twin Falls. The twin cascade is tucked inside the mountain where cool water flows down into a gentle stream. We took a quick dip just to relax our sore and tired muscles.
Then just a little more trek down, is where the Apu Malyari Falls is located, a single flowing waterfall plunging down to an estimated 30 meter drop with the rock wall that is symmetrically and peculiarly tucked side by side.
Much of the view is covered in myriads of curious rock formations of great scales. The whole trek was like walking into a hotel corridor, walls on each side and a carpet on the center. But this time, the walls are great volcanic edifices, and the carpet is that of the raging river flowing upon large rocks and bordered by fine lahar sand that keeps on being stuck inside our shoes that hurts the sole even more.
It was a series of river crossings, some of which involves wading over waist high river water. The night eventually caught up on us, and the trek even became more dangerous with the swelling of the river as the rain fell by dusk. The long corridor-like walk brought my spirits down as my food provisions are thinning down to almost zero, our flashlight and batteries are about to die anytime soon. My companion Ms. Anna was nursing a sprained ankle, and not much of the medicine she took had any effect and eventually slowed her down as the pain became increasingly unbearable.
We reached the Bahay na Bato by 7:30pm, we then again waded into waist deep river water in pitch black darkness. Then that is where the large boulder with raging river waters as deep as several meters flowed into each side. Only way to get down is through ropes brought by Sir Jherry that we carefully used to go down. One wrong move again and two raging rivers with mud waters on each sides awaits. (RIP to the headlamps swallowed by the river during that night)
Everything again, just like the morning walk was a blur, I was on auto-pilot mode that time. We did not managed to reach the end of the trail nor can our lead locate the shortcut that involved us going about three times up and down several mini waterfalls to the Aeta Community where we can spend the night to rest. Everybody was downright exhausted, that we decided to go back to the highest lahar riverbank that we can find on our way to set up our emergency camp by 10:15pm. We were traversing the Delta-V trail for several hours now that hope ran out and only daylight can solve our problems.
The Pinatubo Experience
Morning came, the vast stone walled corridor, and the gleaming river bank got illuminated again by the morning light clearing things out. I failed to bring out provisions for e-camps since this is just a dayhike, a thing that I will always avoid on my next hikes. I slept on large rocks with my poncho and a small blanket that Ms. Anna shared as my source of heat against the really cold night that made me shiver. Ms. Anna felt relieved with her sprain after a not so good night sleep, and we were again as strong as the day before but little more famished than the usual.
The short-cut that we can’t locate the night before came into being, as it was hidden beneath a curtain of vines and plants. Upon reaching the top, it took us about two more hours before we reached the Aeta Community where they received us with warm smiles and some fruits to eat.
Then from the small community we then got back to the Mt. Dorst junction that also happens to be the Sapang Uwak trail. We saw the grand Miyamit Falls from the top of this ridge filled with “Mirasol” or Sunflowers. And again it took us an hour to reach the jump-off point where our van was parked, this is one of the most hardest extended day hikes that I’ve been into. Sir Jherry, with no sign of exhaustion on his face asked a guy with his motorcycle to buy us something to eat from the community below.
Mt. Arayat loomed faintly that day from where we were standing. Recounting the experiences from the past day, it was hard and rewarding all the same, the beautiful disaster proved to be an experience of a lifetime. We got down to the Alviera Land by noon time where we had ourselves cleaned, and then had a fun post climb buffet in San Fernando, Pampanga. And the rest was history.
*This was the first attempt to hike Mt. Pinatubo in a day via Sapang Uwak to Delta-V Trail. (No one attempted to do this again as of this writing, cause it was plainly crazy and stupid.)
● Permits from the local municipality of Porac is needed before doing any hike in the mountains of Cabusilan. Security is strictly observed as you will be passing by 2 checkpoints that asks for your identification cards and permit to climb.
● There are hardly any water sources in the Sapang Uwak Trail going to Mt. Mcdonald, No tree cover as well and prepare for the almost 17km long trek to the campsite. Start early before the sun catches up on you.
● The Delta-V trail is the one with the most number of watersources and waterfalls (and hardest as well). But never attempt to take this route during the night, since river crossings and bouldering as such will be your only way out through this trail. Wear appropriate Hydro Hiking/Mesh shoes for a more comfortable trek.
● If doing a day hike, make sure you have the necessary provisions for inclement weather conditions, emergency camps, and other unexpected circumstances such as accidents/injuries. A day hike will take you an average of 20hrs depending on the pacing of the team so be prepared accordingly.
● There are four (4) known trails of Mt. Pinatubo, first is the most visited and easiest, the Sta. Juliana Jump-off point in Capas, Tarlac, Second is the Delta-V trail, third is the Sapang Uwak or CM50 Trail that is both located in Porac, Pampanga, and fourth is the recently explored trail coming from San Marcelino, Zambales.
● Always practice the LNT (Leave No Trace) Principles, minimize impacts to the environment.
How To Get There:
● Via Commute: Take any bus plying the Tarlac or any northbound route that passes by the Dau Terminal. From Dau Terminal, there are jeepneys going to Angeles, alight at the Nepo Mart where there are tricycles that can take you to the Sapang Uwak jump-off.
● Via Private Transportation: Take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) to Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) route and exit at Porac, Pampanga, turn right at the Alviera Land, then right again at the Tunnel then turn left until you reach the first check-point of Sapang Uwak.
Budget and Itinerary:
Mt. Pinatubo (1760+MASL)
Sapang Uwak – Delta V Extended Dayhike
0000 Depart from Manila
0145 Arrival at Sapang Uwak Trail Head
0215 Start Trek
0600 Last Water Source
0730 Arrival at Mt. Mcdo Campsite, breakfast
0830 Resume trek
1100 Mt. Pinatubo Crater Summit (1468+MASL)
1140 Start Descent
1300 Patal Mai
1600 Pinatubo Twin Falls
1700 Apo Malyari Falls
1930 Bahay na Bato
2215 Delta V E-campsite
0600 Resume Trek
0800 Aeta Tribal Settlement
0900 Mt. Dorst Junction to Sapang Uwak Trail
1000 Jump-off Point
1200 Porac, Pampanga, Tidy-up
1400 Bale Kapampangan, Late Lunch
1600 Back at Manila
Total Damage: 1,100.00php registration fee for the event organized by Sir Jherry Guiao (Reg. Fee comes with a free post climb buffet!)
“It always seems impossible until it is done.”
– Nelson Mandela
Go, Carve That Niche,