Planning for a Mt Pinatubo trek

Photo: Dave Harlow | USGS

Photo: Dave Harlow | USGS

I’ve always been fascinated with Mt Pinatubo. On a clear day I can see the Zambales Mountains from where we live, so had we been living here in 1991 when the volcano erupted, we would have had a clear view of the ash cloud that reached 35 kilometres into the atmosphere and lowered temperatures by one degree Fahrenheit around the globe.

Since moving to the Philippines in 2010, I’d heard about treks to the Mt Pinatubo crater lake, but assumed it would be too tough for an old guy like me to do.  But I came across this article the other day on a travel adventure website that said the trek was only rated 2 out of 10 for difficulty.

That prompted me to research trekking to Mt Pinatubo in more detail and convinced me that it is a trek I could manage. According to several articles I read, trekkers over 60 need to bring a medical certificate from a doctor certifying that they are fit enough to complete the trek, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to do in the Philippines.

The trek is 5-6 km long, which is about the same length as a trek I did of the same difficulty in the Andes a few years ago - and that was at a height of about 13,000 ft - which I managed despite an Australian doctor advising me against it.

I think the most important thing for guys my age to do on treks of that length, is to take plenty of water in a comfortable backpack and just take it easy, and not push yourself too hard. 5-6 km is really not a long distance.

From what I have read on a number of travel blogs about trekking to the Mt Pinatubo crater lake, the most uncomfortable part of the trek is the ride to the starting point in old jeeps, because they travel over the lahars (giant mudflows), which creates a lot of dust which obviously is not good for the lungs.

So I guess another item that I should remember to pack in my luggage for the trip is a good dust mask - or maybe two, one for the ride there and one for the ride back.

Although a few people who have written on blogs about their trek to the crater lake have said that it was tiring, nobody has said they regretted doing it. Everyone has said the trek was worthwhile because the crater lake is very beautiful.

One thing I did notice from the various blog posts that I read, was that those people who were able to trek on cooler days when the sky was overcast with a few light showers around, enjoyed it more than those who trekked on hot days.

But picking a cool day is hard because they really only exist around December and January (and this year we don’t seem to be getting many of them) and the odd day during the rainy season (but the downside there is that sometimes the treks are cancelled during the rainy season if there has been too much rain in the days prior).

The coolest days we had in December were those when tropical storms were passing through the Visayas, and although we didn’t get a lot of rain in Central Luzon, the extensive cloud-cover kept temperatures below 30C. Perhaps I should plan to do the trek next December if similar weather conditions occur, and be prepared to go a short notice. That’s one advantage that I have living less than 100km from Mt Pinatubo.

If anyone is interested to read more about the 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo and the devastation that it caused, I found a good fact sheet that was published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at, and there are some excellent photos of the eruption on the Getty Images website at

The photo I’ve included at the top of this blog post is not mine of course. It’s a photo from the USGS website. If I am able to do the trek next December, I will share my own photos of Mt Pinatubo, and what it looks like today.

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