Stephen Craton

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  • iPhone
  • 3.85mm
  • f/2.8
  • 1/2742 sec
  • ISO 80

Mt. Pinatubo

May 6, 2011 Pampanga, Philippines 4 min read

Before sumitting Mt. Pinatubo I hadn’t been exposed to very much in terms of natural beauty. Sure, I’d hiked a little in the Appalachians, gone caving here or there, and visited some tropical beaches. But it all paled in comparison to the monumentous beauty of this active volcano.

To be sure, this is one of those hikes I don’t think I even told my parents I was going to do until I’d already done it. Who wants their son to hike a very active and very deadly volcano in a third world country? The thing had last erupted 1991, killing over 800 people, and was devastating not only to the surrounding region but the entire Philippines. It’d made international news at the time.

We’d decided this would make a good day trip for our company. A way for us to get out in nature together. We arrived at the office by 3am for the 3 hour drive to Pampanga. From there, we boarded a caravan of unconvered jeeps.

We drove through the lava fields surrounding the volcano, ash being kicked up by the tires spewing into our faces making it hard to breathe. We were entering a deserted wasteland. One of the few spots the government said “don’t live here” and the people actually listened. For good reason.

Eventually the jeeps couldn’t go any further. Boulders and streams made their passage impossible. So we unloaded and set out on foot. Just 2 more hours by foot to the summit.

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  • iPhone 4
  • 3.85mm
  • f/2.8
  • 1/2011 sec
  • ISO 80

The trail up was relatively flat and easy. What I suspect was the lava flow or water runoff had essentially carved out a nice pathway to the top. It was barren, and it provided no shade from the tropical sun beating down directly overhead. Locals dawned umbrellas to provide themselves some shade.

“What an ingenious idea,” I recall thinking, only having seen them used for rain back home.

Nearly 3 miles later, the terrain shifted to a steep incline. We entered into a dense tropical jungle. This was the final push to the top. Behind this, the famed crater lake.

As we made our way out of the dense treeline, I got my first glimpse of truly rugged mountainous beauty. In the center, a pristine blue lake. Around the edges, walls of rock and greenery.

“Is this for real? This looks like a painting!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d never seen anything like this. The mountains so ruggedly beautiful, softened lightly by a slight haze of the atmosphere. It didn’t even look real, but as we inched our way closer to the edge of the lake, things became more focused, and it was undeniably real and undeniably a creation of God.

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  • iPhone
  • 3.85mm
  • f/2.8
  • 1/2514 sec
  • ISO 80

A few brave folks broke out their swimwear. For them, the adventure wasn’t for the natural beauty, but for the swimming opportunity in Lake Pinatubo. After the last eruption, a massive crater was formed. Over time, it filled with water that had no where else to go. Today, I hear, there’s fear the lake may be causing too much pressure and cause the walls of the mountain to give way.

I didn’t dare go in. Likely because of the ample warnings not to go too far from the shore, lest you get sucked into the caldera and end up in a Jules Verne novel. (That’s a Journey to the Center of the Earth reference. 😅) I wasn’t a very good swimmer anyway, so tempting fate any further than just standing atop a volcano wasn’t much of a thought for me.

Besides, staring off into the natural beauty was enough for me.

“Is this the kind of stuff the world has to offer?” I thought. “It’s not just concrete jungles and weird foods, but beauty like this?”

“Someday,” I vowed, “I’ll explore all the natural beauty there is to see in this world.”

It would take only a few more years for that vow to become reality.

Written October 20, 2019