Where: Pinatubo, Luzon, Philippines
What: A violent fiery goddess located in one of the most volcanic and dangerous regions of the world
Go there for: No safe hiking opportunities, but amazing smouldering and evolving landscapes can be observed
When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it was the largest eruption of the 20th century, spewing ash lava and debris as far away as Vietnam. For two years an ash cloud lowered worldwide temperature a full C degree as it floated in the upper atmosphere.
Land of Catastrophe
Though it was a spectacular eruption to the West, the Philippines is not a stranger to natural disaster; in fact it was recently named ‘the most disaster prone country on earth.’ Situated precariously on the Ring Of Fire, the Pacific hugging belt of earthquakes and volcanic activity slips right under the Philippines and has created the country’s natural beauty and has been the cause of death and destruction for centuries.
Though it shares the same shaky fate as California, Japan, Indonesia and New Zealand, the Philippines has somehow always been at the receiving end of the worst of mother nature’s fury. Volcanoes dot the islands (namely Luzon) and Pinatubo and Mayon are among the most famous. Some are dormant (‘sleeping’) or extinct (dead and no longer dangerous) but most are actively shaking and spewing lava every decade or so.
Pinatubo itself was considered extinct, but it roared to life destroying prime farmland, and killing civilians just a few hours drive from Manila. To show how disaster prone the country really is, the eruption coincided with a terrible typhoon that caused even more damage as ash and debrish rushed down the mountainside. When the eruption was over, Manila was covered in ash, and the international airport was letting one stranded plane take off every thirty minutes as the ash damages the moving parts of engines.
What remained of the volcano (3000 ft of the top were obliterated) has not begun to re-grow as a new cone pushes up through the shattered mountain, and no one is sure if the mountain will erupt again. The lahar, or mixture of ash and dirt created by the eruption, has begun to erode and has carved fantastic valleys in which rivers now flow. It’s terribly dangerous to walk in these valleys as flash floods are common. Someday you may be able to hike this mountain more safely but until then, it’s off limits.
Don’t be surprised if the earth moves under your feet while in the Philippines, because the Ring Of Fire is always full of surprises.
US Geological Survey Ring of Fire info page
Map detailing the path of the Ring of Fire
The Mount Pinatubo Eruption
Facts and photos of the 1991 eruption
By Dave lowe