I am not sure if Mt. Pinatubo’s crater has been biked. I asked around Sta. Juliana, the jump-off point for a bike tour to Pinatubo; if it has already been attempted. I was told that some who tried were not able to continue; some may have also finished up to the Skyway Route only (the nearest point a 4X4 vehicle can access the crater) but what they are sure of is that if they do, its only one way (as most of the time, they call for service transportation to help them in returning back by truck). There are bikers who also go there but the destination is to a different lake, nearer the village and not to the crater of the famous volcano. I have also noticed that there are quite a lot of weekend bikers who only take the Capas town proper to Sta. Juliana route only.
My wife was invited by her friends from our mountaineering organization to climb with them to Pinatubo. I begged off early on but volunteered to drive for her up to Sta. Juliana. On the night prior to departure I also packed my XC bike as I often do when travelling so that when an opportunity comes, I will not miss it. It was also a special climb as this will be the first time my 8 year old daughter will hike, though she already did some camping before.
At the jump-off point at Sta. Juliana, my task was to baby sit my 4 year old daughter while my wife and my other daughter joins the trek. While they were arranging, I already asked around for information as stated above. I was sort of also challenged by some locals to try to do it (though I sensed they were teasing me in hope of committing a mistake of trying it). I was able to convince my wife to also take my 4 year old daughter to the hike promising her that I will bike to the crater to catch up and take care of my 4 year old from then on.
I geared up but was not really serious about it. I also forgot about the trail condition as the last time I climbed Pinatubo was around 2001 (If I could have remembered then nobody can convince me to try it). Because it was a quick plan with little time for preparation and because I was already thinking that I would call off this ride after a few kilometres from the staring point, I left Sta Juliana unprepared. I had a small water tumbler (not a cyclist water bottle), I was wearing a shirt and baggy shorts (which I seldom do in a real ride) and I had little food. True to expectation, after a few meters in stepping in to the wet lahar surface, my front
wheel digged in so I was not able to ride further. But since it was too early for my ego to get whipped, I said I will try out some more. I was struggling even in the dry lahar but it was at least ridable compared with the wet one. But it was really exhausting. I need to continue pedalling else I will sink, and I need to constantly look for the firmer ground just like a mind game- a mind sweeper game. Once in a few meters, I will hit loose sand that will dismount me. Sometimes it will suddenly stop me that one time I actually fell
down as I was not able to dismount my clip-ons. The terrain became worst as we near the crater. Most portion was not ridable so I need to push my bike while still catching up breath from the previous ridable segment’s run. I was to the point of giving up but I was already too far that it was more feasible to finish the route than to go back. In the river crossings, I was really cautious as I still remember a scalding incident during an adventure race done in Pinatubo. But nevertheless I crossed it dismounted so my feet was constantly wet. The only thing that kept my sanity was steering my mind towards the spectacular views and taking pictures of it. I also tried interacting with most local Aeta I meet as my way of adding further value to this ride.
As if the terrain challenge was not enough, things got steeper in the “sky” portion of the Skyway. Sun was at high so the heat was unbearable. About 10% of the ride was actually a bike push and stepping into the sand was really straining my leg muscles. Further I was running out of water. In those times I was glad that the place was known as The Crow Valley by the Americans during the times of the US bases, as I think I was already in a state that if it was a Vulture Valley, the vultures are already circling atop me. After that 22 km of discomfort; 6 hours of hell, I reached the end of the skyway route.
Everyone was looking at me when I arrived. Not sure if they think I was crazy. From that point, there was still a one hour hike to the crater. I was really dying to bring the bike for a photo on the crater but after 100 meters of descending the loose rocky portion of the trail with my bike at my shoulders, I gave up the plan. I may be crazy for trying to bike Pinatubo but am not stupid to carry my bike to the crater. Going back to Sta Juliana, I opted to ride the 4X4s as one way was already enough. Crazyness is different from stupidity. In fact I will never do this route again, ever. Back at Sta. Juliana, the skeptical park attendant, after I told him I finished the skyway route told me I should get a certifcate for doing so.
Tips for those who are crazy and would like to try this out- Tires should be at least 2.25 with aggressive threading suited for loose sands (or you may reverse the tire if it has directional threads to make it more aggressive). Bring plenty of water and food. Sun blocks and protective gearing is a must. If planning two way back and forth, you should still arrange for a 4×4 trip back home in case of emergency. If riding up to the crater, then its better to do it in two days as I think going to and from the crater in a day is only for immortals. It’s a good way of training on how to ride sandy surfaces but you really need to prepare for it. And finally pray that your sanity will remain in tact throughout the ride.