What do you do if you’re confronted with the lahar beds of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines? Well, if you happen to be in a Ford Endeavour, it’s quite simple really – just step on the gas.
In a normal scenario, you would think of a volcanic eruption as a rather serious event. After all, this natural phenomenon has tremendous energy potential and can cause immense damage to the areas around it – as was the case when Mount Pinatubo in the Central Luzon area of the Philippines erupted in 1991. In fact, it’s known to be second largest eruption in the whole of the 20th century, with the volcano spewing about 10km3 of magma and 17 megatons of Sulphur Dioxide. Naturally, this meant that the dense forests surrounding the volcano were wiped out, and much of the infrastructure was heavily damaged too – even river systems in the area were affected for years.
But we are, after all, a bunch of unreasonable car-mad auto journalists and so we’re here to drive the Ford Endeavour on what is the resulting topography of this massive volcanic explosion – the lahar beds of Pinatubo. Now, lahar is quite a dangerous thing – composed of volcanic pyroclastic ash, debris and water, it flows very quickly (35km/h or more) and can destroy virtually anything in its path. But, then again, car-loving adventurers have never been very logical or fearful, so some of the more skilled off-roaders discovered that when the beds are not flowing they can actually be a great source of fun. And given the technical difficulty in effectively tackling a lahar bed, they also prove to be a good test of a vehicle’s off-roading capabilities. And so, if you’re successful in traversing the beds, it proves the effectiveness of engine, suspension, and, most importantly, a vehicle’s 4×4 system.
So, in the middle of a sunny spell in Clark city – no, I’m not kidding, that’s what it’s called – we headed towards the lahar beds. As luck would have it, the skies suddenly turned grey and we witnessed a steady stream of rain – making the morning conditions on the lahar beds a bit trickier. However, perched high up in the driver’s seat of the Ford Endeavour, things weren’t difficult at all. The 3.2-litre engine was working without missing a beat, and with the all-wheel drive system engaged in Snow/Mud mode, the Endeavour cut through the muddy terrain easily.
Interestingly, driving in such conditions adds much to the skills of a driver willing to learn, and here I learnt another skill that seemed counter-intuitive at first. As our instructor explained – an old hand among the off-roading enthusiast community of the Philippines –when we hit the large bodies of water in the lahar bed, there were two things we needed to be careful about. First, we needed to maintain a large gap to the car ahead of us – as visibility gets limited when the water starts spraying all over the place, and, naturally, braking distances get longer. And the last thing you want to do is rear-end the vehicle in front of you, in the middle of nowhere, stuck in a flowing river. Secondly, when one hits the big water bodies, the car tends to slow down and the natural reaction is to take the foot off the throttle, whereas it’s the opposite that the driver should be doing. Slowing down means losing momentum, which can be a dangerous thing when crossing water bodies, and so one should fight your natural instinct and plant your foot deeper on the accelerator – allowing the engine’s power to help the vehicle cross the obstacle.
Of course, as you can probably see by the pictures, the whole experience was great fun – and a great testament to the overall abilities of the Terrain Management System of the Endeavour. While it might be a trickier activity in vehicles less capable, in the Endeavour the lahar beds seemed easily conquerable. So, remember folks, if you need to outrun a flowing bed of lahar, get yourselves an Endeavour and plant your foot on the throttle – and, of course, it’s a also good idea to keep the wipers going at full click to keep the windshield clean.
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