During my first two weekends in Guatemala, I hiked two volcanoes. The first one, Volcán de Pacaya, last erupted in 2014, which meant that unfortunately we could not hike to the peak because the top is still too hot for human activity. (How cool is that though!) However, we did find some lava vents and a few spots with heat still emanating from piles of rocks. We even got to see the newest lava formations on the part we hiked, like in the picture below. The darker formations are from the most recent explosion.
The view that morning was shrouded in clouds, so we didn’t get any good views of the surrounding volcanoes in the area. However! There were some really cute animals that accompanied us on our journey, like this horse.
In my second weekend, I decided to take on the task of hiking Volcán de Acatenango, a dormant volcano whose last eruption was in 1972, at an elevation of 13,000 ft. One of the best parts about hiking Acatenango is its proximity to Volcán de Fuego, which is right next door and has been actively erupting since 2012. One night in Antigua, I saw the red lava of Fuego erupting in the clear, black sky from the terrace outside my house. I wanted to see the eruption up close, so I decided to camp on Acatenango overnight in the hopes that I would get a good view. This meant that I was about to hike not only at the highest elevation I had ever been to, but that I also had to hike it with my clothes, 5 liters of water, my food, and all of our camping gear. What an undertaking. I convinced one of my friends from Antigua to accompany me, and we joined a bigger group of folks that all trekked and camped up on the volcano together.
I can definitely say that I have never done anything so physically strenuous in my life. Holy fuck. That shit was hard. It was steep. It was hot. My pack was heavy. On the first day we hiked about 5 hours up to the camp, where I shared a tent with 4 others. As soon as we finished setting it up I passed out for a couple hours from exhaustion and a pounding headache. When I woke up, I joined the others sitting around the campfire, to eat some soup, drink hot cocoa, listen to music, and relax before our 4 am start the next morning to hike up to the summit.
At the camp, we got an amazing view of Volcán de Fuego and the valley below. We did not, unfortunately, see Fuego erupt but we did see it smoke a whole bunch while the sun was setting! (Still pretty cool.)
The next morning at 4 am, our guides woke us up to begin our ascent to the top, in the dark. Damn, if I told you that the incline was steep, it still wouldn’t be descriptive enough. It was really fucking steep. At points it was difficult to even find stable ground to place your feet because most of the trail to the top was covered in sand and loose rock. Imagine hiking at an impossible incline while your feet sink into the earth several inches with each step. It felt unreal, impossible. And yet I did it, somehow. And I saw the sun rise over the trees and clouds and over the surrounding volcanoes and above the valley below. And holy wow did I feel so lucky.
And at the top, at more than 13,000 ft of elevation, hanging out above the clouds, standing taller than any of the other surrounding volcanoes, I felt like I was literally on top of the world. The hike from hell was totally worth it.
I would do it again. Maybe a different volcano though…