– Don´t climb Acatenango Volcano by yourself, they said.
-Oh baby, watch me do it, I replied. You know how I am.
Getting to base Camp, a long shot but doable
Climbing this Volcano is definitely by far my biggest challenge so far. People do it with a guide who knows the road, knows how to light a fire, has a camping spot and they do it with a group of at least 10 people.
Me? I was aiming to do it by myself with my humble tent and my rookie boy scout habilities. I am camping in the roof of a hostel and there I met Janna and this german girl asked me if she could tag along. Well, do you have any hiking experience? Because it is not a walk in the park, I replied. Her immediate anwer was that she had already done something similar so I didn´t hesitate to welcome her to my one man crew. Big mistake.
From the moment we started to hitchhike (yes, you know I hitchhike everywhere) she complained and say that we should pay for the chicken bus and get to the volcano skirts the easy way; but where is the fun in that right? So we hitchhiked the hour and a half to the nearest town and from there started waling towards the enemy, Acatenango Volcano. I mean, every road up has to lead to the top, right?
I knew we wouldn´t follow the main road, that was on the budget. There is at least ten roads on this side and they all have a different difficulty level, I wanted to climb the one that father destiny had in store for me. Obviously Janna wasn´t thrilled about it but hey, I am the one calling the shots, so either you do it my way or climb down. I knew she wasn´t going down, that´s why I got that attitude.
Don´t get me wrong. I wasn´t an asshole. It is just that if you ask if you can join someone, you are sticking to their game plan.
As expected, there was a lot of bifurcations on the road and I am pretty sure we got one of the most difficult trails.
Climbing a mountain or a volcano is mainly a mental game. Of course you have to be in good shape or at least have good physical condition. The problem is not about having the legs to do it, it is about keeping going after hours of only hiking non stop with just a few five minute breaks. If you can do that, there is another challenge: The oxygen decreases on every step you take. If you manage to beat those two you have one last enemy: Hypothermia. Around 9,000 feet the cold wind and the low temperature start to take a toll on your body.
At least you have these amazing views around every corner (or should I say tree?):
Anyway, we started to hike up the enemy. Usually it takes the paid tours to get there around five hours to get to base camp and we started to climb up at 1 pm due to my experiments of hitchhiking, but it was still worth it. Knowing this, the goal was to reach the base camp at six so we could still have light and time to set up the tent and start a fire. I set the goal at five hours just to be able to say I did the same time as paid tours with guides and all of the luxuries.
On our way up we met this little farmer kid who gave us some directions to get to the correct trail (which we lost again) and another time we met two girls around halfway up just playing like it was their backyard; they directed us again to the correct road (which we lost again).
We asked the girl´s father about time and distance, just to check our progress. We were halfway through but we had already spent almost 4 hours, damn, we lost a lot of time due to not following the right path and Janna taking a lot of breaks. We had to speed up or the night would catch upon us in the middle of nowhere and then we could call it a loss.
Ok, at least we have to reach one of the nearest camps instead of the base camp, I said to myself. I was pissed of as hell, I wanted to make it to base camp on day one to be able to leave next day at 4 am and reach summit in time to watch the sunrise. At least I was having a blast and my legs and back were responding like a pro. I was amazed by the different types of ground we were encountering:
Oh, I forgot! How could I forget about cat? Cat is a dog who adopted us around 70% of the way up. I named him cat, I wonder how he named me.On the trail, a dog adopts you, not the other way around, and he will leave you whenever he wants. The moment we met him I hitted it off with him perfectly and from there he lead all the way up. We didn´t got lost after that, he knows his business.
It was already six and it was starting to get dark. I was getting nervous because I only knew how to get to base camp but we needed to get in direct sight of “Fuego”, Guatemalas highest active Volcano to do it.
The moment we get Fuego on our line of view that means we are around half an hour from base camp, that I know. I was tired already and had to stop a lot so no blaming Janna for this, this is all you, nomad. Besides, the cold was starting to get unbearable, I had to put on 3 shirts, 2 pants and my Batman Hoodie.
Batman has never let me down, why should he start now, I thought.
Finally, Fuego came into my line of view.
If you take a closer look, you can see red parts on the left side. What is it, you ask? Fresh Lava. Damn Right.
We can win. We can beat this Volcano, I thought. We might make it to base camp on time.
From there the hike was just about going around Acatenango, it was no longer climbing up but getting to the other side of the the mountain where you have a first row seat to this other active volcano.
Our souls felt revived and we got energy from nowhere to start pacing. We knew time was our enemy now, Acatenango´s summit would be the enemy tomorrow but today we have to focus on reaching camp or we can literally die.
Six people died a few months ago because they were on our same situation and didn´t sleep on base camp but tried to reach summit the very same day. Three died of Hypothermia and the others passed away trying to climb down to base camp in the middle of the cold, dark, rainy night. God bless their souls.
Then I heard thunder. Holy Guacamole, if it rains we are doomed, I thought. But then I searched for clouds. How could I miss it? Was I so focused on the road that forgot to look up? We were already in front of Fuego and it was welcoming us.
How? Have a look:
Seeing this made the whole hike worth it and it was just the beggining of the real experience.
My heart was trying to get out through my mouth. Between the battle with time, the cold, the tiredness and the lack of oxygen I felt a sensation I´ve felt only a few times before: Pure adrenaline and a rush of blood, that gave me the energy needed to reach base camp.
We reached base camp. It was nothing like I expected. There was not one soul there even though we know a lot of tours climb Acatenango on a daily basis. Did we make a mistake? Is it today a dangerous day to climb therefore no one came today? Are we in the right spot?
It was already almost dark. I am never going to be able to set up camp and light a fire, we need help. I whistled and not a single reply was heard. I took this pic with the shutter as wide as I could to get as much light as I could:
But then we saw it, smoke from a fire camp around 100 yards from us.
They might help us. We should give it a try, I said to Janna. She just followed me, she was already in a state of following me without hesitation and without any complain.
Base Camp, Finally
Remember that in my post Tips to Travel on a Budget I told you about meeting locals? Well, it frickingly paid off!
When we reached said camp I recognized Max, a local guy I met the day before. I didn´t know he was a tour guide! We were saved, if we hadn´t found Max´s camp probably I wouldn´t be here telling you this story.
I was caught on fire, literally, on a barbeque accident 2 years ago that landed my ass on the hospital. Second degree burns in 30% of my body and since then I despise fire; Still, seeing the fire these two Guatemalans, 7 Israelies and 4 Germans had going made me feel the happiest person on earth. I think Uncle Fire and me have a good relationship now.
We were having a great conversation by the fire, I was practicing my hebrew and my german (I´m not even close to being fluent but it is always nice to practice and learn) with these people sent from heaven when it happened…
The volcano started to erupt
But you won´t read about it or how I made summit until tomorrow, today just…