Saturday, February 28, 2015

Volcano Acatenango

Last weekend I embarked on my overnight volcano trek up Acatenango. The neat thing about this volcano is that it is right next to Fuego (the one with the big eruption a couple weeks back) so you have a good chance of seeing an eruption as Fuego is very active. We were not disappointed. 

We met in Antigua at 6am to get our gear together and pack our bags. We would be taking our own clothes and personal items (sunscreen, toilet paper, snacks, etc.) plus a minimum of 4.5 liters of water (1 gallon = 3.75 liters), parts of the tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and some of the food/dinner supplies. However I am well aware of my own limitations and for $25, I hired a porter to carry most of my things. I kept my small bag with my water, some snacks and my camera. Even still, it was quite the brutal trek (for me). 

Acatenango is almost 14,000 feet high at the sumit. We wouldn't go all the way to the summit on Saturday, only to camp at around 12,000 feet. (These are all approximations because they speak in terms of meters here.) We had a group of fourteen pretty fit folks from all over. I was probably middle of the pack age wise and last in the pack fit wise. The porters always bring up the rear and I kept them great company ;). They were sweet and had no problem going slow with me and stopping for all my breathers. They climb up the mountain twice a week. 

The guide was good though and we had several breaks throughout. My usual strategy is to use those breaks to my advantage. I don't like long breaks, just short 1-3 minutes. Otherwise I feel like I lose momentum and it's like starting the engines all over again. So I usually ask to continue on ahead knowing that the group will soon overtake me when they are done with break anyway. But, too many trails on this one, so he wouldn't let me go ahead. I was really nervous I was slowing the group down. But they were great, supportive and in the end I wasn't too far behind (10-15 minutes maybe). I've seen the hike advertised as 4-6 hours. I was hoping to clear 6 and I think we finished in about 5. So I was very happy with how I did. 

Upon nearing camp, we were rewarded with a low rumbling. While it was still very cloudy, it was our first eruption observed. There was another biggie while it was still cloudy. At best, you could see one outline of the side of Fuego; at worst you couldn't see the trees just below you on Acatenango. The guide said the clouds would clear by five and be a fairly clear night. I had serious doubts. But what do you know, all of a sudden things started to clear and we got great views of Fuego the rest of the night. Including a couple more eruptions before sundown. 

So during the day and eruption is just a mushroom cloud of smoke that floats out of the top of the volcano. Cool, but not the flying magma you want :). So we wait for the dark which was close to 7. And we wait. We eat dinner (Thai stir fry that was great!) and wait. We each paid about 75¢ to the porters and they had collected wood for us. It gets cold up there, close to or at freezing. So we were huddled around the fire, making conversation and waiting for the amazing eruption. We got to know each other and told many stories. It was a great time. There was cheap boxed wine. But we had to get up at 4:00 to make our sumit before sunrise. So I was watching the clock, tired from an early day and long hike. About 8:45 I headed to the tent. Shoes off. Tucked myself in. I hear the other girls coming back. Glasses off. Trying to sleep. BOOM! Huge eruption. I shot straight up and stuck my head out the tent door. I see splotches of blurred orange. Dang it! My glasses. I'm a blind biddy without them. They flew out of the sleeping bag as I sat up. Find them. Eruption almost over, I saw a little orange/red. Lay back down. Other girls are mad because they were taking a natural moment (pee) and also missed it. We get all settled in to sleep again. BOOM! Again, shoot up. Again, orange blur. Again, search for thrown glasses. Again, miss most of the fireworks. Ok, I'm now sleeping with glasses on. Lay back down. Settle in. BOOM! I see it! Like orange/red fireworks up in the air and then splayed over the sides of the mountain. It was so awesome. But I was tired and I laid back down and tried to sleep. Unfortunately I didn't get any of the fun red/orange eruption pictures from that night. 

I slept ok. I missed my zipperless sleeping bag. We were up at 4 to hike at 4:30. I quickly fell behind and the guide stayed with me. It was harder in the dark to know which route to take. Seeing the sun come up was really cool. I didn't make summit before sunrise, but still had a great view from above the tree line. 

This is where I stopped to take pictures before the last brutal part up the sand. There are specks of people to the left of the pine tree in the middle of the pic and that's where I was headed. 

I made it!!

Some people camped at the summit. 

We headed back down and there were a couple large explosions while we packed up camp. A super fun hike I would highly recommend. But nap when you arrive, so you can stay up later in the dark and watch for explosions. 

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