I have felt the wrath and euphoria of climbing Volcano San Cristobal and came away dirty, sun burnt, exhausted and happy.
Volcán San Cristóbal is the highest volcano in Nicaragua at 1,745 m. or 5,725 feet. It last erupted in 2008 and today sites on an eruption warning of 3 out of 5. We do not climb the majesty of San Cristobal very often but with Telica acting up and off limits, along with Momotombo, San Cristobal has become the focus for experienced hikers to challenge themselves. This volcano is NOT for beginners to try just because it would be cool. It is a difficult and possibly dangerous climb (sorry mom).
|5 guides and 3 climbers. That is customer service.
|San Cristobal calling like a Greek Mythological Siren
Our crew on this hike were QT guides Chichara, Mitchel (who is the director of QT), Lotta, Kieran, myself and 3 paying clients. Two from the US and one from Belgium. A small and motivated crew to be sure. We headed out after breakfast for the 90 minute ride through Chinendega to the trail head. The area is managed by a local family and it maintained nicely. They had walking sticks available for us which was absolutely necessary. We had a big drink of water, a banana and some cookies for fuel and off we went. San Cristobal loomed directly in front of us, and it was a bit overwhelming to be sure. It towered over Telica, Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Cosequina and I was not 100 percent sure what I was getting into. Regardless, we were off.
|Hitting the trail, first its the scrub
Being a guide I have learned that the first 15 - 20 minutes of any hike are the most difficult. That is about the amount of time you need to find your pace, rhythm and what I call "finding your meditative breathing". We all struggle to get to that point where you go from struggling and panting to trekking. When you find your sweet spot the hike becomes less a struggle and more extraordinary. This hike was no different however adding to the mix was the fact it started with a steep incline and got steeper as we climbed.
The first 20 minutes, the time to find your pace, was along a marked trail through scrub and what can only be described as ""destroyed by fire and volcano explosions tree stumps". It was beautiful in its eerie silence. Sometimes the issue with climbing is the peak always looks closer than it really is. This was certainly no different. We crunched through the scrub and reached the bottom of the scree climb. This was to be the challenge of the day.
Chichara was leading and he is a rock star on the volcano. Lotta is also a strong climber and was right behind him, followed by the two Americans. Mitch, Kieran, myself and the Belgian we close behind. I casually stated in between pants that "Chichara is as fast as fu**" and it broke the idea that we were going to keep up with him. Again, when you are on the volcano find your own pace and rythems.
|The challenge that was the incline and the scree. Two steps forward one step back
Off we went. The early morning sun and cool air did not stop the sweat from soaking me. The pace I was looking for took some time but it showed itself as it always does. Now it was time to enjoy the views without stressing about the steepness of the incline. Scree does give you the opportunity to dig in so sliding down like a rag doll was never a consideration. Dig in, lean forward, breath and enjoy yourself.
|A bit steep ya think?
We were kicking up quite a bit of dust so we paced ourselves about 20 metres apart so as to not inhale ash dust for 4 hours. We had to deal with loose scree, a steep pitch, large boulders and oddly enough broken trees and stumps. I have run down Cerro Negro enough times to realize that even though we would do the same here it was going to be more of an obstacle course and preventative impalement so I had that to look forward to on the way down.
|Snack Break. Rest stops on the way up but obstacles and harbingers of death on the way down
It was great that we had a strong group. This volcano was challenging enough for experience hikers and having to deal with someone who was struggling with any of the various issues that could arise could not only be a pain in the ass but possibly dangerous. You need to be able to take care of yourself and be available to help anyone on the climb at any time. You can not be a personal porter for someone who thought the hike would be cool and is then overcome by exhaustion and fear but find the energy for taking selfies or asking to have their picture taken to "prove they have done it.". Again, this group was strong and focused but we had each others backs.
|Lotta at the peak cheering us on
|Mitch, Ken, Lotta, Chichara and Kieran making QT proud.
We had just climbed the south face of San Cristobal at a steady pace and although hazy the views were soothing in their grandeur. The highest volcano and second highest point in Nicaragua. The highest in Mogoton, The forbidden Mountain. Mogoton sits on and creates the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. Its top is cloud forest with mosses, ferns and orchids growing out of the crotches of trees. It is long since dormant and is covered with landmines from the Sandinista wars. Not an impressive mountain and sits in the Nicaraguan highlands. It has nothing on San Cristobal.
|Crater of San Cristobal
Up in 3.5 hours, down in 1. My type of volcano. Lunch, the long quiet ride home and back to QT to prep for the 2 day El Hoyo trek the next day. My time with QT is winding down and I am taking advantage of as much climbing as I can, sore legs and all. This hike was the cherry on a what has been a very delicious cake.
|Obstacles on the run down
|Hanging at the summit and crater
|Steep hikes bring big smiles