Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Beast That Is Volcan Acatanango

Volcano Acatanango. There are bigger volcanoes on the planet but in my world I fought this beast with all the energy I could muster. Some moments she was winning the struggle then other moments I would catch my breathe and take another steep uphill step forward. Reaching the summit I was battered, bruised, bleeding and a bit beaten but triumphant.

Looming Acatanango: Do not let the serenity fool you
Waking up at 5:00 am for a hike, good attitude or not, means nothing without a decent cup of hot coffee and that requirement was still over 90 minutes away. Unlike the pre-hike with Quetzal trekkers breakfast was not included but the pre-hike was similar. Sleeping bags, Tents, food, and clothing were sorted and given to each of us. As it was to get very cold on the summit and most of us did not have winter type clothing OX supplied us with what we needed from a large assortment of donated clothing. Warn and beaten but they would do the trick. I was fine as I have packed my Doite rain hiking jacket, my wind proof MEC sweater and hat and gloves. I tossed in a large down jacket from OX just in case but in the end I did not need it. The trip was a bit on the expensive side at $89.00 which did not include water, snacks or park entrance fee. I am prouder of Quetzel Trekkers and the service they provide every time I do a hike with another company

Loaded with my stuff, a sleeping back, tent gear, and food, snacks and water I was raring to go. The pack weighed less than my pack on the El Hoyo hikes but this was to be a 5 hour uphill battle. For those in the know, think the first hour of El Hoyo but for 5 hours.

Porters with their horses, dogs and kids along for the ride
After loading the van and then a quick breakfast stop at a local cafe (with of course a large hot Guatemalan coffee) we hit the road and were staring at the trail head in about an hour. Acatanango loomed quietly in the distance with a sinister smile. We grouped up with local porters who were hired by a few of our crew to carry their packs. They paid 200 Q for each direction which totaled $60 extra. Their choice and considering the trek ahead of us and the packs we were carrying a good choice for them.

Packed and loaded off we went. There was no slow easy start to this trip. From the trail head at the road the trail went up and kept going up. As expected the first hour or so was volcanic sand. Deep and sloppy but manageable. I had brand new FILA hiking shoes that I purchased in Leon and I am happy I did. A few in our group were using sneakers which were fine. There were no volcanic rocks to climb over so to speak, it was all trail. However the sneaker users were prone to slipping without good treads to hold them in place.

With Marcus and Tom (England 1 and England 2) during one of our many rest stops

As we climbed we started getting fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and volcanoes. A full string of them along the fault line similar to the string in Nicaragua. These bad boys were much higher as shown when they were peaking over the cloud cover. The most prominent was Volcano Agua which is the monster that you see form Antigua. Adding to the excitement we could hear the rumbling and banging of Fuego which was still hours away and around the backside of Actanango. We were constantly reminded of how active Fuego was and little did I know then what our guide Jose (yes a Spanish guide names Jose) meant when he said active. I mean I spoke of volcanoes being active all the time but this was going to be different.

Catching my breath at 3000 metres with Agua looming in the background
The day was nice and the air was crisp and clean. There was a low cloud cover giving us picture postcard views but the altitude was taking its toll on me. Nothing dangerous but what I learned is The concentration of oxygen at sea level is about 21% while at 13000 feet is drops to 12.7% and I could feel it. I found my pace and was certainly not the fastest but I did not hold anyone up. When hearing how old I was Jose remarked "good for you".  I am not sure what he meant but did not have the air in my lungs to ask. 

I was walking 20 or 30 feet at a time then resting for a few seconds. If I did something dumb like tie my shoes and come back up too quickly the results were a spinning I did that often as it was kind of fun

A group of exhausted happy hikers acting up at camp.
After about 5 hours, many photo and breath catching stops, a lunch break with a nap and lots of sweat we made camp and with that we had Fuego on our doorstep. She immediately welcomed us with a boom and plume of smoke. Jose tried to get us excited by letting us know that the plumes were lava and that they would glow when the sun went down. Do you want to know what else happened when the sun went down. So did the temperature, and fast. Adding to the now bundled up and campfire needing crew was that we were at the elevation where the low laying clouds were now the camp surrounding clouds, and with that came dampness. Not to be deterred the campfire was lit and it was show time.

Fuego welcoming us to our campsite
With Fuego constantly blasting away we settled in for dinner and a show. As the sun went down the explosions turned to red hot lava flows with each one being more dramatic than the last. After shooting so many pictures most of us put the cameras away, sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the moment. Bedding down around 8:00 we were bolted awake by a huge "booming" sound from our girl. That was it, time to hang by the fire. We just lay there curled around the campfire watching explosion after explosion. I would fall asleep for 30 minutes only to be woken up by the "oohs and ahhs" of my hiking partners. Sunrise came to early for all of us as with the sun we lost the red hot glow of Fuego's glory.

Curled up around the fire with a front row view of Fuego
Sunrise was colorful and as wonderful as expected. I am often asked "beach or mountains?" As fun as beach time is, the mountains or in the case the volcanoes hold my attention. Its not even close, its mountains all the way.

6:30 and we had to break camp for the hard down hill hike. I have experience the toe and knee pain you get from hiking downhill for a long time and this was no different. We started at 8:00 and made the trail head by 10:30. Five hours up, two hours down. There were times a few of us actually ran down because it was easier believe it or not. There was a cold beer waiting for me when the pickup van arrived and it was well deserved. If you are going to hike a volcano in Central America and only have time for one hit up Acatanango. It was difficult, at times cold and abusive (kind of like the Toronto Maple Leafs) but the rewards outweighed any of that.  I am writing this post 3 days after the trek and my thighs are still unbelievably sore. You always say "sore in a good way"  but there is no "good way" when you are climbing down the steps of a bus and need both hand rails hitting one step at a time, grunting each step along the way.

Breaking up is hard to do so I will be quick about it. My dear Cerro Negro, El Hoyo, Asososca, Telica, Momotombo, San Cristobal and Coseguina. We flirted and we had some moments. I must tell you that you have been replaced. Acatanango and Fuego have stolen my volcanic heart. Keep doing what you are doing dear 7 volcanoes of Nicaragua, you are amazing and will continue to great things.

I think I have been on the road too long. I just broke up with a volcano...or a group of volcanoes.

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