ArrivalSunday: Flew to Mexico City, Mexico City to Guatemala. Took 40Q taxi to a Quetzalroo hostel (15US). I choose this hostel because it was in the city and the owners (Manuel, Ana) were able to take me to the bus stations and pick me up as well throughout my stay. The hostel is small and quiet, exactly what I wanted. Also, I was able to leave my non-hiking items secured at the hostel as I went out on my trips.
Monday: Manuel took me to the Linea Dorada bus station. Took direct bus (70Q) to Quetzaltenango. Took 30Q taxi to a hostel (6US). Repacked again and left some things with the manager until my return.
The HikeTuesday: Took 30Q taxi to San Marcos bus stop. Took 5AM 10Q chicken bus to San Marcos, 1 hour. (There are public bathrooms at this station (2Q). From San Marcos, just tell the bus helpers you want to go to Volcan Tajumulco and they’ll direct you to the correct bus. Tell the driver where you want to get off. This chicken bus left at 6AM 10Q, 1 hour, to trail head. [There are a few small stores here in case you need to load up on water or food. There’s a small restaurant as well. They were closed, however, when I arrived, but they were open when I got back down.]
NOTE: If I did this trip again, I would skip Quetzaltenango and go straight to San Marcos for the evening. Quetzaltenango is a nice place, but there were too many unfriendly foreigners (None would smile or look you in the face). I guess since they're there to study Spanish, saying hi to a fellow foreigner is off limits). Besides, I couldn’t find a local bar either-just tourist joints. San Marcos, however, was a traditional-looking town with busy streets, vendors everywhere, and a few local spots to meet friendly Guatemalans who don’t mind smiling, saying hi, and striking up a friendly conversation. Although I didn’t spot any hostels in San Marcos, there were more than a few small hotels.
Across the street from where the bus lets you off is the trail head. I started up the trail at 8:00 with a heavy pack (1-man bivy tent, 7 liters water, warm clothing, ect. Because I went by myself, I needed to bring extra things in case of emergencies). The paved road goes up a ways. After a few hours, it will end. Take pictures of the trail head (at the roadside) as you go up so that you’ll know what you want to shoot for coming down. Other reports gave some good information about the trail, of which I copied and read over and over. They’re correct—the trail gets a bit tricky once the paved road stops. One report said “Stay to the right--Stay close to the ridge, just within the pine trees.” This is correct: Stay close to it, but don’t go up the ridge into the pine grove.
I accidentally moved up and into the pine grove close to the ridge as I was too concerned about moving too far away from it. I ended up losing the trail and hiking parallel to it from above. Because of my mistake, and the load I was carrying, I lost time and had to come down to the real trail twice. This added 1 hour and 45 minutes to my hike and lots of expended energy. ADVICE: When you leave the paved road, stay to the right and close to the ridge. Your movement will seem as if you’re going away from the peak, but you’ll be traversing it from below to the north.
You’ll soon find what appears to be 4-wheeel drive ruts. Follow these ruts (path) and you begin to see that you’re moving up with the ridge and pine tree line on your left. The pine ridge should always be on your left going up. I met a Guatemalan scientist studying bumblebees on the way up. He told me that during the rainy season, the clouds-fog roll in at about 1PM, visibility diminishes by 3PM, and it starts raining at about 5PM and may not stop until the morning. By the time I made it to where the trail started getting steep, it was 1PM and I was exhausted. I noticed the clouds beginning to roll in so I decided to set up camp (I was still an hour below the regular camp site where the tourist groups set up below the summit). By 5PM, there was no visibility due to the fog, so I could do nothing by lay in the tent and wait out the night as the rain began to fall.
SummitWednesday: 7:30AM--Overslept, but needed it. I still did not know how far I was away from the summit camp, so I decided to leave my tent and take everything else with me. From where I camped, the trail is easy to follow. As you enter the pine forest, the trail gets steep—stay to the right.
I noticed that every so often blue-painted rocks would be found along the trail as indicators. I finally reached the summit camp 2 hours later. Rested and studied the trails. There are what appears to be 3 trails from this camp site. I remember reading in a trip report that the one on the left goes down to a mountain village, so don’t take that one. The one in the middle leads right up the ridge finger and straight into a rocky scree. This looks a bit daunting. Another report said stay to the right, but this trail dead-ends. The path to the summit is the middle trail that leads you up the rocky-scree.
10:00AM--After resting and watering, I ditched my belongings off trail behind some trees and took my rain wear and started up the rocks. It isn’t as bad as it looks, and I would rate it as a class-2 climb. Besides the scree, there are more than a few lose rocks, so be careful when choosing which rock to grab or step on. As you get to the top of the rocky wall, it begins to fold over making the last 100 yards or so easier stepping. Finally, I saw the triangular tripod after 1 hour of climbing.
I reached the summit at 11:00AM. The cloud cover below blocked most of the land below, but I could still see a lot. The sun was warm and the air was fresh—it was beautiful. I sat on the summit rocks for 2 hours enjoying the view. I peered down into the cone and saw that it was possible to hike down into it, but I was not prepared to do so being alone. If you did, you'd have to hike around the top to the other side adn then descend into it.
By 1:00PM, the cloud cover below was growing, and I did not want to get caught in the rain before I made it down to camp, so I found my way back to the rocky path, albeit a wrong turn. By 1:30PM I was down at the summit camp and collected my belongings. After a rest, I started down to my camp site. 3:00PM—made it to my tent as the fog started to envelop the area making visibility limited. And, as stated before, it did start to rain at 4:30. It did stop for a while at 6PM, allowing me to get out of the tent and sit in the fog for about an hour before it started to rain again, and it didn’t stop for the night. You will have a lot of down-time in your shelter if you hike in the rainy season.
NOTE: If you hike in the rainy season as I do, you do not have to worry about bringing up a lot of water, "like I did!". There’s plenty of it falling from the evening sky. I humped up enough for 2 days as every trip report highly recommended it--yet they hiked in the dry season when there was no rain). If I do this again, I won’t over-load with so much water, but simply funnel-trap it during the rainy night. Use your tent-fly to form a crease and position your camelbak under the end. With your rain gear on, hold your camelbak (or whatever) in place and fill it up as many ties as you want. Also, the only time skies are clear up there during the rainy season is from sunrise to 1PM.
DescendingThursday: 7AM—Took down the bivy and fly and laid it out in the sun to dry out. Broke camp by 8:30 and started down. Again, the pine trees and ridge will be up on your right side this time. For me, I used my camera to remind me of the land contours to aim for on the way down. I did stray past the trail, though, and ended up going up into the ridge again (Like I did going up!), so I had to back-track at least 45 minutes to get on the right trail again. The pictures in my camera helped me here. I found the finger where the trail lead to the paved road and scampered across a small ravine to reach it. [I don’t mind saying that getting a bit lost is okay with me. I never move fast, always stay in check with the surroundings, and schedule in time for losing myself. I like the calculated uncertainty of hiking.] When looking down, aim for the ‘S’ shape in the road—that is where the trail-head begins.
I made it down to the trail head at about 11:30, and got some water from the store. I waited on the opposite side of the road going back toward San Marcos for a bus. The locals said they come by every 30 minutes or so, so you don’t have to worry about getting back on either a chicken bus or a combi-minivan. I hopped a minivan, even though they are packed like tamales. I would prefer a chicken bus to these things as I was crammed in the back and there were no open windows. I think everyone in that mini-van wished I had taken a bus as well since I smelled like 5-day old crap. Regardless, this trip back to San Marcos costs 10Q. The San Marcos bus station has a lot of stores and places to eat or drink. Ask for the bus to Quetzaltenango—don’t worry, the bus helpers will help you. Took a chicken bus to Quetzaltenango for 10Q. Took a 30Q taxi to the hostel for the evening. Washed my clothes, showered, ate vendor food and had a beer near the central park.
NOTE: Before I left, I met a French guy who booked a Volcan Tajumulco tour with a guide for 375Q (minimum 3 people). In case you want to go with others, this guide company was called Kaqchikel Tours (Don’t know if it was a good one as I left before he went on the trip).
NOTE: You can do this hike solo, but you have to be ready in case you get mis-routed or get caught in the rain. Plan on taking your time.