A three day trek to 4000m ascending two volcano's named Acatanango and FuegoThese are the journal entries of our recent trip to Guatemala:
We got back today around 12:30pm from our “Double Header” with Old Town Outfitters (OTO). Our guide was Francisco, or “Cisco”, and we were the only couple on this trek. The schedule was like this: DAY ONE (May 22): Meet at OTO at 8am. Pack gear and leave by 9am. Drive for 1 hour to Villa La Soledad to drop off the car. Hike up through the maize (corn) fields and the cloud forest (approx 3.5 hours). Break for 30min for lunch. Continue another 4 hours up Volcan de Yubacapa, traverse it ¾ of the way up, then hike up the summit of Volcan de Acatenango. Camp in the crater at the top of Acatenango. DAY TWO (May 23): Descend the south side of Acatenango, drop off gear at the base, hike up Volcan de Fuego for 1.5 hours to 200 meters below the summit (since it’s an active volcano). Involves a steep hike up the base, then out onto the volcano’s ridge (the path on the ridge is about 3 feet wide w/ very steep cliffs on either side). Descend Fuego, and camp in the col between Acatenango and Fuego. Have lunch, take a nap, and chill the rest of the day. DAY THREE (May 24): Hike 300 meters back up Acatenango, traverse the east side of the volcano until the trail meets back up with the trail we took on Day 1. Hike down through the cloud forest (very jungle-like), through the maize fields, back to the car, and back to Antigua around 12:30pm (about a 3 hour hike).
DAY ONE REFLECTION: (Heidi)
When Joe and I had looked at all the possible trips that Old Town Outfitters does for Volcano hikes, we chose the “Double Header” (i.e. hike up Volcan de Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego) because it 1) seemed interesting and fun, 2) the other hikes were labeled as “easy”, 3) it was noted as the most “difficult” hike, and 4) this Double Header is considered by National Geographic as one of the top 25 hikes to do in the world. However, as we began our hike up through the steep corn field trails, I began to think, What have I gotten myself into??? Not a very encouraging thought when I’ve only hiked for the first 20 minutes of a 7 hour trek uphill. I said a short prayer for strength a second/third/fourth wind, and we both made it to the summit of Acatenango in 6 hours 50 min! Out of the entire hike that day, the last 200 meters was definitely the hardest. Due to so much volcanic rock and years of erosion, it was like hiking uphill in black sand – the 2 steps forward, 1 step back principle definitely applied here. Plus, being at 3,900 meters, the altitude made breathing more laborious, though neither of us suffered from altitude sickness (praise the Lord). After celebrating reaching the summit, we descended into the black crater on the top of Acatenango and set-up camp. The crater was very windy and cloudy – which equals chilly! We quickly set-up our tent and made dinner, hoping for a quiet evening. But then the thunder and lightening came. Cisco didn’t seemed concerned, but we were at 4,000 meters in a crater with lightening and thunder surrounding the mountain. The wind was blowing hard and I was scared. Thoughts of getting struck by lightening consumed me. I was so nervous I made sure I was never touching anything that would serve as a conductor if our tent got struck. But I prayed and prayed – and what helped in the end was Scripture. Joe and I stayed awake for an hour whispering Scripture to each other via flashlight. The psalms were such a comfort to me – phrases such as “the angel of the Lord encamps those who fear him”…”you hem me in behind and around me”…”where can I go from your presence? If I ascend to the mountains, you are there”…”in you, and you alone, do I dwell in safety” – these were all a comfort. By the time we had read through 10-15 psalms, I felt at peace. I think the reason I was afraid was because deep down, I am afraid of dying. I still haven’t found peace in my own death, but I think this experiencing of reading the psalms in a crater surrounded by thunder and lightening was my first (or second or third…) step towards acceptance. God met me there on the mountain. He heard my cry for help (no matter how silly that might seem to others), and He answered. The wind stopped on the crater for the whole night. Lightening flashed but no thunder – meaning it was very far away. I even prayed to see the sunrise since it was cloudy/foggy for the sunset. And God answered with a GLORIOUS sunrise – the best one I’ve ever seen. God has seemed behind a veil as of late, but this experience reminded me that emotions and “sensing” aren’t the whole story. God is there. God is here – and He acts and responds to me in the most loving and undeserving of ways. To God be the glory – and His name be praised through all generations. Amen.
DAY TWO REFLECTION: (Joe)
We woke up to an absolutely beautiful sunrise on the top of Acatenango. Heidi and I heard the voice of our guide breaking our morning sleep. He said, “The sun is coming!” We pushed to put on warm clothes and stumbled out of our tent. Beause we were camped in the center of the crater, we had to walk 10 eters towards the sun peering over the last side of the crater’s rim. The spot where we arrived had a cross someone planted. We sat next to the cross at 4000 meteres, watching the sun rise above the clouds. Suddenly we heard a loud blast, like thunder, but “thicker”. We looked toward the sound and saw a cloud of smoke rising beyond the crator’s rim on the other side. We rushed over qickly to see what it was. A neighbouring volcano was waking up with a morning shout. Our guide told us this was Fuego, today’s objective. After breakfast, oatmeal and fruit, we packed and set off. We descended Acatenango approximately 1000 meters and set up camp in a forested col in between Acatenango and Fuego. We hid our bags in some trees and began to ascend Fuego. I was tired and struggling. Each step felt like torture and I was having trouble catching my breath. Heidi was climbing strong, ans was our guide. I on the other hand was fighting off diharrea and a stomach which could not find an equilibrium. I began to wonder if the fruit for breakfast was a good idea. After a couple hours we arrived a the knife ridge ascending to the top of Fuego. For 200 meters we walked o a 3 foot ridge with 3,000 + falls on either side. We made it, but a thick fog was coming, and soon enveloped us, putting Fuego out of view. It appeared again only for a second showing and large cloud of dark smoke coming from it’s crater. We began our descent. We arrived back at the col at around 2pm. I crashed. I slept for 2 hours in our tent. Meanwhile, the wind picked up for another night with gusts up to 60kph. Needless to say, we ate inside our guide’s tent and went to bed early. (Heidi) To finish up the day, there was thunder and lightening AGAIN. Despite the reassurance I felt from God yesterday (Tuesday), I needed it again. I prayed for the winds to cease, and for the thunder and lightening to stay away. God answered faithfully and we woke up this morning (Thursday) to clear skies and sunshine. It is important to note that in the 4 years that Cisco has been a guide to these volcanos, he has never experienced winds and storms like we did in the col. Normally, it is very tranquil.
DAY THREE: (Heidi)
Today (Thursday) we woke up at 6am to sunshine, despite the nasty weather last night before bead. We had breakfast, packed our gear, and began our trip back to the car. The first part of the hike involved hiking 300 meters uphill on Acatenango – which wasn’t as bad as we though it would be (we were under the impression we were hiking back up to the crater – which would have been brutal to say the least).Well, we made it up quite easily, then began a long traverse around Acatenango. Several interesting events happened along theis section of the hike. First, we watched as Fuego unleashed his wrath of molton rocks and steam in multiple explosions. We were about ½ mile (?) from ti and could see rocks spewing from the top. If we could see them, they must have been massive. And to think that around that time yesterday we were 400meters from where the explosions were taking place. I couldn’t imagine trying to run down a volcano with large volcanic boulders being shot at me (and yes though the crater faces the opposite direction of whwere we were, the wind was blowing in such a way that rocks were tumbling down the side we were on!). God definitely took care of us – but knew that we would take great pleasure in seeing His awesome creation. Like that. It was the first time I had ever seen a volcano erupt – didn’t see any lava, but rocks are enough! The next interesting part on the traverse was when I got diahrrea. To my misfortune, Joe had used up the rest of the toilet paper before we started our hike today due to having diahreea as well. So when I had to go, I had to o au natural”. It was disgusting, and I ended up using wheatgrass nearby to wipe – in other words, I used wheatgrass for my a**. Luckily it worked, and I felt better afterwards. Needless to say, when I showered after the trip I found some wheatgrass! Ewwwww! The third pa interesting part was when we thought we’d get attacked by some dogs protecting the farmers’ land. Luckily Cisco knew what to do – (and he knew they were harmless but didn’t tell us) – he whistled and called to them, but they kept growling and coming closer. They ended up sniffing us out, and then going away. They must not like the taste of gringos! And have I mentioned how many times both Joe and I could have severely sprained our ankles? If there are guardian angels, we sure kept them busy. Praise the Lord again for taking care of our bodies. The downhill at times seemed worse than the uphill. Mainly because it was hard on my knees, slippery, and steep. I felt like I ran halfway down the volcano! But we made it back to the car in about 3-3 ½ hours (the porter who brought our water to us yesterday did it in 2 ½ hours!). It was amazing to reach the car and look back at what we had accomplished. Just 2 days earlier I had thought we were crazy to have done this trek, but I am SO GLAD that we did. It was well worth the effort – we encountered God, had good fellowship with Cisco (we found out he’s a Christian), and saw amazing sights. We learned about the farmers who work in the cornfields we passed by, as well as more deeply appreciate the Guatemalans and the hard work that they do. We have not just had an adventure climbing two volcanoes (three if count Yubacapa), we have had spiritual and cultural experiences that have changed us – and we will forever look back on them with delight.