Saturday 23rd April: Antigua – Acatenango hike
Picked up this morning at 7am by Elvin our guide for the big hike up to Acatenango. It was Stefan’s birthday so we were hoping that it was going to be an amazing experience, something for him to remember! We picked up our group from around Antigua – a German couple who were in their late forties and thought I was from Austria and so tried to speak to me in German! A Japanese guy who has been walking across the globe for five years – he started in China! A Spanish guy who had a weird nose piercing and Stefan and I. It was nice to be part of a small group, and everyone looked pretty fit and somewhat prepared for the cold weather! First, Elvin drove us about an hour out of town to his village and his house where we were served breakfast by his mother and sister in their house. They even sang happy birthday to Stefan in Spanish and gave him some special banana bread for a birthday cake! It was a great start to the experience! Next we checked that all our gear was ready, paid for the tour and then set off towards the trail head.
The first hour on the trail was really tough going – steep and sandy scree! Every step I took felt like I was sliding back half a step and I was slightly concerned that the ascent was going to be the hardest I had ever attempted! Luckily, after the first hour, things calmed down and the going got a little bit easier. Once I got into a rhythm, I found myself up near the front of the pack most of the time. Only the Japanese fellow (who by this point wasn’t wearing shoes) and Stefan were ahead of me. It was a really nice walk and not too difficult. After about 4 hours we were at base camp. On the side of the volcano looking out over Volcan Fuego, which at that moment was mostly covered in clouds. It was a beautiful spot nonetheless. After a short time in the campsite we heard our first BOOM – that was Fuego exploding! It was so much louder than I had expected, and as we looked over to Fuego we could see a large cloud of smoke rising up over the clouds. It was incredible and as the afternoon went on the clouds moved off and we could see more of Volcan Fuego and the explosions every 20 minutes or so. It was unbelievable!
At 4:30 – we decided to take the extra walk over to Volcan Fuego to see if we could see the lave flows at nightfall from about 150m away. It was about 1.5 hour walk to the viewing point, down our side of the mountain, over a ridge and back up the side of Fuego. Unfortunately it was really cloudy and cold on the other side and so we didn’t get to see anything. We were hoping that back at camp the clouds would clear out so we could get a better view of Volcan Fuego at night. We ate dinner by the fire and it wasn’t looking good, still very cloudy by 10pm and super cold so we decided to head off to bed. Right as I got into my tent though – BOOM, and cheers from the other campers on the mountain. The clouds had cleared off and Fuego was putting on a show! It was incredible to see the lava spurting out of the volcano and running down the sides. And the noise was so loud – on a two second time delay from the moment we saw the eruption to the moment we heard the noise – that was so unreal! We watched the show for another hour or so and then it was really time for bed – we needed to be up and moving by 4am the following morning in order to summit before the sunrise.
Tuesday 24th April – Acatenango
Appreciated the early morning wake up call this morning – 3:50am and we were up, and walking by 4am. We had about 1.5 hours of walking to make it to the summit. The going was pretty tough in the dark, with lots of scree, and my torch was not giving out a lot of light which was super annoying! As we ascended, we began to see the light changing and the horizon lightening as the sunrise approached. We had the last views of molten lava spewing from Fuego and then as we had more light we could see down to Antigua and even Guatemala City off in the distance. It was beautiful, and super super cold. Particularly any time we stopped walking for a rest. Finally, we made it to the top, right as the sun was rising above the clouds. The wind was ripping, making my fingers and face feel numb. But it was worth it, the views were stunning! We were watching Fuego erupting from above in the daylight and it was incredible! We didn’t stay too long at the summit, only enough time to take some photos and soak up the views. Then it was time to head back down to base camp this time we got to run down through the scree which was super fun! Had a few slips onto my bum but it was totally worth it! It only took 30 minutes to get back down to base camp where we got to have a nice warm breakfast while looking out over Fuego which was nice and clear and erupting all the time!
After breakfast it was time to head back down the mountain to Antigua. It had been the most amazing experience, and the best volcano climb I have ever done. It will definitely be difficult to top this one! We were dropped back into Antigua just in time for lunch – at Samsara of course, and an early night for some tired hikers.