I did a thing! I hiked the Acatenango Volcano! It was hands-down the hardest hike I’ve ever done, and one of the hardest physical challenges I’ve ever done as well!
Acatenango is over 13,000 feet tall, which I’m pretty sure is the highest elevation I’ve ever been at (we actually hiked upwards about 6,000 feet). I had no idea just how hard the hike was, or I probably wouldn’t have done it at all. I went on a private tour with a Dutch girl and a German girl that I met at my hostel. I hadn’t done a whole lot of research, but I also know that this hike is supposed to be like THE thing to do while you’re here.
We were picked up my our tour guide at 9am, who helped us make sure that we had everything we needed. We each took a big backpack, over 4 liters of water, our sleeping mats and sleeping bags, and lots of layers–we were camping overnight and it gets cold up there. I love my backpack for travel, but it is NOT a hiking backpack; it doesn’t hug close to my body, and isn’t as tall as hiking backpacks, so it wasn’t the most comfortable, but it was what I had. We drove about an hour, and then, it was time.
Right away, I could tell that this was not going to be easy. I was wearing running sneakers (again, all I had) and they had no traction, and every step I took, I slipped back down a bit. From the start we were heading uphill at a reasonably steep incline, and I was tired in the first fifteen minutes. Also out of breath, because elevation. Luckily, some people who were heading back down saw us struggling, and lent me and one of the other girls big walking sticks that they had rented.
The ascent took probably around six hours, in three main sections where we stopped and took breaks, and ate lunch. My body was like, in shock, and the idea of food was making me sick, and I could barely even eat lunch. Just when I thought I couldn’t do any more, I did, but it took a hell of a long time. The Dutch girl was somehow dealing very well with the elevation, and could keep up with our guide, while myself and the German girl were struggling a LOT. We had to go slowly and still take stops all the time, just to breathe. I honestly don’t know how we did it, but we somehow eventually made it to our campsite–right across from the active volcano Fuego.
Fuego erupts all the time–every 20 minutes or so, a lot of the time. We were less than 2km away from it, and you could not only hear the explosion, but actually feel the ground shaking from it. It was so amazing to be so close. It’s also important to remember, however, that Fuego just recently–this past June, in fact–killed hundreds of people, people who had nowhere else to live than such a dangerous place. As fun as it is to enjoy the beauty of it, I also must remind myself how lucky I am to not be in that position, and to be able to safely enjoy Fuego.
We set up camp and put on all our layers, because it gets super super super cold up there at night, and watched the sunset and took a zillion pictures. And then when it was dark, and the volcano erupted, you could see it spewing LAVA. It was seriously one of the coolest, most amazingly beautiful and awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen. And it kept happening! Our guide made us hot chocolate and an amazing dinner and homemade desserts, and then I was in bed by like, 7pm. I was TIRED.
We were awoken at 4am to start our hike to the summit. The hope was to watch the sunrise from there, but we a) didn’t leave early enough and b) even if we had, there’s no way that myself and the German girl would have made it to the top in time. This was probably the steepest, most difficult part of the entire hike, and the air was so incredibly thin up there that I was sure there was no way I would finish. It took us at least an hour and a half to get to the summit, probably longer, and the whole time I actually felt like I was dying. Even when I could see it, I didn’t think I could do it–it was THAT hard, and anytime I took a breath, I didn’t feel like I was actually getting any oxygen in me. Somehow, and I seriously don’t know, we did make it, though. And it was truly beautiful and amazing up there. Just, indescribable.
We went back down to camp (SO much easier than the way up) and ate breakfast and packed up, and then headed back down. Even with my stick, I fell down dozens of times, because the stones are so loose and slippery and going down is HARD. It seemed like it took forever (I mean, it was hours and hours) but we eventually got all the way back down at about 11am. My feet had blisters, my knees hurt, but dammit, I DID it. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
After much-needed showers. the three of us finally went to lunch, along with our tour guide and one of his tour guide friends. And then I passed the fuck out. Going out for drinks later with tour guide friend, and probably having an early night because I’m still exhausted.