Climbing to the top of Acatenango


The volcano next door, Fuego, erupting


View of Fuego from the top

We spent one of our weekends on top of the world, or so it seemed. We decided to do a two day hiking trip to climb the tallest of Antigua’s volcanos, Acatenango. It has two peaks, the taller of which is 13,044 ft high.

The climb started out on loose rock and sand as we passed field after field of coffee, corn, beans and flowers. We watched as the locals went about their day, probably laughing to themselves as this pack of gringos struggled to climb a trail they use everyday. After the first of  several break points the climate and ground changed. We could feel the shift in moisture and humidity as we entered the cloud forest. The trees loomed over us with a wide and branching canopy. Mosses and epiphytes hung all around us and the ground became dark and thready. It was cold and humid for the rest of the day as we continued our climb. It was the kind of cold that creeps past all your layers and into your bones. The wind whipped clouds past us as we climbed and at some points we could see no further than a few feet beyond where we stood.

At around 2 in the afternoon we arrived at our camp. Still cold and damp we had little desire to stop walking, the only thing keeping us warm. Plus the group was already disappointed that the biggest attraction of the hike, the volcano next door called Fuego was not visable beyond the thick clouds. We started to set up our tents, sort out food and make the fire which would keep us warm for the rest of the evening. Soon the clouds began to disapate and we could see our neighbor more and more clearly. Fuego soon emerged in earnest and we were treated to an afternoon full of excitement.  At first the ground would rumble, then glowing red rock and ash would cover the top half of Fuego’s cone, making it look like an orange pyramid in the fading light.  The smoke would then billow out of the top for several minutes before drifting away like a passing cloud. It was fantastic.

The next day we climbed to the very top of Acatenango and could see the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala City and many miles of small pueblos  dotting the landscspe. But nothing beats sleeping next to an active volcano. I think it might be a while before something trumps this hike. However, in this country it seems like my experiences are trumped regularly, so it might not be as long as I think.


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