It was a clear black night. A clear white moon. Warren G was on the streets, trying to consume…
When we mounted up for our hike of Tajumulco Volcano on Friday night, we had no idea what we were getting into. But first, how we got there.
One of our friends in our Spanish school was raising funds for La Guarderia by hiking up to the highest point in Central America in exchange for donations. On Wednesday, she found out that her tour company had cancelled her hike for that weekend and she was scrambling to find a replacement. Luckily, one of the teachers at our school was an expert at this particular hike and offered to guide her on Dia de los Muertos, one of the biggest holidays in Guatemala. As she was telling us her story, she invited us to tag along. After only a little hesitation, we said yes, having done no research into what this hike entailed. Maybe this was a blessing…
At 10 p.m. the following night (Friday), the three of us were standing on a street outside of a hospital waiting for our bus to take us to the launching point. It’s 2 hours to Tajumulco, we have 4 liters of water, it’s dark and we are wearing headlamps.
This is what we saw at 12:15 a.m. Can you see the volcano? We sure couldn’t. Because he was a pro and apparently didn’t think we needed to pay the entrance fee (“I’m Guatemalan, this is my volcano”) at the proper base, we began our hike in total silence creeping through someone’s farm on our way to the base of the trail. From there, Anna and our friend basically ran up the trail about 50 yards, spurred by the barking of the 8576 dogs screaming at us while we walked. After about 30 minutes, we came to a barbed wire fence blocking our way. In the U.S. this would be the end of the hike. In Guatemala, we just pulled a wooden post out of the ground, walked around, and put the post back in.
No sooner had we started up the “official” trail than a ferocious dog leapt out of the darkness and scared Anna and our friend half to death! Mike was completely unaffected of course….
Anna: That’s ridiculous. I was scared only because our friend grabbed my hand and started to run ahead of the boys. I quickly realized that this dog was the cutest dog ever and she ended up walking with us all the way up and down the mountain. She would have come home with us had her papers been in order. Anyway, here she is:
Back to the hike. We trucked along at a moderately comfortable pace for an hour or so before shit got real. Xela is about 7,600 feet above sea level. At this point we were at over 10,000 feet and the difference in altitude really started to kick in. Unfortunately (and unexpectedly), this had a pretty big impact on Mike.
Anna: About two hours in, I started to panic a bit. Mike looked pale, talking some gibberish and was stumbling a bit. I know, sounds like a night after Finley Dunne’s, but this was serious.
All of this was still about an hour and a half away from the “hell” that was waiting for us during the final push to the top. Luckily, we bought some limes on our way to the hike, which helped Mike immensely. From this point on, we took a ton of breaks because our group (two Chicagoans and a Londener…not exactly mountain goats) was having an increasingly hard time getting air. These breaks had a negative consequence, though, because our sweat started to dry and we got pretty cold. Eventually, we abandoned all hope as we entered hell (Anna: thanks, Dante). From here, it was basically climbing over boulders instead of hiking. Anna started to think of herself as a spider monkey, coming at the mountain like that ginger kid came at his grandpa in Talledega Nights. Mike thought of himself as an oxygen-deprived zombie staggering up the mountain with a 2-liter bottle of water in one hand and his duct-taped busted head lamp in the other.
Within sight of the summit the sun started to rise, and we were worried about making it. Luckily, Anna’s muse came over our guide’s radio to give us the energy for the final kick: Katy Perry singing “Roar” at 4:45 a.m. at 12,500 feet above sea level.
Finally, we reached the freezing cold top (13,845 feet) just in time for the sunrise, which photos can explain far better than we can:
Six and a half hours after beginning our climb, we started our march down, finally able to see what we hiked through during the night. The views and scenery were spectacular, possibly better than the views from the top. There were times where it looked like we were a Van Trapp family away from being in the Alps or a Guinness away from being in the Irish countryside.
We also finally saw what we had just done.
Yes, the thing on the right looks like a butt.
After a 3 hour descent, we made it back to our ride tired and relieved but extremely proud of ourselves. Let nobody mistake this hike, it is very difficult to do in one night. On the ride back, the three of us celebrated with Gallos and promptly slept the rest of Saturday away after being awake for at least 26 hours. Would we do this again? No.* Are we happy we did it once? Yes. Would we recommend it to other people? Absolutely!
*Anna: I would totally do it again, but I ran a marathon with the flu so I obviously don’t care about my body.