I have to admit I was pretty scared by the Acatenango volcano hike; I still had a cold and many people had already told me that it was the most exhausting thing they had ever done in their lives and that it was the coldest night of their lives in a tent. So far great conditions…

I packed all the warm clothes I had and off we went. In the minibus Chris and I got to know our hiking group – basically from all over the world: New Zealanders, Austrians, Americans, Belgians and a girl from Italy who lives in Mexico. We had a lot of fun in the bus and it was pretty clear that the group is a really good fit. At first we stopped at the tour guide's office and were allowed to choose warm winter jackets. You could also rent caps, walking sticks, gloves and scarves. – I raised my hand for the complete range.

So, ready we were for our big adventure. After a "The limits are only in your head" and "The sky is the limit"-speech we set off and started hiking in beautiful sunshine.

 

The ascent

In the beginning my backpack was super heavy with all the warm clothes I would put on about 1000 meters of altitude later. The ascent started quite steep. We ran into a few returnees who assured us that it was not so steep further up and that the effort was totally worth it because it would simply be breathtaking. So we were motivated and excited.

Relatively fast I noticed however that my cold was making me difficulties. I got out of breath pretty fast, which is not so ideal with an ascent to over 4000 meters ahead... But I had to go through that. A few guys in our group were absolute climbers and gave themselves a race with one of the guides, while I took over the rear with the girl from Belgium. - After all, someone has to do it, too. ;) But the guides always planned stops for us to catch our breath and to grab some food, which made the ascent bearable – even for me ;)

The higher we got, the colder and foggier it was and the more layers of clothes we wore. I didn't know how long the ascent would normally take, so I had no idea when we would reach the camp. But sometime after a very steep part we walked out of the layer of fog and looked at a cloud cover and straight ahead there were tents. I couldn't believe that we had "already" reached the camp for the night.

It was the middle of the afternoon and in front of us we had the famous volcano "Fuego", still covered in some clouds. We relaxed in the sun in front of our tents and simply watched the volcano. Suddenly we heard a loud thunderclap, but it was not from a thunderstorm but from the volcano Fuego and above the clouds we saw a dark grey cloud rising. I have never heard a volcano erupt before. Incredible!

Then we got lucky and the wind blew the clouds aside, so that we could see Fuego in its full splendor and watch how the smoke cloud rose after a loud rumbling directly from the crater. We just sat there, staring at the volcano and saying over and over again that we couldn't believe it. - The timelapse gives you a small impression - even if the bigger eruptions are not in the video.

During the sunset the views became more and more spectacular.

But Mother Nature had even more to offer for us. During the dawn a thunderstorm came up over Fuego and so we saw the volcano in the blue flashlight, while the flash was drawn in a bright zigzag into the sky.

As it started getting dark, the next two highlights waited for us, on the Eastern side we saw the full moon, while on the other side Fuego spat red lava into the sky. It sprayed out of the volcano crater and some of it rolled down from the side of the mountain. Never before had I seen red lava in nature and not on television. Fuego reminded us a bit of Mordor... It was bitterly cold, but again and again I got up from the campfire and stood at the edge of the Acatenango to watch the show.

 

The big volcanic eruption in June 2018

After a delicious dinner cooked on an open fire, we talked to the guides about the big volcanic eruption in June. He told us that groups also climbed the mountain that day when Fuego suddenly started to erupt. They stopped the ascent and turned back. But the camp was destroyed, Fuego threw lava stones all the way up to the night camp on the Acatenango, where we were now. The hot lava stones burned holes in the tents and burned the sleeping bags. On that day it was drizzling and the lava got mixed with mud and ran down the volcano into the village, many people were buried and burned. The numbers vary from hundreds to thousands, depending on where you look it up.

Subsequently, the government prohibited climbing the volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango for two months.

 

Climbing the summit

The night was supposed to be a short one, as we would only sleep in the tents until 3am before the summit ascent was due. The sleeping bags were spectacular. Even I didn't freeze at temperatures far below 0°C. But we were lying in the tent having difficulties to fall asleep, as the eruptions happend more often and became louder and louder. So we decided to open our tent door and watch the volcano erupt from our sleeping bags. These loud rumbling, the spraying red lava and the sound of rolling lava stones were simply breathtaking and unbelievable at the same time. But at some point I gave in the tiredness and finally fell asleep. I was only woken up a few times from some more loud rumbles of the volcano.

At 3am we got up and started our 45 minutes ascent. Sounds doable, right? But it turned out not to be that easy – at least for me. My cold and my not so properly functioning lungs gave me a hard time with the steep ascent at that altitude around 4000 meters. In addition, the path consisted of loose lava soil and you slipped back with every step. Fortunately, I had my walking stick, which helped me a lot with this ascent. We kept on walking uphill, the erupting Fuego to our left or in our back. The view was infinitely wide and crystal clear. We could see as far as the Pacific line and the volcano chain to Lake Atitlan. It was simply incredibly beautiful.

Whenever I thought I didn’t have enough energy left to continue, I told myself that I can't be serious and that this ascent can't be worse than the Kilimanjaro one which I had already climbed and that made me continue.

Finally, at some point, when I didn't believe in it anymore, I finally reached the edge to the summit plateau. Now we had a 360-degree view. The rising sun with volcanoes, mountains and valleys in one direction, Lake Atitlan with more volcanoes in the other and the smoking Fuego inbetween.

It was bitterly cold and the wind swept over us. Powerless and freezing but more than happy I enjoyed the view, just sitting there and enjoying the beauty of nature. Slowly the sun made its way behind the horizon and a volcano and bathed the mist and the land in golden light.

 

 

The descent

Then it was time to start our descent - and that was an easy one, we skated down the loose lava soil and almost ran back to the campground, where our breakfast was waiting for us. Then it was time for relaxing, enjoying the sun shining on Fuego and dozing.

Then it was time to march back into the valley. The weather was still good for us and we trotted down the mountain where we met other groups on their ascent and now we took on the role of telling them how great it was and that it was totally worth the effort.

When we arrived at the bottom, we saw a group of girls climbing, dressed in jeans hot pants, carrying only a mini backpack and a guy chugging a beer can. We just looked at each other saying that we were happy not to be part of their group but ours... And also that we would pay a lot to see this group four hours later and 2000 meters higher.

In the bus back to Antigua we already fell asleep and back in the hostel the first thing was a warm shower and clean clothes.

In the evening we made an appointment with our “Acatenango Warriors group” for a beer in Café No Sé (a bar that was on my list from the beginning but I hadn't made it there). It was a really nice last evening. But as everyone was pretty tired at midnight it was time to say goodbye and everyone went off to sleep.

That was the end of my last night in Guatemala. (For the time being, because at some point I wanted to come back to visit Flores and Tikal.)

The next morning, I said goodbye to Chris, with whom I had travelled through Guatemala, and took the shuttle to the airport, to Mexico City, where I would meet Markus again.

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