From Antigua, Acatenango and Fuego seem to be sibling volcanoes, side by each, towering to the southwest of Antigua. We set our sights first, on the taller sibling of Acatenango which at 3976 metres is the third highest volcano in Guatemala. We loaded up our gear and drive about an hour to La Soledad (2270 m.), where we hired some local villagers as porters and began our climb.
We started hiking on village paths that led steeply up through fields of Calla lilies, snow peas, and corn (all local cash crops). This first part was very steep and reminded me why I so often train much harder before going on a climb…because when “I don’t pay on the front side (training), I pay on the backside (during the climb).” Instantly out of breath because of the altitude, I wondered where I’d find the next six hours of footsteps.
We caught our breath at the transition from the agricultural landscape to the bamboo forest. I asked Marian if she hated me yet (for making her go uphill once again). She answered, “Maybe.” As the bamboo forest gave way to a thriving cloud forest filled with mystical air plants and trees ten feet in diameter, both Marian and I finally found our “We can go uphill all day pace” pace and relaxed into the climb. The climb continued steeply up, we reached the pine forest and stopped for lunch. From our scenic perch, we could see easily to the Western Highlands and all of our remaining climbing goals.
The air was thinning and each step seemed to take more of a toll as we climbed ever upward. As we left the trees behind, the trail to the saddle between Acatenango’s two peaks dissolved into a volcanic scree mess of small pumice stones that created that climbing treadmill known as “two steps up, one step back.” The wind picked up dramatically at the saddle causing us to done warmer layers for the last push to the summit. I reached the crater’s rim and dropped a bit into the crater to escape the wind while waiting for Marian to top out. We climbed the last 100 feet to the true summit together and took in the amazing views. Volcanoes poked through white fluffy clouds and I drank in the magical feeling of being where I could climb no higher, once again.
We snagged a few summit shots and plunge-stepped our way down to our camp for the night. We had to stop three times to empty the pumice scree from our boots. We taught our guide the Newfoundland saying, “Fill Y’r Boots” and laughed as the volcano filled ours over and over again. Our campsite was absolutely stunning with commanding views of Fuego, Agua and the Pacific coast of Guatemala. It ranks up in the top five campsites of my lifetime! We enjoyed a delicious dinner and quickly turned into our tents to beat the cold wind and a nighttime of watching Fuego was about to begin.
See more pictures of the climb here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=587955&id=509940550&l=800e46f265