Acatenango and the Majesty of Mountains
Antigua Vacations are a time for family, recharging, and getting ready for the year to come. Every once in a while they are also a time for learning something as well or at least being reminded of things that are perhaps too easy to forget.
There are more than 30 volcanoes in Guatemala. Several of them are in close proximity to Antigua. One of our tribe wanted to hike up and see what they looked like. One of our tribe thought this was crazy to hike from 5000 to over 13000 feet for over 8 hours. One of our tribe was smart enough to say “no way.” So in the way families make decisions, three of us committed to meet a crew to hike up the Acatenango volcano at 6 AM in the morning to return at sunset.
The guide had said the trail was “hard.” I had discounted that. How “hard” could any trail be that was set up for greenhorns climbing a volcano?
Very, very damn hard it turns out. We knew we were in trouble when I kept pointing out pig trails, and then it turned out we were hiking straight up one! Breathing in a constant rise from 5000 feet to 12000 is very difficult and involves a huge amount of pounding between the head and legs. We crawled up through the cloud forest on an overcast day. There were hints of cloud breaks teasing through the sky, but nothing guaranteed.
Finally at 12000 feet our party tried to eat some lunch in the last lean-to on the trail and the only one that sheltered the wind. The wind and rain now were unusual since this was not the rainy season and all we expected was some moisture dripping from the cloud cover.
Another 100 yards up the trail towards the first summit, and we all knew, no matter what we said, that we were in trouble. Most of us were not prepared for either cold or rain being blown like sleet through the thin shells we were wearing. When I found myself answering a question from the guide that, “No, I didn’t have hypothermia, I was just miserable,” I knew we were in some trouble here. Luckily so did everyone else. When we conferred it seemed the wind was going to get worse and even making the summit would take another hour where we would also find no cover from wind or weather. Two women from Colorado called the question first, so we knew there was only one decision. Down, pronto!
The guide had been leading folks up Acatenango for years, alternating between guiding in Denali (Alaska) and out of Antigua depending on the season. He had never seen weather like this at the top of the mountain. Another two and a half hours and we were back on the road.
We saw the mountain, if not the volcano. And, we were reminded again how powerful mountains can be and how quickly the weather can change in a minute or an hour or whenever.
We were reminded again about planning. The mountain made sure that we knew that hard, meant hard. We learned again that there is no substitute for good judgment.
All of these lessons were good reminders as we prepared for a new year in 2009.