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Guatemala: Climbing Pacaya Volcano

December 11, 2009

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I don’t have many photos left, in fact only one, of my expedition to climb this live volcano in Guatemala.  You access the mountain by bus from Antigua, and then proceed on a gentle hike through cattlelands and scrub for most of a day, until you reach the base of the cinder cone, from which pours hot ash.  The very ground here shakes and is hot to the touch.

My three friends and I spent a miserable night in a two-person tent, and despite the warmth coming from below we froze.  We obtained very little sleep.

1) The volcanic cone

2) View from the lower slopes

The Guatemalan government had thoughtfully provided memorials to the hikers who made it to the rim of the crater and then, finding the ground crumble under their feet, had fallen into the volcano to their deaths.

3) Here is my Swiss friend Eva at the crater’s rim, a dizzying  3000 ft. from the  floor of the valley.  She looks like she would rather have chosen a different excursion for the day, one for which she’d been better dressed

Climbing the cinder cone was very difficult, as the ash was too hot to grab to for support and we slid back a foot for every one advanced .  The heat penetrated even our shoes.  But we were rewarded at the end with a magnificent view of bubbling lava coming from deep within the cone.  The air was so thick with sulphur that we found it nearly impossible to breathe.

4) Another Swiss friend dangling near the top of the cone

My understanding is that during the Guatemalan Civil War, foreigners were strongly discouraged from making this climb, as bandits, rebels, and other miscreants resented intrusions into their territory.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2009 4:46 am

    I forgot to ask you, John – when did you climb Pinatubo? I remember the news reports about the eruption very well, even though I was living in Peru at the time. And when anything international makes the news in that country, you know it has to be pretty bad.

  2. December 15, 2009 4:39 am

    yeah, the climb was wild and spooky. At the crater rim we really did wonder if we were going to fall in. At the time I think two or three people were getting killed every year doing the climb.

    But as I like to say, the more beautiful the scenery, the greater the potential for seismic and/or volcanic destruction.

  3. John Ryan Recabar permalink
    December 14, 2009 2:53 am

    it must have been a very exciting experience. i’ve also been to the crater of Mt Pinatubo who eruption is the most disastrous volcanic eruption in the 20th century.

    it was so beautiful inside. only something as violent as that eruption that can give birth to something as beautiful that place.

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