After a couple days of swimming, reading and relaxing on Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, Jeff and I were ready for some action. Trekking up one of Atitlan’s surounding volcanoes seemed like the obvious choice. Plus, there had been a spate of robberies on some of the region’s hiking trails and our buddy at the Panajachel tourist office said the volcanoes were safe.
So we woke up early on Tuesday, made a couple of sandwiches and caught a lancha (public boat) toward San Pedro. An hour later we were on the trail with our guide, Andres, beginning the steep ascent towards the top of Volcán San Pedro.
Right away, I noticed that we were not exactly taking the leisurely route up the volcano. From my experience in the States, mountain trails usually begin as a series of gradual switchbacks followed by a more challenging scramble towards the summit (thinking Old Rag Mountain in VA, for example). You might be hiking for six or seven hours, but the ascent is a little more….gentle, shall we say?
Hiking Volcán San Pedro was NOTHING LIKE THAT. From the trail head, we were pretty much on a 45-degree trajectory the entire time. Knowing that the summit was around 9,900 feet (for my HMC friends, that’s like a million Huron Mountains in elevation), I started to panic about a third of the way up. Some of the thoughts racing through my mind were:
Do I have enough food and water to sustain me through this death march? Probably not. Maybe Jeff will let me share his ham sandwich (gross!!!)…Am I mad at Jeff for making me do this? No, no. This was definitely my idea. I’m probably going to die here. Who will carry my lifeless body down the volcano? I’d hate for the responsibility to fall on Jeff, but I don’t think repatriation of remains is in Andres’ job description. Does my health insurance cover repatriation of remains IF they must be retrieved from thousands of feet above sea level?
You get the picture. When we stopped to take the above photo about an hour into our climb, I turned to Jeff and said “I don’t think I’m going to make it. I don’t think I want to make it.” But when I learned that I would have to sit somewhere for hours while Jeff and Andres completed the hike, I decided to press on. Plus, I didn’t want to be by myself because, ya know, trail robberies.
After hours on the world’s most dusty and punishing Stairmaster, we made it to the top. I’ll admit that the view was incredible; it felt like we were high enough to be looking down from an airplane. I am proud of myself for completing the climb — one of my trip goals is to challenge myself — but I am infinitely more proud of myself for 1) not crying, even though I almost did, twice; and 2) not falling all the way down on the steep descent.