Climbing Pacaya Volcano

Climbing Pacaya Volcano The Pacaya volcano in Guatemala is an active volcano, almost continuously erupting since a number of years. Moreover, it is a volcano that is relatively easy accessible. Consequently, it is one of the rare places in the world where it is possible to climb an active volcano. We climbed it in 1999, and although we didn't reach the summit, it was a great experience.

Today is the big day, we are going to climb the Pacaya volcano. In September 1998 this volcano had a major eruption, and that’s only a year ago. The volcano is still active, but we do not know what to expect. A minivan brings us to the volcano, and a student accompanies the driver to tell us a little about the surroundings. As we come closer to the volcano, the roads become worse and steeper uphill. We pass a number of villages to eventually stop in the village of San Francisco (what's in a name...), from where we will continue on foot. We can see the top of the Pacaya volcano through the trees, but doubt whether we will reach that.

Through the woods to the Old Crater

The first part of the trip leads us through the woods. Recently a path is created with a occasionally a resting place with benches. The crime has been fought as well. In contrast to what the guidebooks tell us, we do not need an armed escort, just a 70 year old guide. Despite his age, he walks very fast and we are pretty tired already when the vegetation trades places with ashes and black lava stones.

We reach the rim of the old crater, now serving as a reservoir for the lava flowing from the new crater at every new eruption. We walk over the rim of the old crater to the cone shaped volcano and pass a sign indicating it’s 30 minute climb from here. There is also a warning for poisonous gasses and flying hot rocks.

Wind and loose lava stones

The wind has increased to storm force as we start the real climb. At every step we slide half a step back in the loose lava stones. The wind blows ashes and little stones in our faces and eyes. As we have climbed this way for 20 minutes, our guide indicates we are going back. It is irresponsible to continue. Another group continues though, and we are a bit disappointed and angry that we had to stop. When we relax a bit further down however, we realize it was not a bad decision. One of our companions is blown away, imagine if that happened at the rim of the volcano.

We are still a bit disappointed when the guide indicates to follow him. We make a steep descend into the old crater, and arrive on the lava lake created last year. The ground is still warm and between the cracks in the rocks we can see the hot air rise up. Our guide shows us some glowing lava rocks pulled from a crack, and we are all impressed.

Surfing downhill

To return, we choose a different route, over a steep slope full with loose little lava stones. We surf and slide downhill, which is a nice activity in itself. When we return to the village we are tired, filthy, impressed, but still a bit disappointed that we didn’t reach the top. That feeling only passes days later, when we meet the people who did reach the top. Due to the strong wind at the summit they couldn’t enjoy the views, nor were they able to look into the crater. At least, we did see more. Yet, climbing the Pacaya VOlcano made us long for more, and we hope to see a real volcanic eruption some time later.

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