Mountains have always had the power to encapsulate my attention.
I find myself equally attracted to their symbolic nature as I am to their natural beauty. Not only is the mountain a metaphor for facing challenges, but it also serves as a symbol of strength, wisdom and humility.
The volcano is a special type of mountain, one whose life flows beneath you.
Finding Acatenango Volcano
I first heard about Acatenango while visiting Guatemala in early 2015. I had been backpacking through Central America for a few months and wanted to hike one of its many volcanoes. I was told Acatenango was the most difficult of volcano hikes the country had to offer, and was situated beside one of the most active volcanoes in the world (Fuego Volcano). I immediately knew it was an adventure for me, but quickly learned that it was a hike that should not be taken lightly.
To conquer this beast, you must make your way through four climate zones and often times some chaotic weather. This is all done while carrying a 65L backpack with all of your camping gear, food and at least four liters of water. It is a challenging hike with no weight to bear, let alone a heavy backpack, which is a double edged sword on your hero’s journey; it makes everything twice as difficult, but is a dire necessity.
Most hikers camp out overnight to get to the summit by dawn. The payoff of this trek is a breathtaking sunrise from the 13,044 ft. summit.
In 2015, I hiked Acatenango with OX Expeditions, a company out of Antigua, Guatemala that gives guided tours. They provided all of the gear (including three meals), as well as their expertise in navigating the difficult terrain. The tour was with a fun group of passionate travelers and was a great experience overall.
My first time, I was gifted with beautiful weather, and a picture-perfect clear morning for sunrise, complete with countless nearby eruptions from Fuego.
I slept outside the tent so I could capture this gem from camp in the middle of the night.
After having such a beautiful and rewarding experience the year before, I decided to tackle Acatenango again when I returned to Guatemala in 2016. I had told many friends about the hike and showed them my pictures, but I longed to share the moment with someone special. So I convinced my girlfriend to make the trek with me.
This time, things did not go quite as smoothly.
My second date with Acatenango
It all felt a little rushed, but I knew I’d be kicking myself later if I left Guatemala without standing at the top of Acatenango once again, watching Fuego erupt in the distance.
Unfortunately, OX was unavailable for the only day we had free. They also warned us that the weather forecast was not looking good, and to be safe and well-prepared if we indeed decided to go.
This meant booking with a less than desirable touring company, which we found through the hostel we were staying at. The pros— it was about half the price. The cons— the gear, food and tour guide were about half as good, if that.
The first part of the hike through the high farmland was nice and smooth, but as we moved through the second climate zone in the cloud forest to the third in the high alpine forest, we found ourselves in a little predicament.
This picture was taken just before the sky opened up.
As the rain began to pour down, accompanied by flashes of lighting and roaring thunder, everything became a lot more real. In the midst of the meditative daze that I often fall into while getting lost in nature, I sometimes forget that I’m actually in the middle of the wilderness, and that the situation can turn dangerous pretty quickly if I am unprepared.
At the time, the porter I hired to carry my girlfriend’s backpack was way behind us and was carrying her raincoat, food and all of our camping gear. As uncomforting as this was in the moment, it made our journey all the more interesting.
My girlfriend wore my raincoat, while I hiked soaked and shirtless, as to preserve my last dry shirt to sleep in. We hiked through the thunder and lightning, up high enough to literally be in the middle of the weather. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the safest thing to be doing, but the struggle made the view from the top look all the sweeter.
You can check out the story of our journey below, both as a one minute preview and the full 10 minute video.
The view from 13,044 ft. is quite humbling– a potent reminder of how small we are within the scope of the planet. But at the same time, it allows you to appreciate how connected we are to it all. When you climb the mountain, you become a part of something larger than yourself.
When it rains, we all get wet— nature is the ultimate teacher.
I live for these moments of stillness— when nature is so beautiful that it brings me completely into the moment. Because in this space where time seems to stand still, I’m out of my mind. I’m not trying to figure it all out..
I’m just being.