Why we climb volcanoes

Acatenango is the 3rd volcano I have hiked in the past 6 months.
The 1st 2 were in Hawai: Haleakala – 24km and Ka’au Crater – 8 hours (up 3 waterfalls). A part from being beautiful hikes, all 3 were challenging for different reasons, and during all 3 there was one short moment when I wondered ‘Why am I doing this?!‘. Having mentioned this to some of my fellow hikers, it seems I am not the only one to face this feeling. So what is it that drives so many of us to get to the top?!

I use the example of volcanoes but I believe this goes for mountains and other physically challenging feats.

Just to set the scene…

Acatenango is a dormant volcano that can be hiked overnight.
Groups leave at 8am and return 1pm the next day.
Base camp is at 3,600m and the top is at 3,900m.
Hikers must carry 4-5L water, food and warm clothes but there is also the option to pay someone to carry everything to the top (250Q = 25pounds)
The first day hike can take between 4 and 6 hours.
The 2nd day is a 4am wake up for a 4.30am start, a 1.5-2 hour hike to the top to see the sun rise. Followed by a 45m-1hour hike back down to base camp, a 45min rest and a 3-4 walk back down.

The above is enough to put some people off, yet there are still many people who chose to do it. But WHY?

From what I have observed and experienced there are 2 main reasons:

1. These experiences bring out the best in people and it is beautiful to witness.
For the vast majority of people, helping others is 2nd nature and in situations where ‘strangers’ need support, most would volunteer to help as much as they can.
At the very beginning of the hike I had a dilemma because my 5th L of water did not fit in my non hiking backpack and a beautiful woman who´s bag was already very heavy, offered to carry it for me. I actually decided to leave the 5th L behind, but I was amazed that someone would offer to carry 1L up a volcano for someone whose name they didn’t even know. This woman is now a friend who I trust will be in my life for years to come.

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Throughout the hike up, anytime someone slipped or fell, there was always someone to ask if they were ok.

I was last in the fast group (4 hours BOOYAH!) and I was touched by my pro hiker group’s encouragements, thank you team!

Once at the top, we talked around a fire and again it was beautiful to observe people who did not know each other prior to the climb, ask each other how they were feeling and if they were warm enough.

The hardest part for me was the hike before sunrise because it was dark and cold, but I felt so supported that it was like heat for me soul. Sadly, that does not translate into actual heat for my physical body haha!

I recall a friend telling me he hoped I’d have a ‘good group’, my answer was that I knew I would. I simply trusted that no matter who I hiked with, it would bring out the best in them, and I was right!

Within our group there were people from Poland, France, USA, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Mexico (representando!), Italy and Israel (+ our Guatemalan guides) and we all bonded.

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2. We enjoy challenging ourselves (probs many people´s 1st reason)
There is obviously something to be said about the satisfaction we feel when we achieve something hard. And there is nothing more humbling than realising how small we are when facing mother earth’s grandiosity.
In my experience hardship makes you appreciate the luxuries you have daily.
Sleeping in earth covered clothes makes your 1st hot shower worth all the gold in the world.

It is also very interesting to see each person´s notions of ‘cleanliness’. To illustrate this I’d like to share this short conversation with fellow hiker and badass German solo female traveller who happened to be my ‘roomie’:

Me:’If you think the hike was hard, try doing a no 2 in those toilets’
Rommie: ‘Really?! I didn’t think they were so bad!’
Me: ‘They’re covered in dry shit! How could it be worse?’
Roomie 1: It could be wet shit!
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This made us laugh so much that it made me realise the absurdity of it all. These things are so minor when you are on top of a volcano about to spend the night with 2 new friends in a tent that doesn’t close.

Something that I also highly value in these experiences. Is the opportunity to bond with local guides. Although I always try to connect with locals, it’s not every day that you spend over 24 hours with someone.

OH and the view at the top is not too bad either!

If you are thinking of doing please follow these tips:
– DO NOT do this hike without a guide, 6 people died last year!
– DO NOT underestimate the cold. It’s COLD! (You can hire warm clothes from a lavanderia)
– Bring Marshmallows to share, people loved them 🙂
– Remember, it’s hard but not impossible! And it is WORTH it!!!

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7 thoughts on “Why we climb volcanoes

  1. Hey Mélissa! Getting to know and sharing with brothers and sisters from different nationalities through an invaluable team sport experience such as yours, while traveling , is also getting to know oneself each time better and enriching your personality at every level, as well as taking care and feeding your body and soul. Keep on going and enjoy life as much as you can Mélissa, just the way you’ve been doing it until now, you are on the right track ! Love, wilfrid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi
    Quick question . so as for the tents do you bring your own tents or do they provide tents ? Do you really fly out with tents from home town thinking of heading up there for my bday just researching and I stumbled across this cool blog of yours . Thank you so much for posting .


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