‘Yeah, take a look up there.’
Climbing the steps to the top of our hotel revealed a rooftop terrace where breakfast was served, only it was surrounded by an incredible view that stretched for miles and miles in every direction; sculpted by large ominous volcanoes; an abundance of vibrant green forests and clusters of civilisation. This was to be the first of many notable views, views which became more satisfying with every passing day, and the harder we worked to see them from a summit the more rewarding they became. Safe to say the passage to the top very quickly became more challenging than a hotel staircase…
An eerie mist descended as we continued our climb up the volcano, the long, black tentacles stretching and twisting from trees began to drip with moisture – droplets from the cloud that eventually crystallised when the cold grew colder. The wind swept over the forest, sucking out life as it went. No man was meant to live here, not even insects or plants beyond the simplest organisms could fathom a life of any comfort. The only noise was the howling of the wind, a terrifying omen that ripped apart even rocks as it went. Spirits began to drop quickly as the discomforts mounted, but still we climbed.
Yet the enjoyment from that was short lived, as faults in our tent kept appearing. Instead we were left to keep each other amused to stay content. We made jokes about the instability of the tent, laughed off the gaping holes, found amusement in the danger of the wind. ‘La seis amigos’ was the name. The girls’ tent even collapsed in the night, but remarkably the Guatemalan porters managed to fix the snapped pole, and we made some adjustments to our tent and survived the night.
That night we stayed in a small town, San Jorge, by Lake Atitlan – an incredible stretch of water, the kind that makes it onto postcards and into travel magazines. We were to eat and sleep among a local Guatemalan family for what’s called a ‘homestay’. Suffice to say talking Spanish through dictionaries was an interesting experience, but the family were very hospitable and it allowed us to experience true Guatemalan culture. ‘La cena es muy delicisiosa’ was about as much as I could say!
Fields of grass rolled by as we sailed across the water. Over and under fingers of lands the grass grew – fingers that could only have been sculpted by the gods, an intricate network of beautiful greenery that feasted off the natural fertility of the land and drank from the lake that lapped at its shore. The skies were a rich sapphire blue, decorated with lashings of white clouds that channelled the warm sunlight on to our grateful faces. The lake was beautiful.
The lake was beautiful, but the climb less so. The sun that had been so warming was now our enemy, sweat dripped from our faces and our bodies cried out for water to replace the lost fluids. But the water supply was low, and the muscles in our legs began to strain and hurt and ache and cry. I fell back from the group I was climbing with, and was left to hike up the trail on my own. I had to stop to catch my breath numerous times, and allow a trickle of water to quench my thirst. At least now we had the rainforest to shade us from the sun. I thought back to what I’d been told before, ‘you can’t rush up a mountain, you have to take it slowly… plod,’ and so I did, one foot in front of the other, ignoring the protest from my thighs. Eventually the trees gave way and I stepped out into a clearing that marked the summit and cracked a smile. The lake that had been so beautiful from the bottom was even more stunning from the top, and we laughed and celebrated and relaxed in the sun.
This was a long day. The path we took had barely been cut out properly, our guide used his machete to hack away at the vegetation that crept across the ground. ‘A view, this way,’ he said though, and my God was it a view. The land was rippled from east to west, emerald trees snaked over and under hills, crops sprouted from the vast farmlands in the foreground and the silhouettes of threatening volcanoes – kissed by the rolling clouds – stood tall in the background.
Days Six and Seven – Volcán Tajumulco
The tallest in Central America. Volcán Tajumulco. Four thousand, two hundred and twenty metres high. It was to be the most challenging of our summits. But, in truth, it wasn’t so bad. Things were looking bleak at first though, as talk of a wild storm savaging the summit spread through the group, and a decision as to whether we would continue our walk was hanging in the balance. But, after a bit of food, we carried on. And then I guess the weeks’ worth of walking was having a positive effect on us, we got our heads down and broke out into a steady pace. A group of us managed to pick up pace and, as the trees lost their colour and ice began to cover the ground, we reached the camp.
The night was rough however, a lot of us were cold and wet and did not get much sleep; the night felt as if it would never end. I was actually eager to get up at 4am and finish the climb. When the time came to summit, the sky was still black, dotted with flashing stars. In the distance a storm lit up the horizon. We laced our boots, strapped on our rucksacks and donned walking poles for the final ascent.
The path proved challenging, twisting and turning up through rocky formations and over boulders that needed clambering over. There was a dangerous amount of slippery ice underfoot – not to mention the lack of natural light in the sky. We continued to climb. Then somewhere in the distance the first light began to appear, an orange beam forcing its way through the thick layer of dark cloud. The rocky path gave way to the infamous scree, and we began to slip and slide as we trekked up towards the summit. Still the sun rose, and the day grew lighter. As we got higher my breathing became shorter and faster, my legs ached more, and my rucksack felt heavier. Yet in the distance the top of the world loomed. This spurred us all on, the rising sun illuminating the track to the top. Surprisingly, the mountain flattened out towards the summit and in the distance stood a tower of rocks that marked the top. We allowed a few smiles, and picked up the pace. The guide in front turned to us when we finally reached the rocks and grinned. We had done it!
Thousands of pounds raised for Hope for Children and five volcanoes climbed.