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Conquering the (Nicaraguan) Volcano!

May 15, 2012

The hike up Volcán Concepción on the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe was a day of extremes. The volcano stands 1610 meters above sea level, is one of Nicaragua’s highest volcanoes and is also one of its most active. With a starting altitude of 150 meters this would be the highest elevation change I’ve ever completed in one day – Kilimanjaro included. Of course I didn’t realize this until I was well on my way to the summit.

I admit that I wasn’t really feeling this excursion at the beginning. I have been going pretty steady the last 11 days and the hammocks by Lake Nicaragua were really alluring. The hike description provided to us made reference to the necessity for “excellent physical condition for the volcano’s steep and sandy terrain.” It also indicated that it would take us 8-10 hours round-trip. I had kind of skimmed this description and I didn’t give it much thought. I figured that the hike would be slightly more difficult than the Rincon de la Veija volcano hike I completed the week before. I was wrong.

Enthusiastic and naive at the base of Volcán Concepción

We began our day at 7:30am at the trail-head with two guides. The word “trail” is probably not the right word to describe the path we took up the volcano. During the rainy season (which started yesterday) vast amounts of water fall onto the volcano and travel downwards creating a trail. Water takes the path the least resistance and so switchbacks really didn’t apply here whatsoever.

The first hour was easy going and yet I still fell behind the group most times. I have always been slow in motion – slow walker, slow runner, and slow hiker. I had specifically requested a second guide because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. We began to hear the distinct call of the Howler monkeys [Listen here] as the trail took on a steeper ascent. I was feeling quite good, though a bit hot. My wish was granted and we were greeted with a short rain shower to cool things off.

At 1000 meters we reached the treeline and was met with views of most of the upper reaches of the volcano and some to the scenery below. The clouds were moving in and out quite quickly. Although I was wishing for some light rain I was worried about being caught out in the open in the monsoon-type rainstorm that occurred the night before.

The “trail” got quite steep at this point. We were given gloves by the guides for protection against the sharp volcanic rocks. The remaining 600 meters to the top of the volcano consisted of mostly loose rock. Two steps forward, one step back. It was tough, really tough! I busted out my ipod at some point in an attempt to get me through the grueling ascent. My legs were burning! The guides said that we needed to make it to the top by 1:00pm or we would have to turn back since we would risk not making it to the bottom by sundown. I did a little math and got quite discouraged. I figured there was a chance for the rest of the group and a slim chance for me to make it before the time cutoff. Climbing up a 45 degree angle slope of loose rock for essentially with no goal really sucks. I tried a little negotiation with the guides and tried to ascertain my chances in a percentage. If there was really no way then my life experience with these rocks was really complete and I would have really rather sat down, ate lunch, and waited for the rest to return. I was rather unsuccessful in my attempt to gather information and continued onward. I hate quitting.

Surprisingly, we reached the “almost top” of the volcano. The negotiations continued. There was discouragement to go to the top. “Only the fast ones should go” the guide said. “10 minutes up and 10 minutes down.” The view isn’t any better than this. The sulphur gas can be strong and we have to turn around anyways. In hindsight it was probably stupid to peer over the edge of this sulphur-gas-spewing active volcano but I really needed a win. I finished 3/4 of  marathon in 2009 and most of Kilimanjaro in 2010. Conquering most of this volcano was just not enough. I even brought my Team Diabetes shirt with me since we didn’t get to submit the Rincon de la Veija volcano last week.

Andres, our token adventurer, was game but the rest had conquered enough. Despite discouragement I left my bag to pick up on the way back and scrambled upwards. It took me 9 minutes because I’m awesome like that. Celebratory photographs ensued and we rushed down – not because of the gas but because of the dozens of sulphur-loving wasps!

Going down was a new experience on its own. I was thrilled to use different muscles but it was slow going. And frankly dangerous. Luckily for me my position in life – last place – left me in a safe place. Once or twice our smaller group of summit-happy hikers accidentally kicked up a melon sized rock which took on a life of its own as it sped down towards the other group picking up speed. One of the hikers from another group just had skater shoes on with minimal tread and fell well over a dozen times. I dramatically fell once while finished the sentence: “Finally something I excel aaaaaaattttt.”

We all made it to the treeline without major incident, only some scrapes and bruises – souvenirs from our adventure. My knee injury from last week flared up again and the way down from the treeline was quite painful. Walter – my new best friend and guide – stayed with me the whole way helping me down particularly high steps. When we finally reached the flat section it was heaven. I was certain that the rest of our group were already at the bottom and perhaps transported back to our home-stays but we came across them not too long afterwards. Everyone looked and felt like I did – a bonding moment I think.

I reached the bottom just before 6pm after the sun slipped behind the horizon. I had conquered the volcano and lived to tell the tale!

Happy but injured on the ferry leaving Ometepe with Volcán Concepción in the background.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cathee Shantz permalink
    May 17, 2012 2:16 pm

    Love Ya

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