|Earlier this week, I arrived in Xela after my travels in Tikal. The plan upon arrival was to stay for only 2 weeks enrolled in school then take a week of vacation travelling to visit Antigua, Lake Atitlán, hike both volcán Santiagito and Tajumulco. This still remains the plan but given the difference in altitude and my fear of getting altitude sickness, I decided to hike both volcanos a week apart so today at 5:00am, I leave for Tajumulco.
Quetzaltenango is a mountain town located about 7,600ft above sea level so it takes a while for people like me coming from lower altitudes to acclimatize to the air mixture up here. Ideally, it is recommended that a person from lower altitudes wait a couple week before attempting any type of excessive energy expulsion. This is not the case for me. I only have 2 weeks and I intend to cross of the things I couldn’t do last time I was around here.
Tajumulco is the highest peak in Central America standing at 13,500ft and decades ago, it used to be active but currently, it is categorized as extinct or dead. In volcano terms, it means that earth’s plates have shifted and thus there are no longer eruptions and it is most likely that it will never erupt again.
The hike up to the peak is a about a 13 mile round trip hike and to make acclimation easy, we camped about 1000ft away from the peak with food, sleeping equipment and extra layers we had backpacked up with. The hike to Tajumulco began with a 20 minute walk to the office of Quetzaltrekers, one of the local hiking tour groups. At their shop, we all (29 hikers and 5 guides) rode in a truck to the Minerva, the bus station where we took a bus to San Marcos. Tajumulco is located in the municipality of San Marcos which is approximately and hour from Xela. The next leg of the journey however was another 1.5 hour bus ride to the trail head. We arrived here at about 10am and began climbing at about 9,600ft. We stopped to rest, hydrate and regroup every hour. This make the hike a little easier and helped control the altitude a little bit better. It took about 4 hours to hike up to the base camp another hour to summit by moonlight at 3am the next day. The trail up to the base camp was mostly ascending with minimal amounts of switch backs but due to current weather, it made the trail wet and lose. This made finding good footing difficult and to make matters worse, it began to rain so now I was not only dealing with a heavy backpack and loss of breath. The lose terrain and the rain changed the difficulty of the hike but I feel like the high altitude rain reduced the need to hydrate as often. I think I hiked up to the base camp (aprrox 5 miles) on only a liter and a half of water.
At the base camp, there was another curve ball thrown and that was the cold weather but I was well layered up for this. I might have even been over layered up for this as I ended up taking off 2 of my layers. The coldest part of the hike was at 13,500ft when we summited and just sat around waiting for the sun to rise. By keeping the body in motion, it stays warm but once that stops, the cold weather cools the sweat accumulated and then you get colder. We however summited with our sleeping bags and extra layers so we bundled up and zipped up those bags immediately. The rest of the time until the sunrise was spent just laying down and staying warm.
This was overall a great hike that I would recommend to anyone who likes the outdoors. At 13,500ft, on a good day, you can see all the active volcanos smoking away and catch the Mexican lights. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of that due to high clouds but what we made the most of what we got.
Next Stop: Volcán Santiagito.