Okay when we left you last it was only 6:20pm. We had not had any dinner, preferring instead to try and stay relatively warm and dry inside our sleeping bags in the tent.
Our guides David, Ben, and Ollie meanwhile, had been trying to get supper ready for 21 people. Out in the dark, wind and cold, this could not have been an easy thing to do. We refused to come out of the tent when it was ready, and they actually took the time to bring us some food to eat! We really did appreciate the room service guys...that was definitely going above and beyond the call of duty! Thanks!
In the meantime, there was nothing to do but stay warm. The wind was blowing the tent around so much that we thought we might blow away! And there was also a lot of dust and dirt being blown into the tent. It was never raining, but it was so moist from essentially being inside a cloud that eventually drops of water began falling on us INSIDE the tent! The guides said this was the worst night they had ever encountered on top of the volcano. We were at 12,600 feet altitude.
David set his watch for 5:30am and said he would get up and see what the sky was like at that hour. If it was still zero visibility he would just let us sleep. Otherwise, he would let us know.
Well 5:30am was still about ten hours away. We dozed on and off a couple of times, but essentially got no sleep. We only had these skinny little sleeping pads and it was hard to get comfortable. That, coupled with the wind made for a very long and tortuous night.
Then we heard a voice.
"Hey guys...the sky is clear!"
Wow. This was exactly what everybody wanted to hear!
This was what we saw when we crawled out of the tent!
Remember, we had seen NOTHING of the view on the way up or when we reached the top the night before. It was spectacular! Still cold (there was frost on the ground) and windy, but clear as a bell. There were some clouds around, but they were BELOW us!
The Santa Maria volcano had a major eruption in 1902. In fact, it was one of the top five most powerful eruptions of the past 300 years. Since then, there have been several smaller eruptions but now the activity comes from a dome that is lower down from the rim of the original crater where we were sitting. The current volcano, called Satiaguito, is one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. You couldn't see the dome from our campsite, so we had to hike down 10 minutes or so to the viewpoint.
Sorry for the terrible photo. I didn't have a tripod and it was cold and windy! Hard to keep still. But, you can see the red lava near the bottom right corner. That was a pretty neat thing to see!
Did manage one decent photo before the sun came up.
What a view!
All of a sudden, there was some commotion. Remember I said that Santiaguito was a very active volcano? Well, it seemed that the volcano gods were going to put on a special show for us to make up for our long arduous journey to the top...
This is not something you get to see every day! What a feeling! Strangely enough, there was no noise associated that we could hear from this eruption.
The photo above was taken at 6:11am, before sunrise. It was only going to get better. Despite the fact that we were still cold, and even with gloves on we could hardly feel our fingers, we no longer cared. At 6:27am, the sun finally made it's appearance!
Everybody has seen a lot of sunrises. But this one definitely stands above them all!
Here's our group enjoying the views.
Frost on the ground.
Here's where we had been camped! Look how filthy our little tent is!
The shadow of our volcano...we are standing on the top!!!
Our guide, Ben!
After the sun came up we slowly warmed up. By 7:15am we had gone back up to the tents to have breakfast and get the tents packed up. We couldn't see the dome from our camp, but others started pointing and shouting again!
Another eruption at 7:27am! Wow!
What a spot to enjoy your breakfast!
At 7:47, only twenty minutes later...yet another eruption!
We were treated to three eruptions of the volcano. Absolutely amazing! There really are no words to describe it. Definitely not something very many people get to see, and we weren't expecting to either.
This gal had hiked up with us, and came back down with us that morning.
Kevin. The graffiti people apparently hike up here too!
Everybody was soooo happy that it was a clear sky!
Here's our group.
And finally, a view of the city of Quetzaltenango.
But then, it was time to start heading down. This in itself is a three hour hike and we were pretty stiff and sore from hiking up the day before. But, it had to be done, we didn't have any choice! At least we were now lucky with the weather...it was a beautiful day. We set off down at around 9:20am.
Heading back down.
Getting close to the bottom at 12:07pm.
We did pretty good keeping up with the group on the way down. We still lagged behind, but we made it! My left knee was pretty sore and my legs overall were done. Going down was also a little easier because you weren't carrying very much in the way of food or water. Going up we had each been carrying 4 litres (just over a gallon) of water in our packs as well as our gear!
What an exhausting hike. We found out that this is the toughest hike that Quetzaltrekkers offers and really, we should have done this hike AFTER our six day excursion that starts tomorrow, instead of before.
Are we glad we did it? Of course. Some of the most spectacular scenery we've ever seen, and the views of the volcano erupting are something we'll probably never see again. But it was also the toughest thing we've ever done and we'll probably never take on something like that again. Apparently we're not 25 years old any more!
Loading our gear on the bus for the ride back to the hostel.
Today will be a day of rest! It has to be because tomorrow we're headed out on a six day excursion. The first day and the last day are travel days, but on the four days in between we will be hiking 60 kms (37 miles). None of it will be as tough as what we just did, and the altitude won't be as high, and we won't be sleeping in tents. We're pretty stiff and sore today, so hopefully we will be recovered enough by Wednesday morning to start hiking again!