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Volcán Pacaya

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The temptation to get extremely close to flowing lava is much too strong to pass up, in fact it’s something I never imagined I’d to do in my life. I’ve been really excited about hiking up Volcán Pacaya since I heard about it a couple of months back, and am hopping about the room when we book our tickets, about $12 USD for a complete tour. On the advice of many friends we book the afternoon trip, with the hope of seeing the red-hot lava at night.

pacaya_sign

Apparently the explosion level is "normal"

We get picked up from our ‘hotel’ at two in the afternoon and settle into the mini-van for an hour and a half drive out to the volcano. The last half an hour or so we do some serious climbing and are all pretty happy to pile out, ready to hike. Immediately we are swamped by small children trying to sell us all sorts of things we don’t need. A few people in our group succumb and buy walking sticks after the children repeat “is necessary” about 250 times each.

volcan_pacaya_smoking

Volcán Pacaya smoking away

We start walking up the steep dusty path and the enthusiasm of the group drops as the realization of the difficult hike sets in. I’m in my element here and love every minute of it, rushing to the front to talk to people, then slowing down and chatting to others further back. The hiking changes from hot, dry and dusty to small volcanic pebbles then huge volcanic boulders with razor sharp bits all over. We quickly climb above the cloud level and are treated to an amazing view of Volcán Fuego (Fire), which can be seen from Antigua and spits out a huge smoke cloud every couple of hours.

kate_dan_hiking

Kate & Dan with Volcán Pacaya smoking in the background

The hiking turns into a rock scramble and then a very congested rock scramble as about sixty or so tourists try to make their way to the top. I’m uncomfortable to have so many hikers on the extremely unstable rocks that are constantly being kicked down to rain on those below. As we near the action the rocks under us begin to get hotter and hotter, to the point where I don’t want to use my hands for balance anymore and I’m sweating profusely. Occasionally a strong sulphur smell wafts past, adding to the general excitement. I stop and have a good look up and see heat haze pouring off the mountain all around me. A guide points to some funny colored rocks I’m standing on and says they were lava last week. Cooooool.

steep_rock_scramble

The congested steep rock scramble

I reach a point where lots of people are milling around and am stunned to see lava less than four meters away. I climb up on a high point and am then about three meters away from the small flow that is slowly sliding down the mountainside. The heat pouring off is immense and when the wind changes it’s overwhelming on my legs and face and I really don’t want to hang around for too long, especially with thirty or forty more people still climbing up.

flowing_lava

The flowing lava was moving a foot every 10 seconds or so

I move down to a lower vantage point which turns out to be an amazingly good idea as more and more people pack onto the extremely hot, uneven rocky surface. A couple of times people slip and panic trying to get away from the heat and have nowhere to go because of all the people – not a good scene at all.

dan_lava

Dan loving the lava flow

I stand around on my little platform chatting to various people and roasting marshmallows.
Yep, you read that right.
I roasted marshmallows on lava.
From where I was standing I could poke a marshmallow on a stick through some cracks towards the lava. It only took a few seconds to have it roasted to perfection & I honestly think they were the best marshmallows I’ve ever eaten. I wonder if I’ll ever go back to regular old flame roasted. 😀

A few of the guys standing around with me are only wearing very thin-soled shoes and they melt and stick to the rocks, making for some pretty anxious faces and a nasty melted plastic smell. As the sun dips below the horizon the sunset is spectacular and the visible lava increases ten fold in the dusk. The majority of people make their way down and I stay to milk the experience for every second, knowing I can get down pretty fast when I want to.

A group of people have gone about ten meters further than the rest and upon hearing a report I know I have to check it out. I make my way further up, through a really hot section were between every rock I step on is red hot lava, a freaky experience. At the top is a good standing area where the temperature is bearable and we’re only about 2 meters from the flow of lava, which is significantly more here.

foot_lava

Getting close now...

I stand and stare in awe at the liquid rock. It really is amazing and hard to comprehend.

lots_of_lava

There was a lot here and it was really moving

I’m really curious about the consistency of the lava and so I throw a few rocks in to see what happens. It turns out it has a reasonably hard invisible shell and the rocks mostly bounce off or kind of sit on top for a while. Marshmallows and sticks turn to flame instantly upon contact.

lava_hillside

Lava all around us

I stay for as long as possible, and in the quickly fading light the lava really comes alive, glowing bright red all around us. I could easily stay up here all night, but my group is far ahead of me, so I make quick time on the way down to catch them up.

sunset

Sunset above cloud level

volcan_fuego_smoking

Volcán Fuego spitting out smoke

Hiking up Volcán Pacaya is a really amazing experience and I’m still grinning like mad thinking about it.

volcan_pacaya_glowing

Volcán Pacaya glowing in the dark

-Dan

19 Responses

  1. Pete says:

    Dan,

    That’s awesome. Pics look unreal – guessing used the tripod for the last couple.

    -Pete

  2. Liz says:

    WOW! This is something I’ve always wanted to do, I’m so jealous!

    • Dan says:

      I had to pinch myself at the top and actually say out loud “that is liquid rock flowing past me” – and I still didn’t get my head around it.

  3. George says:

    I’m having a blast reading about your adventures! I’m not sure how I stumbled upon your site, but I’m glad I did. I’ve added your site to my list of links in the new blog I started tonight called RoverOverland. I have a Jeep Unlimited and love seeing you guys put yours to good use! Anyway, stay safe and keep us posted… = )

    Here’s a link to my blog if you want to check it out: http://roveroverland.wordpress.com/

    • Dan says:

      Hey George, Happy to have you aboard :) I’ve been thinking a lot about a Jeep Unlimited… can you tell me how long it is from behind the seats to the inside of the tailgate – I’m wondering if it’s long enough to sleep in.
      Thanks!

  4. Brian12566 says:

    Very cool. Glad you were not wearing thin soled boots! Awesome pics.

  5. George says:

    This is the fourth Jeep I’ve owned and I have to say the Unlimited makes quite a bit of difference. If the rear seat is removed there is about 4 feet of cargo area to the tailgate…I’m sure it would be tough to sleep in even with the seats kicked forward and at a diagonal!

    http://www.roveroverland.wordpress.com/

  6. Rejeana in Alabama says:

    FANTASTIC!!!!! I think this is the most jealous of you I’ve been yet!

  7. sey says:

    THAT IS SOO COOL!

  8. Mike says:

    Did something similar on The Big Island of Hawaii. Actually, I do it every time I go and have done it in different areas at different times. One place we went a few year back actually calved off and is now int he ocean, weird to think about. Quite a few stories in Hawaii about people who died either being part of the slide or falling through crust into flowing lava, nasty to think about either.

    It’s very dramatic to watch the lava hit the water and explode, sending rock/lava everywhere and creating little vortexes above the water.

    Great to see the progress.

  9. Jay says:

    I am glad that you enjoyed one of the many adventures Guatemala has to offer. We had the oportunity of hicking and camping on the top of Pacaya. It was an experience I will never forget. If you have a chance, and want more adventures check Oldtown tour company in Antigua, they have everything from hicking, wild water rafting, mountain bicking among other things. Hope you have a blast in Guatemala!

  10. Jasna says:

    Hi Dan!

    Ooh! Now I’m jealous. When I climbed Pacaya on March 17th we couldn’t see that much lava – there was a flow far downhill from we had climbed, in an inaccessible spot, so we could only look on from afar. Nevertheless, it was a spectacular time! Thanks for sharing the awesome photos!

  11. Kamya says:

    Hey Dan, we’re in the process of planning a trip to Guatemala and your blog is coming in extremely handy! Quick question…do you remember which company you booked the Volcan Pacaya tour with?

    • Dan says:

      Hey Kamya,
      I don’t remember the name, no. When you get to Antigua, there are about 20 companies in town that all offer the same thing. We went with one that was on the west side of the square in the middle of town. It’s a little office with tons of posters for Pacaya and other tours. I wouldn’t bother booking ahead, you’ll get better prices and a better idea of what they (don’t) provide when you get there.
      If there is anything else I can help with, let me know :)
      -Dan

  12. Stu says:

    Good write up – I ‘ve been there a couple of times myself and it really is different every time you visit. I love the night photos – something I have never had the chance to get. The Volcan Fuego ash cloud is awesome. Thanks for the write up.

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