One of the reasons for visiting Guatemala was to hike the highest peak in Central America, Volcan Tajumulco. My preference was to hike it alone, however due to possible security issues, a lack of any GPS or trail information, plus my inability to speak Spanish I searched out a guide company. There are a few to choose from but I found a non-profit organisation run by volunteers where all of the payments go to assist school children in Guatemala, Quetzaltrekkers is worth checking out – especially if you would like to volunteer.
The hike started with an early morning, up at 4:30 I hiked across Xela to the Quetzaltrekkers office, once there everyone loaded up the extra food and we jumped into a moving truck for a lift to the chiken bus station. As instructed I removed anything that could break from my large backpack, it was then tossed up on the roof of the bus along with a myriad of other items like mandarins, avocados and boxes of who knows what. As we passed through town the bus soon filled up, three to a two person seat with the aisle packed full of people. The bus conductor would run through the bus and collect money, then run out the front door, up the side of the bus (while the driver is moving) to load the next set of passengers gear, he would then enter through the rear door at around 60km/h and repeat the process removing and adding passengers.
After stopping for the usual breakfast of eggs, beans and tortillas we finished the journey on another chiken bus. The hike started by following a slightly steep cobbled road before turning to a dust track and then it progressed to a dusty singletrack hike, getting fairly steep as the altitude increased. The guides ensured we had regular breaks and a few of the others were reaching their highest altitude with every step so huffing and puffing was par for the course. After three or four hours, and three or fours breaks we reached base camp and setup the tents. Most people had to share four to a tent, I managed to snag a three person share and unlike the others I had an inflatable camping pad so would enjoy a comfortable nights sleep.
This is the second 13500ft + climb for me, and I am shocked and dismayed at how humans can trash an area with their excrement and toilet paper and have a general disregard for the natural environment that they supposedly enjoy and cherish. Mt Whitney was smelly and covered in toilet paper, Tajumulco is also covered in TP and most trees have lost branches so humans can have pointless fires……please be respectful when hiking, leave no trace, enjoy the scenery and leave it for others to enjoy! Rant over 🙂
After a late lunch we proceeded to the top of the peak next to Tajumulco for the sunset, although the cloud covered the view and the wind whipped up the dust the views were great , it was hard to peel myself away to walk back down the loose rock, dusty trail. At base camp we setup for dinner, the guides had carried pasta for most people but were great in meeting my dietary needs and provided a tasty rice/veggie dish washed down with hot chocolate. Most people were in bed by 8:30/9 as we had an early 4am wake up for sunrise at the top of Tajumulco!
I had a great sleep on my inflatable mat with -9c sleeping bag, the temperatures didn’t drop that low but it was pretty cold. Getting up at 4am I took a day pack with the sleeping bag and camera to the summit, the sleeping bag was well worth the carry as sitting around at 5am at 14,500ft is pretty chilly. It was a fairly busy morning with people everywhere but we were lucky enough to get some good views of Volcan Fuego with the sun rising, it was definitely worth the early start. After the sunrise and breakfast at base camp we took a slightly different route back to the village and managed to get a good view of Volcan Santaguito letting off some steam, it was accompanied by some tremors although we could not feel anything due to the distance, the shots below were taken with a tele-photo lens.
The two day hike was finished off with some great food at a local family owned restaurant before riding the chiken buses back to Xela, watching the backpacks being thrown from one bus to the other is a little disconcerting but everything and everyone survived the trek, now a days rest before the 3 day Xela to Lake Atitlan hike!