Thursday, April 10, 2008

Volcan Concepcion

I decided to climb the bigger of the two volcanoes here on Ometepe...Volcan Concepcion. VC measures 1610 meters or so and is apparently one of the most symmetrical volcanoes in the world. It is also active, having erupted just last year.

It is advised to go with a guide since people have gotten lost and died on the volcano in recent years. The first one I talked to said unequivocably that we would leave at 5 am to begin the ascent since that is what his other hiker wanted to do...the discussion abruptly terminated. Found Ivan a short time later and he was agreeable to a 6 am start and a $30 payment. Considering the difficulty of the hike and the fact that it took nearly 11 hours, $30 is working hard for your dollar. And yes, dollars are quite acceptable down here for most, but not all, transactions. As for Ivan...I quickly realized he wasn´t going to be much of a guide because he kept attempting to give me excuses not to make it up to the top...i.e. the volcano is active, a third of climbers don´t make it...1000 meters is a good achievement, etc. I really missed my MacchuPicchu guide, Miguel. He, you wanted to impress. And he wouldn´t have allowed excuses to not make it, although I didn´t need any outside motivation. Ivan's idea of telling me about the flora and fauna was to point out a flower and say...¨Look, how pretty!¨

Anyway, back to the hike. The starting off point, Altagracia, is only 40 meters or so above sea level, so we would be climbing up nearly 1600 meters...and back down of course. This would be the most altitude I´ve covered in one day.

The day was hot and the hike was steep...a fight against gravity nearly every step of the way, both up and down. From about the 500m asl point upwards it was like climbing a staircase...only steeper by about 10 degrees. Blessedly, the volcano was covered in clouds from about 800 meters upward...making the hike much cooler and more pleasant with the ever-increasing wind. The clouds did, however, necessitate an hour-long wait and rest period 15 minutes from the top while we hoped for the clouds to clear. During that time an English fellow going with the first guide I talked to the night before went past us on the way down...good thing they left at 5 to get to the top early and have it be covered by it often is until the mid-day suns burns the clouds away.

Left our rest stop around 11:30 and headed up for the last stretch...I immediately noted that the vegetation was starting to disappear and that my hands (the steepness by now had me crawling on all fours) were starting to feel some pretty hot not warmed by the sun as we were in the middle of the clouds. Didn´t take long to figure out the earth was being warmed from below.The air also began to smell like sulfur. So as I lay there scratching and clawing to get up the last few steps, to my eternal ignominy a Norwegian woman using hiking poles blew right past me to the top. Nice lady

We reached the summit around noon and had to wait 20 minutes for the good views. Just when you would think it was going to clear out a bit, the wind would blow more clouds up the mountainside to swamp you again. Clouds on one side blocking the view to the east and steam from the volcano blocking your view to the west. 20 uncomfortable minutes for me...keep in mind it´s a step beyond the summit puts you tumbling into the gas and steam-spewing crater. I didn´t really like being near that edge, but once the clouds cleared out I felt much better and was rewarded with the beautiful view...I had hoped to see both the Atlantic and Pacific from the top but couldn´t really make out the Atlantic. Nevertheless, enjoyed the feeling of being on top of a volcano, on an island in the middle of a lake, on an isthmus connecting two great continents, dividing two mighty oceans.

Coming down was long. We couldn´t really do it much faster than the ascent due to the angle and the rocks. We did get to see a family of howler monkeys and one of the guides was able to converse with them quite well.

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