Volcan Acatenango: Above the Clouds



Two seasons have passed since since my tour came to an explosive end from a parasite invading my body the day after these photos were taken. I’m currently in Maryland just outside of Baltimore spending time with my great Aunt and Uncle. Soon, I resume my travels on a bike. I’ll go into more details later after I catch up on the final month of my trip.


On April 21st, 2015 while staying in a hostel in Antigua, Guatemala, I had the opportunity to climb Volcan Acatanango. At 13,045ft (3976m), the volcano is the highest in Guatemala and the third highest in Central America. The experience was one of the greatest moments of my life; standing on the windswept peak of an active volcano watching the sun rise through a sea of clouds parted only by peaks of other volcanoes; the sun painting the sky with a vibrance only a skilled painter could capture. Even the pictures pail in comparison, though, they will forever serve as a wonderful reminder of this epic day.


My climbing partners were Rio — a fellow bike tourer I met at Lago Atitlan and with whom I climbed the lakes namesake, Volcan Atiltan — and three other travelers we met at the small, unknown hostel. That’s Rio’s pack in the photo above.


My pack is the one with all the stuff strapped on. All of our rigs were pretty ghetto adding to the adventure and the appeal. As someone who obsessively researches gear and the perfect setup, I love the freedom arising from necessity when you just have to make do with what you have.


A chicken bus delivered us to a small town where Rio, who speaks fluent Spanish, arranged for a van to take us to the base of the volcano. I lost my phone on the bus. Major bummer as its primary function was navigation. It was my GPS and my maps. That’s rio talking to the driver.


The first half of the climb winds through corn fields. Most people hire a guide. It’s safer as they carry shotguns and know the way, but it takes away from the adventure. So, we guided ourselves. We got lost. Not often and never for long. Farmers were a huge help.



Much of the upper slopes seem to have burned recently. Unnerving considering the neighboring peak is active…

The black and white photo is of a man who joined our group. He was drunk or high on something, at least for a while. The cold, windy upper slopes sobered him up and he turned and walked off the volcano.


Volcan de Agua in the background. Antigua sits close to its base.


Like walking on the surface of another planet.



From the top of Volcan Acatenango, you can see into the active Volcan de Fuego where lava is often visible. Unfortunately, fog thwarted our efforts.


Camp on the edge of a blast crater. It was windy. So windy my tents stuff sack blew clear off the volcano. Oh well. Not the best day for my belongings.

Not to be denied the sunset, Gabriel and I climbed the lower peak of the volcano. We set off from camp at a run like children at the sound of the final bell at school. We were exhausted from the strenuous climb but revived by the beauty of the landscape like no other we had seen before.


Can you feel the wind?



Wearing shorts and eating peanut butter.


Gabriel releases his excitement with a roar.


Volcan de Agua peaking through the clouds.


Captivated by the beauty of the sunset.


Not the best picture but provides a glimpse into the world high above the clouds.


Pre-dawn preparing to summit. Limited by space and the need to travel light, I did not carry a sleeping mat. As a result, I did not sleep well at all. I was cold since I lacked insulation from the ground and the rocky surface dug into my back. Also, my phone was my alarm clock and it disappeared on that bus so I worried about sleeping past sunrise.


The smaller peak where Gabriel and I watched the sunset.


Almost there!!!


Like floating on a cloud. I will be climbing more mountains.


WhaaHooooo!!!! We made it!!!


Vulan de Fuego puffing black smoke. See what I mean when I said the burnt ground was a little disconcerting?


No words for this one except to say thats Volcan de Agua sticking peeking through the clouds.


Ready to fly away.


A guide with his shotgun.


The descent to camp.


Rio and Gabriel paying respects to the volcano and saying a final farewell. We ascended the trail in the right of the photo. We descended to the left. What I love most about the photo is our gear. We made do with what we had anyway we could.


On clear days, you can see all the way to the Ocean.


Into the clouds.


Rio playing his guitar on the way down.



Surfing the loose, rocky surface. Boots and gators would have been nice to the keep the rocks from my shoes and socks. Eventually, I gave up and stopped emptying my shoes.



Back through the cornfields, we walk to the road to wait for a shuttle concluding one of the greatest moments of my life. I wake up the next day with that familiar third-world rumbling in my stomach. Unfortunately, this time it doesn’t go away. Not for two months.


3 thoughts on “Volcan Acatenango: Above the Clouds

  1. When are you getting back to Guatemala? We’re in Oaxaca right now and heading south. Maybe we’ll cross paths.

      • Cool, we’ll see how much time we take climbing volcanoes and other assorted such stuff.

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