Monday, July 25, 2005


That’s right, we climbed another volcano. We’re on a roll here!

This one, Santa María, is one of the highest peaks in Guatemala, at 3770 meters (a little over 12,000 feet), and also one of the most spectacular. It also happens to be quite conveniently located just a few miles outside our home city of Xela.

The dominant local volcano - Volcán Santa María - which towers over our home in Xela

Unlike Pacaya, which we hiked only a week-and-a-half earlier, Santa María is decidedly inactive; it last erupted just over a hundred years ago. So the goal here was not to see lava, but rather to scale a challenging peak and check out the view from the top.

Unfortunately, we only accomplished one of our two goals. Thanks to the continuing rainy season, Santa María is frequently shrouded in clouds throughout most of the day, and this turned out to be one of those days. When we got to the top, we couldn’t see anything except the inside of the cloud (which is quite cold at 12,000+ feet, not to mention wet). Rob was decidedly displeased at this turn of events; sure, “the journey is the prize”, but the view from the top is supposed to be incredible. However, considering that we had a car full of 10 people (and 2 dogs), there was really no backing out.

For the climb up Santa María, we fit 10 people and 2 dogs in our car! (our guide Jaiser, Julie, Aly, and Mike are visible, along with Lola and Kina)

Our crew on top of Volcán Santa María (B-R-R-R-R)

Elisa and Tim on top of Volcán Santa María

Coming back down through the cloud-forest on Santa María

Compared to other hikes we’ve done, this one is seriously gnarly – especially in rainy season. The extremely steep trail goes straight up, not wasting any time with switchbacks. Plus, the climb is hampered by all kinds of rocks to scramble over and mud to slip in. Coming down through the rocks and mud is just as difficult, possibly more so. Overall, the round trip took our group of ten people just over 8 hours to complete. At the end, all of us were achy and exhausted. (even the dogs!) Nevertheless, Rob is considering doing the hike again during the dry season, to experience the peak at its most inspiring. Carley looks forward to seeing his pictures.

A great shot (thanks to an unknown photographer) of Santa María and it's offspring, Santiaguito (left). Santa María lasted erupted in 1902, in gigantic fashion and with catastrophic results. It was reportedly one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, and more than 5000 people were said to be killed by the explosion. Today, almost ¾ of the Santa María's steep slopes are covered with large trees. The giant crater of Santa María (over a mile wide) is on the southwest flank (left), rather in the center of the cone. Emerging from Santa María's huge crater is a new, smaller volcano called Santiaguito, which has been erupting continuously since 1922.

Since we couldn’t take any decent photos, here are some great shots that we found on someone else’s blog. (thanks to Matt and Sang, whoever you are!)

This is the view we wanted! The epic view from the top of Santa María

The view of the nearby town of Zunil, from the top of Santa María

The view of Volcán Santiaguito erupting nearby, as seen from the top of Volcán Santa María

On to the beach at Monterrico