​”You’re not a Mountaineer, Bianca” – How I survived Hiking Acatenango in Guatemala

GUEST POST by Bianca Mcgilchrist: Bianca is a friend of ours from when we lived in Darwin, Australia (before we ventured on this trip.) She set off on her solo trip a few months before us and has inspired us to visit many different places and take on many adventures. We were fortunate enough to get to party with Bianca while in Rio for Carnival! When there, she told of us her amazing time hiking Acatenango and we asked her to write a blog post for us. Here it is:

“There are only two things I want you to do for me in Guatemala Bianca, you have to go to the bakery and get the best warm chocolate croissant you will ever taste in your life and hike Acatenango.” 

This was a request from a lovely travel buddy of mine Stevie, doesn’t seem much of an ask I’d say? Okay ill do it! But first the crossiant…

The best chocolate crossiant

At this stage of my trip I had been travelling alone for 6 months starting in South America and working my way up through Central America, so a friend telling me to do another hike seemed fair enough – my only concern was my fitness.

The day I arrived in Antigua I set out to find a good company to book my hike with (as we all know as travellers this can take a while.) One company offers a good price, the other offers better equipment and another has better food – I finally found one that offered all three! It was obviously more pricey than the other companies but it was also recommended by a friend, the name of the tour company is “New Destiny”.

So, now I was all ready and set to go on my hike in a couple days, but as I arrived back at my hostel a girl in the bunk below me asked if I had seen the news? She showed me her phone and due to awful weather conditions, poor clothing and an unorganized trip people had died hiking Acatenango! 

Well that was it for me, I immediately knew I wasn’t going to do the hike! It wasn’t something I had researched and was desperate to do anyways. It also wasn’t very convincing after I rang my parents and asked for their advice, and in the words of my dad “your not a mountaineer Bianca, move on and do something else.” He was right, I do love hiking but it’s not like I’m super fit so after cancelling the tour I sadly left Antigua with my crossiant and headed down to El Paredon driftwood surfer (highly recommended!) 

After spending some time down there, I met some fantastic people who decided to buckle-up and take on the hike as soon as they returned to Antigua. I was accompanying them back to Antigua but was in the mind set that “I’m not doing it, it’s not meant to be.” However, I still felt a bit gutted that my last plans didn’t work out.

After driving past the volcano on our way back to Antigua and all three of them nagging me to join, I decided we will flip a coin – heads I go and do the hike, and tails I move on! Of course it landed on heads (because they tricked me!) So that was it, I was going to do the hike! Now I was very nervous, I heard from a lot of people that it’s very tough elevation being 3,976 m (13,045 ft) so butterflies were present all day for me. 

Now one strong bit of advice, bring lots and lots of food with you! We brought sandwhiches, sweets, fruit, nuts, crisps, marshmallows are a must, and rum! You also have to bring 4 litres of water with you, this is to contribute to the hot drinks and fantastic 2min noodles they give you for dinner! It’s really bad actually that not a lot of companies tell you you need to bring food because what they provide is apaulling, two bread rolls with one slice of cheese inside, a pastry and pot noodle for dinner (you cannot survive on that for a hike like this!) Also bring lots of warm clothes, we had a few people on our tour group that had no clue so we ended feeding a few people and lending clothes.

Obviously very excited to be hiking carrying all my gear

We arrived at the starting point and I was so nervous thinking “am I going to make it up? Will I die up there? What if I want to turn around?” 

The first 10 minutes were absolute HELL! Walking on gravel and carrying our big backpacks with our tents, matress, sleeping bag, food, drinks – I just thought “what am I doing here? I was laying on a beach yesterday.”

Luckily for me the group I had and tour guides were absolutely fantastic! We all supported each other the whole way up, everyone had meltdowns at some stage, I just tried to stay focused, drink plenty of water and stop when I needed to stop. I wasn’t in any rush to make it to base camp, I wanted to get up there in my own time and that I did. 

Motivation to keep hiking

It took 5 hours of vertical climbing to make it to base camp. I actually can’t believe I made it up there! The scenery the whole way up was beautiful and that definitely helps keeps you going! At first it was very misty and rainy we couldn’t see much. Then, all of a sudden, the mist cleared and there she was, the volcano – probably one of the most amazing things my eyes have ever seen! It is not really something you think about normally, camping next to an active volcano (it was never on my bucket list anyway.)

 

View from base camp!
Our camp

Pictures will never describe the view we had that night. To our right there was a fire we had put together accompanied by the volcano erupting like crazy! Lava spewing out high into the air with a fantastic view of the city. The stars were brighter than I’d ever seen before and thousands of them! To top that off, the moon began to appear before our very eyes – life couldn’t get any better.

That night was such a great achievement for everyone, so we all sat around the fire laughing trading stories and watching the volcano go crazy for us! 
But it wasn’t over yet… 4am meant it was time to hike up the summit. A part of me wasn’t going to do it after the day and night I had, I felt pretty satisfied to watch the sunrise in my tent. But being a stubborn Taurus, that was not an option and I wasn’t going to stop until I made it to the top! 

So off we went, hiking up again. A girl in our group actually turned around after 10 minutes (and I totally don’t blame her.) It was so tough with the altitude and it was freezing cold, our legs were aching and not many of us slept that well. However, after about 1hr 45min I made it to the top! The last part was the hardest – complete gravel, two steps up then sliding one step down. At one point I was on all fours, but after what seemed like hours of hiking it was finally all worth it getting to watch the sunrise from the very top and sharing the moment with strangers who then become friends. I couldn’t have done this without my group so I just want to thank them so much for the support and teasing! 

Hiking…well, kind of
Some of my awesome group!
Sunrise from the summit

I chose to write about this because it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life! I still say I’m no hiker and I won’t ever climb Everest, but getting to the top is no better feeling. I highly recommend doing this hike, just remember to bring lots of warm clothes with you, plenty of food and fluids – but most of all a positive mental attitude and you will make it! Good luck! 

-Bianca Mcgilchrist

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