Cilmbed a Volcano

We climbed an active volcano this weekend called Pacaya, summit elevation 2,552 m (8367 ft). For reference, Guatemala City and Pacaya base camp are both at about 5000 ft. If you come down to visit and are in decent shape, this is a must-do. The most recent major eruption occured in early 2000, a violent explosion with a tephra-bearing plume reaching 8-km altitude. Three lava flows continuined through March 2000. The climb is safe because the activity is relatively predictable and infrequent. Pacaya is only 18 miles south of Guatemala City. The approach hike takes about 80 minutes with several vistas. Pacaya6.jpg Right before the main cone, there's a basin where people have moved large volcanic rocks to spell words. You can see a few people in the basin here rearranging letters; not exactly an accepted ecotourism practice. Pacaya5.jpg When you emerge into the clearing and see the main debris-avalanche cone for the first time, it seems like a near impossible hike. The camera doesn't really capture it, but the ascent is actually about 40 degrees (pretty steep for inexperienced hikers). The cone is made of loose skeet, and footing is very difficult. It really is 3 steps forward, slide 1 step back, and takes about 40 minutes. Pacaya.jpg At the top there is a large crater, about 300 feet across. This is us on the rim. Pacaya2.jpg Imagine panning slightly more right, and you can see one of the two main visible vents, this one in the wall of the crater. Both vents are very audibly "breathing" smoke, and the lava creates the red glow in the sulpheric fog. Pacaya3.jpg Pan further right, looking at the center of the crater, and you see the other vent - a smaller cone within the crater. We spent about 30 minutes up top and actually did see one red-hot rock be expelled from the cone, as well as some ash. Not pictured, there are small ground vents surrounding the crater every 20 feet or so. They are a few inches wide and expell little puffs of warm gas that you can feel with your hand. The ground itself is warm. Pacaya4.jpg We took a video of the inner cone breathing, as well as the best part: sliding down the loose skeet - it feels like walking on the moon, really fun. Link: Pacaya.wmv, 18 sec, 280 KB