Pushing the Limits

As we neared the campsite, it took every last bit of energy in my body to keep moving. I had lost feeling in my fingers over an hour ago, and the rain had been coming down since we stopped to eat lunch. It was now mid afternoon. Finding a way out of the elements seemed impossible.

In the back of my mind, I was questioning why in the world I was climbing up Volcan Acatenango. At just over 13,000 feet, it posed a formidable challenge in great weather conditions, but with the constant rain, freezing weather, and high winds, this challenge was pushing my own limits.

On my back, I was carrying 60 pounds of gear that was necessary for the trip. The contents included a few liters of water, a tent for 4 people, supper for the entire group, sleeping bag, fleece jacket, and other warm clothes for the evening. A few personal snacks and other essential items finished off the pack.

As the group continued to push forward, we came to the spot where we would pitch our tents for the night. Successfully setting up the tents in the pouring rain was going to be a challenge. Somehow we had to get the equipment out of our drenched backpacks while keeping the interior of the tents dry. That was not an easy task.

Luckily we had numbers on our side. Our group consisted of seven people, a guide, and two fully armed policemen who were necessary to protect us from the bandits that often rob tourists on the volcano. Each person had a task to do in order to set up camp as quickly as possible.

My hands were an unhealthy shade of blue and completely frozen. No matter how hard I tried, helping set up the tent was impossible. To try to make myself useful, I started gathering the items that needed to be thrown inside the tents as soon as they were up, as well as separating the food items so they would be easy to find when we began to cook later in the day.

I slipped inside our tent just after 2:30 in the afternoon. Other than two short five-minute breaks which we used to rush outside for quick bathroom breaks, it did not stop raining until we were mid way down the mountain the next day. In total, it rained for about nineteen hours straight. Out of that time, we were in a four person tent for seventeen hours. Needless to say, I got to know the other three people in my tent very well. One girl was from Germany, another girl from Japan, and lastly a guy from Los Angeles who recently accepted a job with Google. It was a unique mixture.

When we woke up around 4 am the next morning, we all knew that reaching the summit was not going to be an option. Overnight the weather had turned from bad to worse. Winds were gusting over forty miles per hour, our water bottles had frozen, and the rain had turned to a freezing sleet that reduced visibility to around ten feet. Yes, it was a disappointment to not be able to reach the peak, but this experience was unforgettable.

As we got to the van that was waiting to take us back to Antigua after climbing down the volcano, I took off the shoes I had borrowed for the trip only to realize that my feet were covered in multiple blisters. Walking will be painful for the next few days while these heal, but the experience was worth every second of the bad weather, harsh conditions, and pain that I will be putting up with for days to come.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BfNK0pcXe4']

Bryan Clifton

Oklahoma City, OK