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  • Writer's pictureSpiced Cranachan

Acetango

View of Fuego as it erupts, from basecamp

Acatenango. The hardest hike I have ever completed.


This is my honest review of the physically toughest 2 days of my life. I'm not sure if I look back too fondly at the experience, but I am definitely glad I completed it.


I tend to have a 5 point scale for hiking:


1 = Easy walk, mainly flat

2 = A decent walk, hiking shoes required

3 = Tough but still very enjoyable

4 = Challenging, but doable

5 = Cannot complete


For me, Acatenango is somewhere between 4 and 5. I did complete it, but only just.

THE HIKE


The start of the hike is steeply uphill, roughly a 45 minute climb over dry rubble. Pace yourself, breathe calmly and keep drinking small amounts of water. Before long you will reach the first stop, a restaurant with toilets and cold drinks. Handy tip: take your own toilet roll. You can thank me later.


The next stage is usually very busy and you'll pass other hikers who submitted the previous day. Be careful - the path is marked with barbed wire and a few people tore their clothing on it while passing the other groups. Most of this section is still very steep, but with steps now. Work those glutes!


This goes on for a while before you hit a more mixed terrain: the trees start to change and you go between flatter ground and VERY steep ground. Take all the breaks you need - it isn't a race! I felt so embarrassed as I watched other hikers pass me, but remember the point of hiking isn't to see who finishes first.


The final part of the hike starts just as you summit the steepest hill; the road becomes much more enjoyable and varied. You also have some fantastic views of Agua and you get your first proper sight of Fuego. After between half an hour to an hour, depending on your speed, you'll reach basecamp.

THE ALTITUDE


Now, Acatenango is a tough hike for a lot of reasons. It is indeed a steep climb, but if you did the exact same hike at sea level, it would not be nearly as challenging. Remember: you are going from 1,500 metres above sea level to almost 4,000metres in roughly 5 hours.


I spend most of my life between 0 and 400 metres above sea level. I also hike most weekends, often doing 20km distances and 1000metre heights.


I struggled with Acatenango. I felt full of energy at rest, but couldn't access thar energy when I started walking. I was breathless and walking very slowly, and my head began to ache as we got higher and higher. At basecamp, I felt nauseous and my skin was crawling with a pins-and-needles sensation. I couldn't face the hike to the crater the following morning and stayed at basecamp with a few others.


HOWEVER, most of our group did not feel like this. Our guides had warned us, everyone reacts to altitude differently. Some feel the effects very harshly while others feel nothing at all. I just so happened to be one of the unfortunate people who react poorly.

THE VIEW


I won't lie, the views are fantastic.


For the majority of the way up your view will either be rubble, trees or the backside of whoever is in front of you. But once you get to basecamp, you are rewarded with an incredible sight to behold.


By this point, you will be well above the cloud level. Depending on how clear it is, you may be able to see the towns and cities far below and certainly at night you can see their lights glitter in the darkness. The clouds look almost like candy floss and blanket most of the lower land.


The first few times Fuego erupts you'll awestruck - certainly, the first time I saw it I was struck dumb, least of all by the intimidating roar the mountain belched out with the smoke and rocks. Then you'll be scrambling for a camera and running to get the best view.


My favourite part of the entire hike was sitting by the fire and watching the smoke against the sunset, hot chocolate in hand.

MY TIPS


Take Paracetamol and altitude sickness pills. The Paracetamol will help if you feel headaches and reduce the pain. The altitude pills are best taken before you climb so they can kick in when you need them most!


Book a good guide company! We chose VHiking and I highly recommend them. The guides are well trained and very caring - although we ended up 20 minutes behind the main group, one guide stayed with us the entire journey. You stay in basic cabins which are a life saver against the wind, and you never feel pressured to do anything you are unsure of. We also got hot chocolate, smores and sangria at the top!


TAKE WARM CLOTHING. Seriously, I've never been that cold and I had so many layers on I looked like a walking mattress. The guides usually light a fire which helps a little, but you'll need all the heat you can get once the sun disappears.


Don't feel like you need to go to the crater. I avoided it and ended up with better photos of the sunrise from basecamp. It was also far less crowded, as the crater can host up to 500 people at sunrise!


Don't expect to see lava. This is amazing if you are lucky enough to see it but it doesn't always happen. The smoke is still beautiful and you will definitely hear the eruptions throughout the night.


Take hiking shoes. Many websites suggest trainers are fine and we met several hikers wearing them, but they struggled a lot, especially when going downhill due to the scree. Expect to get a dusty backside either way, but hiking boots greatly limit your chances!


Take toilet roll!! I'm so glad we did this - there are toilets at multiple checkpoints but they didn't have paper for the most part.


I love to snack when I'm hiking and I found it really helpful to take some trail mix. You can buy some snacks at a few stops but they weren't too cheap. Guides will also typically only provide lunch, dinner and breakfast so bring more food if you want to!


GALLERY


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