Archive for March, 2011
“It’s not that bad” said the hostel worker when I inquired about the hike to the top of the highest point in Panama, Volcán Barú. The hike began at midnight, with a 14km (almost 9 mi) and 6 hour hike to the 3,474m (11,398 ft) high summit, promising beautiful views at sunrise. Maybe it’s because I have no real sense of how long a kilometer is, or maybe I was just (overly) confident in my physical condition, but that paired with the hostel worker’s exorbitant underestimation of this hike gave me enough to get myself up from a nap at 11:30pm to join my 5 other hostel-mates brave (or crazy?) enough to embark on the expedition. With my 2 liters and 2 granola bars, I climbed in the back of a pick-up truck and we were on our way.
The night was stunningly beautiful. The quaint mountain town of Boquete is nestled in a valley with virtually zero light pollution, leaving us gazing at a speckled sky despite the brightness of a near full moon. The moon lit the trail and cast awesome shadows– my borrowed headlamp never left my bag.
The 6 of us began rather chipper, introducing ourselves and commenting on the beautifully crisp night and we began our ascent. I broke out the camera to start my photo/video documentary of the climb.
It wasn’t more than a few steps on the first incline before I realized I was getting short of breath. What?? I thought, this is way harder than I thought. Shaking it off, I continued ahead, the 6 of us keeping pace and chatting. Our motley crew, including a 61 year old climber, a French-Canadian traveler, a German/British couple, a 27 year old skater, and me, bonded pretty fast as we became increasingly aware of the feat ahead. We moved decently fast and with my heart pumping, I kept up, hiking up steep inclines, and pausing (all too briefly) once in a while with the group. Not wanting to seem like a wimp, I kept my comments about the challenge of the hike to myself, but recorded a memo to myself for my documentary:
Shortly after this clip about 8 kilometers in, thankfully the group consensus was to sit and rest a bit. As we all slumped down on rocks and brought out food (granola bars never tasted so good) I finally broke my tough visage and verbalized my utter exhaustion. To my relief, I was not alone. Many of my compatriots were also feeling the fatigue and were equally apprehensive about the hours and kilometers that loomed ahead under the 2:30am moon. At least I wasn’t alone…
After our break, the 6 of us began to stratify with none other than yours truly holding up the rear. I had pushed the first 8 kilometers, but my body overpowered my will to be the tough girl and I took a slower pace. I mustered the energy to keep going, keeping an eye out for sign posts that gave me validation of progress and fear of the remaining kilometers, while contemplating the hilarity of what I had gotten myself into.
These signs punctuated our trek, but the kilometers didn’t pass any faster:
And it only got worse…
…to the point that I resorted to a self-photo of a few minutes when there was no other option than to simply sprawl out on the trail and rest a bit.
Thankfully, I reunited with one of my fellow hikers who was also fighting fatigue. I was grateful for someone to commiserate with and dream about the first delicious meal we would eat when we were back in Boquete. We fought desperately to stay positive and optimistic despite the steep inclines and aching legs… “We WILL make it”, we declared, whenever our motivation started to wane (which was about every 30 seconds). We knew the volcano might take a piece of our souls and thousands of our calories, but we WOULD see its peak.
At 5 hours and 15 minutes of hiking, we approached the final ascent:
Even with the end in sight I still doubted my reaching the end. It was so close yet so far…and then… I got to the radio towers:
FALSE ALARM. As the sky lightened a little with the coming sunrise, and we caught up with the seasoned mountain climber (the other three from the original crew were MIA), I was informed that we had one more rock face to scale to really be at the ACTUAL highest point. Cue huge wave of dread, wind out of my sails.. I still wasn’t done. Our new climbing trio slowly but surely reached the top:
I did in fact find some energy to dance a bit and joined my buddies in exalting in our feat.
The mountain climber was a lifesaver, offering me an extra blanket and some extra food (turned out 2 granola bars was ridiculously inadequate) and I sat down to take in the beautiful sights as the sun rose above the clouds. I have never done anything so physically challenging in my entire life, but it was totally worth it!
For reference, here’s Volcan Baru‘s wikipedia page.