A huge plume of smoke rises up above the skyline of Antigua’s buildings in the distance near Fuego Volcano. On any normal day this would be hardly worth mentioning, except that the cloud is quite large, signaling a bigger eruption than normal, and that tomorrow nearly 20 people are supposed to summit this volcano with Hike for Water.
Alarms went off at 4:15 a.m., on the bus by 5:00 a.m., and hiking by 6:45 a.m. We climb out of the bus and start up the steep slope through the cornfields. There’s no easing into this hike. No flat, no rolling, no switchbacks, just straight up. You mentally prepare for a few hours of this, but as the day wares on, you forget what flat feels like. Three hours in, you’ve finally made it past the first continuous climb upward, then there’s some up-and-down trail time as you round Acatenango, which brings you to the base of the last ascent to the ridge just under the peak of Fuego. Seven hours after starting, we stand on razor ridge (named for the way it falls away on either side), just a few hundred yards from the billowing Fuego. While we watch this infamous volcano, noting the lava dents and rivulets in its surface, there is one small eruption, but nothing like the activity from the night before. The extreme wind funneling through the valley between Fuego and Acatenango makes it hard to stand up, or maybe because we’re standing on a sliver of ground with nothing but drop-offs on either side that makes standing seem like a bad idea. A few triumphant photos and we have to start making our descent, hoping to finish the hike in daylight.
Steep goes both ways, said our bruised toes on the five-hour descent. You think down will be a relief, and it is, but only for the first couple of hours. Then shaky quads start making sloppy steps. It’s easier to run if you can and let your toes take the beating. Through the cornfields and back to the base with just a hint of sunlight left, twelve hours start to finish.
This is Hike for Water. This is an awesome one-day feat for anyone. Only on the bus ride home, raising plastic cups of boxed wine to cheers, did the day come into focus completely. Our director stood up to say “Thank you for this day you gave up, for the grueling climb you made, and most of all for the consolidation you showed Guatemalans who hike these steep paths everyday with five gallons of water on their head. Thanks to you, nearly 2,000 families will get a filter from this campaign, and it’s not over!” Spirit, pride, and compassion for rural Guatemala filled the space between whoops and hollers from wiped-out hikers. Most of it was dizzy exhaustion, but the energy in that bus could feed the poor, vaccinate the children, and bring clean water to every corner of the world.
You don’t want to miss this chance to hike together, to show support for people who don’t have all the amenities that they should have. When you have a chance to see for yourself what it feels like to step in the shoes of others less fortunate, take it. See you in Seattle for Mt. Si on September seventh!!!