jueves, 19 de enero de 2012

January 14: First Hike with Quetzaltrekkers- El Hoyo

I finally commenced my real Quetzaltrekkers experience on Ian’s birthday with my first hiking trip, “El Hoyo”! It was an amazing experience and I already can’t wait to go again.

The El Hoyo two day trip includes being on four volcanoes, summiting three, and seeing the entire Maribios Chain. The volcanoes we hike form a perfectly straight line because they were formed by a subducting tectonic plate.  The Cocos and the Caribbean plates form a converging plate boundary that runs from Southern Mexico to Southern Costa Rica. As I write, the Cocos plate is subducting under the Carribean plate, and it’s actually moving quite fast geologically speaking- almost 90 mm. each year.

The plate boundary (volcanic arc) is separated into segments, and the segment close to Leon is called the Maribios cordillera. The section begins with Cosiguina in the Northwest corner of Nicaragua, and ends with Momotomo, which pokes into Lake Managua. It includes Cosiguina, San Cristobal, Telica, Cerro Negro, Las Pilas, El Hoyo, Momotombo and Momotomblito. Quetzaltrekkers offers hikes up all of these, but the two most popular and frequent are El Hoyo and Telica. Most of the volcanoes statovolcanoes;  they erupt in explosions  of pyrocastic debris either  from a central vent, or on the side of the slope, or even next to it. I suppose the explosion occurs on the weakest spot of the volcano. Most of the volcanoes we’ve seen have had several craters from different eruptions, as well as fumaroles where steam billows out of a small hole.

The volcanoes are Quaternary, or younger than 2 million years old, so we have some infantile volcanoes. Cerro Negro is the second youngest volcano in the Americas; the youngest is in Mexico. Cerro Negro was “born” in the mid 1800’s. Too young for vegetation to grow on its flanks, it is literally a huge pile of black gravel. The last eruption was in 1999, and since it erupts more or less every 8 years, it is due any day now.

Cerro Negro is the first hurdle of the El Hoyo trip. We departed at around 7:30 on Thursday morning after a breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast around the Quetzaltrekkers dining room table, and had an hour long van ride to the ranger station during which I could barely contain my excitement and squirmed a lot. At the ranger station we dropped off our backpacks and jumped back into the van along with the volcano boards to get to the base of Cerro Negro.

Our clients eating breakfast (that we made them... I attempted to make the toast and even failed at that; I had put the toaster oven on broil)

Langdon and Raf, other guides, eating breakfast.

On the bus to the mountain!

Scaling Cerro Negro is a moderate hike up through a moonscape of hot black basalt and fumaroles that spew thick, sulfurous steam. It’s unreal; it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. There are several craters on the volcano, and we visited each of them; monstrous, perfectly round abysses steaming menacingly and made of multicolored rock: yellow, red and white from sulfur, iron and calcium deposits respectively.

Everyone with our volcano boards, about to hike up that big black pile in the distance.

The 1995 crater.

Here are fumerols, and GODZILLA.


 Me behind the fumerol.

 This ridge was VERY windy. I literally was almost blown off while carrying my board, and had to hand it off to a big man.

You can see two big craters in this pic.

Here the Maribios chain extends North, and you can see Telica and Cosiguina in the distance.

The 1995 crater.

The way down Cerro Negro is via volcano board. Unfortunately I was terrible at volcano boarding. I fell about every 2 feet because my board kept filling up with gravel or veering off to the side. Everyone kept telling me that I need to practice more, which made me mad because I want to blame it on having a heavier, homemade board with a scratched Formica plate (the surface that makes the board go fast). On the upside, I got to wear an insane neon yellow space alien suit and round aviator style goggles!

Sliding down. The biking speed record was set on this exact slope by Eric Barone. In the process his bike exploded and he broke pretty much all his bones. Check it out on youtube.

Two of our clients in these really cute suits.

We took the van back to the ranger station to eat a snack and prepare for the real deal. The first part of the El Hoyo hike is actually up Las Pilas volcano- they are part of the same complex. The first half hour is very steep, but then the terrain levels out a bit as we traverse across Las Pilas, visit the San Fransisco crater, collect firewood, and finally arrive at the campsite close to the peak of El Hoyo around 4 :30. Since I’m definitely still a rookie, I stayed in the back with the med kit and “shit kit”.

Janet, our trusty lead guide, looking like a rockstar. At the ranger station.

Halfway up Las Pilas; now you can see Cerro Negro in front of Telica and Cosiguina.



Janet and Aymie, the other 2 guides.

The San Fransisco Crater.

The campsite is unbelievably beautiful- It’s possibly the most beautiful place I have ever been. In the field it’s like you’re sitting in the palm of the cupped hand of God. El Hoyo’s highest point is your back rest, and halfway up, a gigantic HOLE is punched out of the slope. It’s  a strange sight; it looks completely unreal. It’s not the crater though. The crater is on the other side of the hill. The almost ludicrous pit is apparently a sinkhole- this information made me think twice about getting too close to the edge as we stood and tossed rocks into its depths.

Our tents and the sinkhole.

Looking down at our tents and Asososca beyond.

In front of our tents, it seems as if the whole vastness of Nicaragua sweeps across in a breathtaking panorama. To your left Volcan Momotobo rises like a lochness monster out of Lago de Managua, with Momotomblito, its cute little brother, right next to it. Asososca sits in the distance on your right hand side. Beside it is Laguna de Asososca, a shimmering crater lake surrounded by the jungle like foliage that blankets Asososca.

You can see Momotombo on the left and Lago de Managua.

Asososca and Laguna de Asososca.

The city of Managua sprawls between Lago de Managua and Asososca. After the sun has set the city is a bed of lights. As a backdrop for it all, you can see a little glimmer of the Pacific ocean before its soft blueness melds with the sky.

It really is incredible. We set up our tents in a hurry in order to catch the sunset (they are a fleet of really nice bright orange Marmot Limelights donated brand new by a wealthy volunteer some years ago) and then hiked up the mound to see first the sinkhole, then across to the crater where you have an unobstructed view of the West.

The sinkhole!

The crater seems to have collapsed in tiers ad looks like a gigantic overgrown amphitheater. Leading down into it is a grass covered gully carved out by some sort of debris flow with thin green walls rising on either side. It looks like a path in a natural maze. The sun was sinking fast, so we ran up a ridge and watched the sunset in silence with a humbled awe. The light cast dramatic shadows on the volcanoes below. You really feel like you are on the top of the world, witnessing the earth rolling its way up and away from the sun, moving so fast it is suddenly so clear how fast the world is turning. 


Sun begins to set.

The Maribios chain extending into la distancia.

We climbed the ridge to watch the sunset.

Smokin Momotombo.

Janet walking towards me.


Crazy looking half rainbow, and rain. 

We scrambled our way down before it got too dark and cooked dinner by headlamplight- pasta with a homemade sauce including leftover veggies and cream cheese from lunch. It was delicious. We were a good group and really bonded a bit. I hear that it often happens that clients are out of shape, but we always moved at a quick clip. After dinner, we had s’mores, I crammed a couple fistfuls of plain leftover noodles into my maw (you get so hungry after hiking!), put out the fire, and went to bed around 8. Everyone did. We were dang tired. The almost-full moon lit up our campsite pretty bright but you could still see a mass of bright stars. I fell asleep instantly.

 Our group around the fire.

The fire, and you can see Momotombo in the background.

The next morning we woke everyone up for the sunrise. It was cloudy at first, but then suddenly the red hot coal of sun burst forth from behind Volcan Momotombo and burned its way upward in fiery splendor; the thick dark smoke that constantly spews from Momotombo fit in perfectly. Everyone got started on coffee and oatmeal while I challenged myself with packing the tent as quickly and efficiently as I could. We left around 7:30 just as it was getting warm enough to take off fleeces.

People crawling out of tents to catch the sunrise, wrapped in their sleeping bags. 

Clients finding a good perch to watch. 



Yes, we only had to peek sleepily out of tent flaps to witness this!

 Coming in to catch some coffee.

The descent was at first very steep, which was challenging and required a lot of concentration if you didn’t want to fall or twist an ankle. We hiked about 4 hours through a combination of forests and fields with volcanoes rising bigger and taller about us with each step downward. We skirted around Volcan Asososca until noon, when we arrived at Laguna de Asososca for a much needed swim. For the hour or so before you actually arrive at the lagoon, it is completely visible below you and glints, winks and teases you as you sweat and sweat. 

The lake felt incredible. It is surrounded by jungly forest, and I swam out pretty far and then around the periphery to check out the flora and fauna. There are long, twisting jungle like tree branches dangling into the water. I swam to one and climbed up from the water and into the tree, which was really awesome. Then I climbed back down and did it again and again.

The lake. It was a cloudy day, but still warm enough to crave a dip. 

 Our campsite from the lakeshore! We went all that way before lunch. Pretty cool.


 Cows coming to take a sip.

 Caught sleeping! This is Janet getting me back for taking so many pictures of her.

 A client getting ready to get back on the trail. Not so easy after a swim, lunch and a nap.

Lunch was tortillas with beans and veggies and crumbled Doritos- surprisingly delicious. After the lake, there is a bout an hour more of walking, during which we pass an angry farmer who charges hikers for passing through “his land” which he has apparently been “keeping clean” for people passing through. He charged $2 per person, which is a healthy amount for Nicaraguan standards. He must be a very rich man. 

Waiting for the bus back to Leon, we had a soda at a roadside pulperia and marveled at a wild looking anteater chained to a post and climbing all over the place. I slept during most of the bus ride back to Leon. I was so pooped. When we got back I had to do the dishes and unpack and I just wanted to collapse. Our El Hoyo, new friends, decided to meet up at Via Via that night for the live music. It turned out to be salsa! I got dancing fever and tried to convince anyone at our table to dance with me. The awkward European blokes burnt out after a song or less, so I ended up dancing with a crazy tiny Nicaraguan with long dreads, rainbow PJ pants, and feather earrings who danced a mean hopping dance like an insane gay hippy elf. But you know, he could really lead a girl in Salsa. It was a fun night and I am already running into a lot of people I know from Leon!

Tomorrow, Annika, Aymie and I are doing a 1-day hike of Telica (usually a 2-day hike) for fun! (“training”).

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