miércoles, 1 de febrero de 2012

Momotombo Adventure!

When you work for free as a volcano guide, it better be because you love to hike volcanoes. Last Monday, us guides saw our dream come true on the weekly schedule: a one day Guides-Only hike up Momotombo, and everyone was invited. No clients! No stress! Friends!

It was a truly amazing day. Momotombo is in Janet’s words “the Perfect Volcano”- a picturesque symmetrical cone complete with the quintessential plume of dark gray smoke trailing in a swirling puff 24 hours a day. All the more photo-worthy is Momotombo’s location with its toe poking into the gossamer waters of Lake Managua, and Momotombito just a short boatride away like an afterthought to its neighboring giant. From the campsite at El Hoyo, you see the sun rise out from behind Momotombo’s deep blue silhouette—This sight itself is enough to instill a craving for climbing the mountain.

Trips up Momotombo with clients are infrequent because of the climb’s difficulty. It’s not too physically difficult; it’s the psychological aspect that deters much of our clientele. The majority of the ascent is a steep uphill climb of very loose and sketchy black gravel, much like Cerro Negro’s Northwestern flank that we board down. The first two thirds are similar to climbing a sand dune- reminiscent of my adventures on the Kelso dunes with the Johnstons- but then the last push to the summit is pretty scary. The slope is steep enough to require hands but most of the rock that appears to be solid is easily dislodged, ruling out any possibilities of typical rock climbing, On my way up that section, I got excited about scrambling using my hands and wandered to the left where there was more solid rock I could grasp. I was having a lot of fun until our director warned me to stick to the right because I was too close to a big cliff. I didn’t see the cliff until the way down, and it was very impressive. Black, orange and white striations sweep across a vast amphitheater-like semicircle. It’s a gash right out of the side of the mountain, probably formed by collapsing rock.

Momotombo is devoid of vegetation, and therefore shade less and exposed to the sun the entire duration of the climb. In order to spend the maximum amount of time out of the mid day heat, we got up at 4:30 and left at 5:30 for the 80 minute van ride to our take off point. We made a group breakfast of eggs and toast in the predawn darkness and I packed my bag with the jittery excitement that comes with going on an exciting trip really early in the morning. During the car ride I was the only one who didn’t fall asleep, because I was really excited and had brought along a glass of ice coffee (I have been completely converted into an ice coffee drinker here. It makes so much more sense, especially since we only have instant coffee- no waiting on water to boil, no sweating over a hot drink when you could be drinking something refreshing with ice in it!)

In the van at 5:30

 Anyways, I spent the van ride watching the sun rise and the dirt road slide under our wheels out of the big back window, deep in thought and completely at peace with the world. We passed by almost only horse-and-buggies sharing the crude road with us and flocks of white birds burst forth from trees and across the rosy pastel sky. We arrived at the entrance of the protected area that surrounds Momotombo at around 7 and began hiking at around 7:30.

Getting the group together- that's Momotombo in the background.

The climb ahead.

The entire way up Momotombo, Lake Managua glitters below you as if you’re on an island. Momotombito peeks up like a turtle shell, a deep blue spot between the light blue sea and sky. My favorite part of the view though, was the new perspective of the Maribios cordillera. El Hoyo with its characteristic sinkhole stood bold and solid in front, with Asososca and Lake Asososca a bit to its left and Las Pilas flowing off behind it. Beyond we could just make out the crater of Telica, and San Cristobal at the very rear- the Maribios chain’s tallest volcano. I’m beginning to not only be able to recognize individual volcanoes, but also to feel a bit of a kinship to them. Like old friends. I have climbed them, seen them from a million different angles, slept at their craters, and I spend all day describing them to potential clients.

The lake on the left is Managua. In the middleish is Asososca but you can't see the water or lago de Asososca from here. To its right is the rest of the cordillera. 

Lightning shaped cloud, and can you see El Hoyo's sinkhole?

The second piece of our climb was a traverse around the crumbling side to reach climbable face. The slope was purely gravel and there was an unusually fierce wind, even for December. I was plodding along, hunkering down because of the wind, slipping periodically, Marie and Annika a few paces in front of me and Rebecca and Aymie a few paces behind. Suddenly there was a fierce sting across my face, and we all screamed and dropped down. An unbelievable gust had picked up and was shooting buckets of gravel at high speed into our faces and exposed arms and legs. I turned so my backpack faced against the wind but still felt as if the tiny pebbles were boring holes into my skin; I expected to be bloody all over. I was terrified that I would be blown down the side of the mountain or that a large rock would crush my skull. After a minute or so of terror and yelling, the gust blew out and we stood up again, completely shaken. We moved on quickly and a minute or so later were hit again, even more violently. After that attack we really tried to book it across to the safety of the wind sheltered break spot, where Andrew and Nate were already waiting.

“Run! Run! Go go go!” You could hear the fear in our voices that we would get hit again and never make it across. Once we got to the tree, we saw Andrew lounging in the branches, obviously unaffected by the wind. We told him the story and all laughed about it. Ten or so minutes later, Julia and a few others showed up and reported that they had also completely missed out on our little epic because they had been around the curve protected from the wind.

We moved on to our next stop, a very windy ledge with a spectacular view of the lake and Momotombito. As per usual Andrew had ran a head and by the time we reached the spot he was calmly posing on a rock at the edge of the cliff, model-like. It was a great spot for a photo, so I took a turn scrambling up it. After seeing Andrew’s tranquil demeanor as he had stood there I wasn’t ready for how windy the rock was. I didn’t even trust myself to stand completely straight for the picture, afraid of being blown off.


No, wiiiiindy!

Group Picture!

We took a group picture and then dropped down to a spot that at least wasn’t wracked by gale force winds for a snack. Then came the sketchy climb to the crater. We left our backpacks at the snack spot- we would return there for lunch- and started making our way up. Since I climbed ahead, I luckily wasn’t at risk of falling rocks, which is the major concern. There was a little inlet about two thirds of the way up where Andrew and I waited for the others, and from my perch I witnessed two near deaths. First a gigantic rock somehow got dislodged and started bouncing down the slope, picking up speed and bouncing higher and higher, headed straight for Julia. We all watched unable to breathe as she scampered first right and then left, unsure of what to do as the rick zigzagged and ricocheted haphazardly in her direction. In two seconds that felt like a minute, it reached her, she jumped up, and it somehow made it BETWEEN her legs- she was safe. But not without a mark. The rock completely ripped off her right pant leg, and left a huge gash down her shin. Once she reached the top, she announced “I never, ever, ever want to guide this volcano.”

The second scare thankfully didn’t result in injury- another rock was flying straight towards Xilma, a Nica volunteer, and she successfully dodged it like a cat, completely untouched. We were all really relieved to finally make it to the summit. About 100 feet away from the top, neon yellow streaks of sulfur began to appear in the rocks, and at the peak we suddenly found ourselves in an insane landscape of bright yellow, white and red sulfurs, clays and calcium deposits, in the form of ridges, pits and hoodoo like formations. My camera died right before we summited, which is a shame because it is unsure that I will climb Momotombo again as a guide (just because of the trip’s infrequency. I would absolutely love to climb it again.)

We posed for some pictures, enjoyed the view, and then headed down for lunch. The descent was 100% easier- all you have to do is bounce and slide. It took us a fraction of the time to get to our lunch spot, and then I ravenously devoured my entire salami  baguette, which I had been 100% positive I would never be able to finish. We chilled a bit, lazy from full stomachs and feeling accomplished, and then slid and ran down the rest of the slope to the van. We got back a lot alter than we expected, and I naively attempted to wash the gravel out of my hair, gave up, and managed to pass out early while everyone else was still blasting music and prepping for the next day’s hikes.

Our lunch spot.

1 comentario:

  1. Looks like an adventure. Do you know by chance how to get permits to climb Momotombo? I'm looking into climbing it with some friends.