I really wanted to climb Momotombo, the volcano that famously destroyed much of Leon, Nicaragua, in 1610, forcing the survivors to relocate the city 30 miles west. Momotombo is a symbol of Nicaragua, and its image is often displayed in tourist marketing materials because of its near perfect symmetry. People had been climbing it for years since its last eruption in 1905, but on November 30, 2015, she erupted again, and she’s been bubbling and burping ever since. So the government has shut it down to climbers for safety reasons. Sigh.
So I wander down to my favourite guide organization, Quetzal Trekkers, to see what they might have in store for me. “How about a sunset hike up Telica?” I’m asked. “It’s active and you should see some lava when it gets dark”.
So at 2:00 in the afternoon, $40 USD lighter in the wallet, I join a group of eight for the long ride along bumpy jungle roads to the base of Telica. The hike is said to be easy, only 45 minutes to the crater, I’m told. And the hikers that are crammed in the back of the jeep with me are representative of the ease of the hike. There are people of a wide variety of ages and fitness levels, from fit-looking 20-year olds in hiking boots and bandannas to seniors sporting running shoes and hiking poles. Everyone had an interesting story, a unique place in the world they called home, and we had plenty of time during the drive to talk about our adventures. It was a rough ride, but with delightful conversation.
At the trailhead, we donned our day packs and headed up the trail. The hiking was excellent. There was no scree like you would see on most volcanoes, where the soil was so soft as to make every step up a half step back. No, this trail was solid, strewn with boulders, and was easy to follow. Mind you, the boulders were jagged and sharp, but as long as you stayed on your feet, only your footwear would become gouged. Sadly, a few people were tripped up and left bits of flesh behind. They will ever be part of this volcano.
It didn’t take long to get to the crater’s edge. But the wind was howling, and was blowing uphill towards the crater. Even the bravest of us stood a good meter back from the edge. It would only take a single wind gust to toss us in, and it was about 40 meters down into the lava. What made the scene even eerier was that smoke and gas floated steadily out of the crater, making it impossible to see the bottom or even the glow of the lava. Also, it was odd to see local entrepreneurs at the crater trying to sell hikers beer and soda. This is the first volcano on which I have witnessed that.
Since it was still more than an hour before sunset, some of us climbed up a nearby slope to a weather station to take photos of Telica. Even at that distance, it was still difficult to get the full crater into the photo frame. From our vantage point, we looked down at a restaurant on the slope, that overlooked the amazing vista to the east. A couple of years ago, about a week before the restaurant was to open, Telica erupted and burped up some rock. Two boulders landed directly on the restaurant, easily piercing the concrete-enforced roof, and crashed into the dining area. The project was abandoned and now the restaurant sits empty.
As it started getting closer to sunset, we made our way around the volcano, clockwise to the south, to reach the western slopes. It wasn’t easy to find a comfortable place to sit among the boulders. There were so few that were flat, and the sharpness of their features made them extremely uncomfortable seats. So I cleared out a seat in the soil by kicking away loose stones and used my sweater as a cushion. With a baguette in hand, filled with tasty things veggie, I sat with my friends and watched the sun go down. What a wonderful time for reflection and peace!
After the sun was down, I reluctantly dragged myself to my feet and headed back to the crater. I was still hoping to see lava, but even after waiting until it was fully dark, its red glow could not pierce the smoky gaseous cloud.
I may have been a bit disappointed by not seeing the lava, but as it became darker and the lights of distant villages spotted the landscape and the stars became brighter, I felt a sense of peace envelop me that was wonderful. There were hikers camped on a plateau on the southern slope, and I felt the pangs of envy that I couldn’t spend the night here with them, staring up at those stars until sleep enveloped me. Ah, next time perhaps.
The hike back to the trailhead with headlamps lighting the way was fun. A few people sustained some scratches on sharp rocks during the descent, but I was fortunate to be injury free on this trip.
This was a good outing, and I would encourage anyone who thinks they might not be fit enough to climb a volcano to consider this trip. You will be able to say you climbed on a volcano and looked into its crater. And you will have earned it!