The scary start
A nice early start for the day as we had to be at the tour agency at 7, which allowed us to get our first glimpse of the volcano in the dark. It is impressive. A glorious glow coming off the sulphur fumes billowing from the top. This is an active volcano and a fairly bit one at that. About 2,900m high. Daunting.
We got to the agency and started getting kitted out. We had to bring our own lunch, but apart from that we were provided boots, crampons, proper ice-climbing pants and leg protection, jackets and ice axe. We would like to thank our main stylists, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice for their contribution in this respect (some of the other groups once we got to the mountain looked like they had the Power Rangers). We had a group of 5 with a local guide, Pedro.
Don't eat the yellow snow
A Brazilian couple in their late thirties and a 23 year old English guy. All really good fun.
We were driven up to the starting point, just above the snow line at 1,400m and from there given some basic guidance on what to do when you slip or fall while wearing crampons, how not to break your ankle or leg and how to try and stop a slide on ice. All wonderful thoughts to start the day. Basically, the rules are, don’t try stop yourself with crampons as they will stick in and you will break something. Use the ice axe to slow you down. Don’t use the strap on the axe as it could break your wrist, so just hold on tight.
There were a number of other groups on the way up too. Some as big as about 12 (with multiple guides) and some as small as 2 or 3.
No, the smoke was not caused by Kat in this case
In total about 50 were attempting to go up.
Pedro made it clear that he would make the final decision about whether we would attempt to get to the top. The weather was clear, which was great, but that could change very quickly. Also, being clear and sunny made the snow turn to ice, which could also be more dangerous. Fun….
Crampons are amazing and do make it much easier to go up in slippery conditions, but they don’t do much to take away the effect of constantly walking uphill at an angle of between 30 and 45 degrees. Bloody exhausting I can tell you. Along the way we stopped for breaks to get some air and ease aching muscles.
As time wore on some of us were struggling more than others. Eventually it got to the point where we (Kat, the Brazilian woman (Raji) and I) made a decision to stop.
Chilling on top (or almost) of the world
To look at it nicely we sacrificed ourselves for the greater good. The other 2 guys were being held back by us and it did not look like we would make it to the top in time. We got to about 2,300m and called it a day. We sat down on a scenic patch of ice and waited for the others while they continued. In hindsight, definitely the right decision, but certainly disappointing and frustrating. Getting so far and not seeing the crater of the volcano. To ease matters however, of the 50 off people that started the ascent, less than 5 made it to the top. In our group 1 made it (the English guy, Ian) and we heard of one other. The last section is seriously hazardous and requires a vertical ice climb with 2 ice axes. Hmmm, they don’t mention that in the sales pitch.
These boots are made for walking (and not sliding down the mountain)
Ian said that it was really impressive and that you could see the lava, although he only saw it 3 times while he was up.
Anyway, the view, as altitude increases, is beautiful. You can see across the lake to another volcano and the surrounding mountains. The air gets clearer and the sky bluer as the haze clears. It also gets really hot and bright as the sun bakes down on the ice. We had to wait for 3 hours for the others to get back to us, which did provide its moments too, like when Raji remembered that she had chocolate in the pocket where she had just put her camera, only to pull out the camera (and hand) covered in melted chocolate.
The way down produced the most fun of the day (what, I hear you say, climbing up not fun?). There are 2 ways down.
The alien commander had his eye firmly focused on a tasty snack
By foot, or by bum. By foot requires long strides that stretch the muscles in your thighs to cramping point with snow and ice that slides under your feet. By bum is much better. Sit down and slide your way down. Try to avoid the rocks and use your ice axe to slow you down and stop you as required. What a jol (translated for the non SA people – “what a rush” is probably closest although “party” is more correct). It certainly makes the way down a lot quicker.
We got back feeling absolutely shattered.
Knowing we needed some food we made our way, after a very welcome shower, to a restaurant called Suiza and had a brilliant 3 course set menu meal for £5 each.
An awesome day, even if we were disappointed at not getting the whole way up.