I'll be leaving Xela this week, possibly for good. As my final days here tick down there was one more thing looming over my head that I knew I had to do - Climb Volcan Tajumulco. At 4,220m (13,845 ft) it's Central America's highest peak. This would be my second ascent, as three years ago I made it to the top only to be in a sightless cloud of gloomy disappointment. I was hoping this time it would be different.
It all began early in Xela, and after two buses and breakfast at a comedor we arrived at the trailhead. A sunny sky quickly became clouded and my fears of a repeat murky summit were escalated. Rain was forecasted but it never came - our luck was holding out. We arrived at the base camp mid-afternoon and spent the time exploring 'round, lounging in repose, and bathing ourselves in the musky smoke of a damp wood fire.
3:50 am, we woke to a chilly moonlight night and began the climb straight up to the summit above. Our headlamps cut through the dark as we continued on and on, up and up. Standing aside to catch my breath I surveyed the land below and the sky above, dense fog hung low in the valleys and the lights from the surrounding settlements shown through like a mirror image of the cosmos.
Arriving at the top we were still shrouded in perfect darkness. We crawled back into our sleeping bags and began to wait for the sun to rise in perfect spectacle. The dark silhouettes of surrounding volcanoes emerged and slowly the land was lifted out of obscurity, transitioning into the Guatemala I know and love.
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5:00 am leave from Central Park, Taxi to Minerva/Terminal (30Q, $4.50), no city buses are running this early
5:30 am chicken bus 2 hours to San Marcos (Q10, $1.50)
7:30 am breakfast at comedor, desayuno tipico (Q15, $2)
8:30 am microbus 1.5 hour to Tajumulco Trailhead (Q15, $2), tell bus attendant you want to climb the volcano, not go to Tujamulco Town. The bus going west will drop you off across the street from TH.
To return, wait on the road and flag down a chicken bus (Q5, $0.70) or microbus destine for San Marcos.
Overall the trail is well tramped and easy to fallow, expect 3-4 hours to base camp, 45min-1 hour to summit. 2-3 hours to descend. The trail is steep in some parts but an over all consistant grade upwards. Temperatures at the top reach below 5 degrees C (40F). There can be high winds at base camp and along the summit trail. There is no park entrance fee.
From the bus drop off point, cross the road and follow the stone-laid road up 200m past a few houses until it splits and turns into a wide dirt path. Stay right at the fork. Continue hiking upward. The trail fades in and out, splits and reconnects several times but is very easy to follow. A final quick but steep ascent gets you to base camp, and the summit trail goes up along the right side (facing peak).