Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Climbing Concepcion

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We're coming for you...
Nicaragua was all about the volcanoes - whether climbing them, standing on their crater rims or sledding down them. And today was the day I was going to attempt to hike to the summit of Concepcion, last active in 1957. I was scared, nervous, knew I wasn't fit enough, but also confident I could pace myself and put mind over matter. The only problem being, you have to reach the crater edge by noon in order to get a chance of the best views and so you come down the majority of the volcano in the remaining daylight. I didn't know too much about Concepcion, only that there were 2 volcanoes on the island and we were trekking up the bigger of the 2, and it now reaches an altitude of 1610m making Ometepe the world's highest lake island.

We were up at 5:30am eating breakfast (our hosts drew the short straw there, poor things) and then on our way into town by 6am to meet our private guide and stock up on at least 3 litres of water for the hike. It turns out we could only carry 2 litres each. I was basically carrying as less as possible having realised by now this was going to be no walk in the park. We started hiking at 6:45am and the first 45 minutes to an hour were a steady climb. Once we got into the rainforest, the wind died down but the heat increased. I was warned we would always be climbing with little to no flats to ease out the cramp in my calves, so stopping for regular water breaks was essential. Howler monkeys egged us on and every time I felt like quitting, a beautiful butterfly would float past and spur me on. Our guide, Enoch, was ultra fit. He'd been in the Nicaraguan army for 4 years and their training consisted of running up and down both volcanoes on the island. So while he made it look like a piece of a cake, Olivia and I struggled higher and higher trying to keep up with him. Olivia did a better job than I did. At times, I thought I was going to keel over. I wanted to keel over! Lots of being short of breath, stumbling, falling, scraping limbs and that horrible heart pounding in your ears when you think your head is going to explode. There's no real path, more just a track and, in some parts, especially when you get out of the forest, it's pretty hairy scrambling with the wind battering you. I guessed coming down would be even harder and oh boy, it was. Substitute all the above with legs that don't want to work anymore. Mine were so shaky;
I lost count of the times I skidded, slid and fell on my bum. 
 
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Coming out of the rainforest... 900m on Concepcion volcano and dying! But it's ok!
At 900m we came out of the trees and at 1000m we stopped for a rather windy lunch. Trying to hold on to your sandwich, take a bite and cling on to your backpack and water bottle all at the same time is no easy task. The wind roaring in your ears and the volcanic dust caking your face and blinding you isn't much fun either.
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At 1000m. Photo by Olivia Libisch
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At 1100m. Photo by Olivia Libisch
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Climbing to 1200m. Photo by Olivia Libisch
By the time I got to 1200m, I knew I was done. The views were cracking, the top of the volcano looked set in deep cloud and it was 10:45am. I was never going to make 400m in just over an hour. It was taking me an hour to climb 100m. So, after telling Olivia to try and get to the top by noon because I didn't want her to miss out, I plopped down for a couple of hours rest bite. She made it right on the deadline and had about 7 seconds where the cloud completely cleared to get that all important pic. I was dead chuffed, but didn't envy her blackening toenails the very next day, which looked set to fall off from where she climbed and scrambled to the top!

After spending some time admiring the view from 1200m, I thought I'd better drop back down to the relative flat of 1000m. I knew it was going to take me some time, especially when I veered off course and had to scramble back across the rock face and through the thick scrub. Great, more scratches! Eventually I made it and found the best place I could out of the wind for a 20 minute power nap. Ended up badly burning my nose though, oh dear. I thought the dust on my face would protect me from the raging sun. 
 
All the while, the only other humans we encountered were 2 trekkers and their guide coming back down (I met them during my rest at 1200m) and 2 workers building the new Ranger huts at 3 sections along the way. Today they were working on the middle hut, but they came out of the trees to make sure Olivia and Enoch were coming back down from the crater rim and to make sure I didn't go any further on my own once I got back down to 1000m. The Government has decided to regulate the trek and monitor the amount of people going up and down the volcano. A lot of plastic water bottles get dumped, apparently, although we didn't see any litter whatsoever. Maybe just the time of year, or the fact once dropped, they get instantly blown away.
 
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The new hut at the park's entrance
So, I climbed 1200m of the 1600m of this big volcano Concepcion and I can truthfully say it's the hardest thing I've ever done, but I am extremely proud of my achievement. In the immediate aftermath, I thought why the hell did I want to climb this beast. It was a gruelling, brutal 9 hour round trek and even with my rest stop at 1200m, the ascent and descent almost broke me. At times I thought it had. Now, however, I think about it and WOW springs to mind. One day I'll be back to finish my nemesis.
And what of that shower situation... It was water in a bucket for showering to begin with, but then I think we passed the "not using too much water" test because we got the water turned on in the bathroom this morning. Thank heavens for that! It was very very welcomed tonight to wash away the aches and pains, sweat and dust. As was the big supper our family had prepared for us. We went to bed straight afterwards at 8pm!