We had a sobering reminder of the power of weather over the weekend. Climbing Volcan De Acatenango for the second time this trip, we got an afternoon start with the intention of camping near the saddle and summiting before sunrise to shoot timelapses. When we hit the saddle the wind was whipping and there were tents everywhere out in the open and full of people trying to stay warm to summit the next morning. After being invited to join a group around their small fire for a minute of warming up and some instant coffee, we went in search of a place to setup for the night that had a little more shelter. The saddle was full so we found a small patch of dry mountainside between a couple tress to provide at least a little bit of wind protection and started to try and level a spot in the volcanic soil using machetes and our hands. We built a platform roughly big enough for our two small tents and small fire to warm up some dinner. We crawled into our already soaked tent to try and get some sleep for the next morning.
4am rolls around and the alarm goes off and instantly I realize that we’re all soaked. The temperature dropped in the night and condensation has soaked everything in the tent on top of the rain/sleet that started sometime around 1am. I strap on my soaked shoes and wrap my soaked sleeping bag around some equally soaked cameras in the hopes that it might help somehow and we set out to investigate the summit. We quickly realize it’s still sleeting and visibility is 5-10ft at most as we pass through the camp at the saddle. A few minutes up the trail and where there used to be a camp, there’s now just flattened tents and make shift tarps. What was a tolerable wind five minutes back down, is now a force we’re barely able to walk against on the ridge. The wind is whipping rain/sleet sideways and anything we had managed to keep dry in dry bags is now soaked through as well. The summit definitely isn’t happening and if it is, we’re definitely not going to see anything. We call it quits and head back to our camp and are on the trail back down by 5am to try and get out of the wind and warm up.
Fast forward to the morning after we get back…and we’re told 7 people died on the mountain that night, 3 are confirmed and the other 4 are unreleased.
All my mountaineering friends, stay safe out there…this weekend was a reminder that there’s just a few millimeters of nylon separating you from the elements and the power of the mountain.