Guatemala Outtatown

Sunrise on Acatenango: Lessons and Memories from the Challenge

After months of hearing about the ultimate challenge of hiking Volcan Acatenango, an optional overnight hike in Guatemala, the true test began on the morning of March 9. Many of us had been preparing for weeks with morning workout sessions, strengthening our quads and calves for the infamous inclines of this dormant volcano. I had spent the majority of the week before, and the bus ride there, anticipating leg pain and sore shoulders and just a challenging time in general.

The first hour, honestly speaking, was unbearable. We trudged through deep, loose, volcanic gravel in direct sunlight while carrying around eight liters of water, plus food and clothes. Eventually the ground transitioned into a bit easier terrain, and we started to get into that good hiking rhythm and mindset; discussions picked up to distract ourselves from our fatigue.

Whenever it started to get tough, I would remind myself of who I was doing this for: for myself, for my parents, for my friends, for my family, and especially for the amazing views at the top. Doing so motivated me to keep going. Around 5:00 PM, we arrived at base camp, and that night was easily one of the coolest nights of my life. We rested our sore muscles around the fire as we ate spaghetti and took in the incredible view. But our job was not yet complete.

We woke at 4:00 AM the next morning for our final stretch to the summit. Our old friend, loose gravel, came to say hello again as we shuffled up to the apex in the darkness of the early morning. The first couple rays of sun urged us on, like a countdown to reach the crater in time for the sunrise. No words can describe the euphoria and rush of excitement that everyone felt as we took our last steps. Amidst the cold winds, we settled down and witnessed the most amazing sunrise I had ever seen. We had done it.

I felt a surge of pride for every single person up there, not to mention a strengthening of the bond between us, all after completing such a demanding challenge together. I remember thinking how can this be real…how is this my life? I may have shed a couple tears because it was such an amazing moment, packed with happiness, relief, and amazement at the beauty of this earth we live on.

With the close of our weekend we may have left with lighter packs, but our hearts were full with memories and experiences. I’ll never forget the lessons I learned about perseverance and dedication, not to mention the incredible views we enjoyed together.

For me, these days hiking Acatenango will always stand out as one of the top moments of Outtatown and of my life in general; I can’t wait to share my story when I return home and for the years to come!

– Allison Weber, Guatemala student 2017-18