I’ve Decided to Hike up an Active Volcano…

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I’ve Decided to Hike up an Active Volcano...

The thought of hiking up an active volcano might seem out of sorts for me, but it’s now something that’s going to happen in a few months.

First off, I skipped another week of writing (I’m getting pretty good at this!). But I do have a good excuse – we had guests for 8 days. Our friends Steve and Courtney Adcock visited us for about a week in Boquete, Panama and we had a rocking good time!

As I write this, I’m in recovery mode since we didn’t stop moving from the moment they arrived. Between the hiking and waterfalls, the restaurants (a lot of restaurants), visiting the Raquel’s Ark animal sanctuary, and just exploring, we were crazy busy!

But there was one thing we did that really stood out as something special. We did a 4×4 tour that took us to the top of Volcán Barú, an 11,398 foot-high active volcano. It was awesome and I’ll tell you about it momentarily.

While we were driving back down though, I had a revelation and made a spur-of-the-moment decision. I decided that I’m going to hike up that active volcano. That’s right, I’m going to hike up Volcán Barú.

Our Volcán Barú tour

Volcán Barú is an active stratovolcano that sits about 5 miles adjacent to Boquete, Panama, where we live. Wikipedia lists it as being 11,398 feet high and the tallest mountain in Panama. The U.S. Geological Survey states that it’s about time for this volcano to erupt again, too…

Given this history, Volcán Barú likely will erupt again in the near or distant future, following some premonitory period of seismic activity and subtle ground deformation that may last for days or months.

U.S. Geological Survey

A little scary, right?

Hopefully, we’ll be living in the U.S. again by the time that happens! 🙂

But I thought it would be cool to do a tour to the top of the volcano regardless… a little lava never hurt anyone, right? With it being outside of tourist season here, there are a few deals to be had as well. A friend of ours mentioned one of these deals to me and I found it on Gustazos, which is kind of like the U.S.’s Groupon. The deal was:

$199 for Barú Volcano Tour for 2 People, Including: ATP Certified Bilingual Guide + Transportation in 4×4 + Access to the Park + Breakfast and Hot Drink at the Top of the Volcano + $20 Credits back for your next purchase in Gustazos.com

Transporte y Turismo Panamá

I talked to Steve and Courtney and they were onboard. Being the genius I am, I made sure that we only booked one initially and then used the $20 credit to immediately book the second one. And then, of course, we had to pay for one separate admission for our fifth person. At about $100/each, it’s not dirt cheap, but something I wanted to check out.

The hope is to make your way to the top of this active volcano by sunrise and then possibly see the sun come up above the clouds. Or, in a very rare case, you might be able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea from the peak. No guarantees on either but it sounded cool nonetheless.

We didn’t get either, unfortunately, but it was far from a disappointment.

Our guide, Melissa, picked us up from our condo at 4 a.m. in a 4×4 and we headed to Volcán Barú.

I used the Outdooractive app to track our trip up the volcano (and back down) starting from and ending at the entrance…

I’ve Decided to Hike up an Active Volcano - Map of drive up Volcán Barú and back down
Some of the stats from the app:
  • Ascent: 5692 ft
  • Descent: 5659 ft
  • Highest point: 11404 ft
  • Lowest point: 5886 ft
  • Total distance: 16.6 mi (roundtrip)
  • Time spent moving: 3:09 h
  • Track’s recording time (including pauses): 5:30 h

The temperature when we got picked up in Boquete was about 65° F but was only 45° F at the top of Volcán Barú… brrrrrrr!

It took us until close to 6:15 am to get to the top of the volcano. The sun would be coming up momentarily. We hiked our way to the very peak and it was looking amazing while we walked.

But then, as soon as we got to the top, the clouds came out of nowhere and filled the sky… right as the sun was coming up. Ugh. I snapped a few photos when the sun would occasionally poke itself out from behind the clouds…

That didn’t stop us from enjoying our time up atop this monstrous active volcano though…

After enjoying some time up there, we came down a little off the peak where they cooked us some breakfast. We also fed some coatimundis that came around to visit.

And that was it. We headed down the volcano crossing our fingers it wouldn’t randomly erupt. We did stop off briefly, however, for another beautiful view of Boquete.

No sunrise over the clouds and no seeing the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea. Still, it was really awesome and I’m so glad we did this tour.

My plans to hike up this big, old active volcano

As we drove down though, I couldn’t help but think about how cool it would be to hike up Volcán Barú. It just seemed like a lofty challenge that drew me in and made me think, “I want to do this.”

Not only would that be a huge sense of satisfaction, but the reward of seeing things from atop the volcano again would be a fantastic trophy. Additionally, our guide said that January and February are usually the months with the clearest views… sold!

As soon as I decided that I’m going to be hiking up Volcán Barú, I thought of Dave from Accidental FIRE. The guy does more outdoor activities than anyone I know… cycling, running, hiking, paddling, climbing, and probably more. So I figured my crazy idea to hike up an active volcano might not make him wince.

It didn’t. I reached out to him and he said that he’s done some similar climbs to this. I asked him for some suggestions on how to prepare physically, what to wear, what to bring, etc. He had some great ideas and made me feel more comfortable with this challenge. He also mentioned a page he has on his site specifically for the gear he recommends.

So, after going back and forth with Dave via email, I’m confident I can pull this off.

Based on what I gathered from the Outdooractive app, this is going to be a big climb for someone like me who doesn’t do this regularly. The total hike will be about 16.6 miles roundtrip, so just over 8 miles each way. That’s going to be tough enough in itself… but that’s the easy part! We’re looking at a total ascent of 5,675 feet, which of course, means another 5,675 feet back down.

Talking with Melissa (our guide), she said that it usually takes about 6 hours to get to the top. 6 hours of walking uphill! And in a way, climbing to the top of an active volcano isn’t necessarily the hardest part! She said that it’s rough on the knees coming down so she prefers to run down. The longer strides don’t put as much strain on your knees. I didn’t ask how long to get back down, but I’d imagine another 3 hours.

Oh, and she said we’ll only stop for about 20 minutes when we get to the top. I’ll work on extending that a little for my trip. I can’t imagine getting to the very top and then turning around and heading back down. I need maybe 30-45 minutes to bask in the glory first.

Sheesh… as I type this out, I’m shaking my head wondering what I’m getting myself into. But I’m excited to do something out of my wheelhouse like this and to see if I can pull it off.

I do know that I’ll be ensuring that I do this hike with Melissa. She’s a badass. She drove that 4×4 with conviction, fixed another 4×4 that broke down along our way, and hikes this active volcano regularly. In fact, she said that when she goes by herself (which she does), she makes it up in 3 hours and back down in an hour! What?!!

Like I said, badass. I need that in my corner. So I’ll be making sure she’s by my side when I do this in January or February. At a cost of $85 to have her at my side (or carrying me on her back when I’m a beaten man), it’ll be well worth it.

Volcano climbing gear

“Volcan climbing gear”… those are words I never thought would be in a post I’d be writing. But, I gotta have the right gear if I’m going to pull this off. Here’s what I know so far…

The main thing I need is a backpack. Finding one with a water bladder built into it makes the most sense. The one that I’m planning to order once we get back to the U.S. next month is the Water Buffalo Hydration Pack Backpack – Water Backpack – 2L Water Bladder (Amazon link, I’ll get a small commission at no charge to you if you order via this link).

Melissa recommended 2 liters of water (plus some Gatorade for electrolytes) so I’m going to trust her knowledge.

Dave suggested hiking poles for the way back down to help ease up on your knees and quads. I have a set in storage that I might bring back after we head back to the U.S. next month. They don’t make them anymore, but they’re similar to the Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles (Amazon link).

I might even just see if I can borrow someone’s here so I don’t need to bring mine back.

Shoes. On one hand, I don’t think my $30 sneakers from Kohl’s are going to be the best choice for something like this. On the other hand, I hate spending money on clothes. On the third hand (it’s my blog, I can have as many hands as I want), this is probably the area I don’t want to cheap out too much for since the shoes will be the lifeline of this climb. For my sanity, I’ll probably look at something like the Adidas Outdoor Men’s Terrex Ax3 Beta Cw Hiking Boot or the Columbia Men’s Crestwood Hiking Shoe (Amazon links).

At around $60-70 for a pair of either of these, I think that should suffice for this expedition.

And then it’s time for layers. My cotton t-shirts and jeans aren’t going to cut it for this trip either, sadly.

I’m likely going to get one of those weird puffy jackets I’ve been rolling my eyes at over the years. They’re warm yet light enough for packing as needed. As I get to the top of Volcán Barú, I kind of feel like I’ll need it even if I am sweating up a storm at first. I found this one on Amazon, but I might try a thrift store before going down this road.

As far as socks go, I have both compression hiking socks and merino wool ones. I’m sure the merino wool socks will make more sense to wear for this adventure.

I didn’t even think of it until digging into this, but I don’t want to wear my cotton boxer briefs – that would be a disgusting pile of sweaty trash by the end. Instead, I’ll wear a pair of polyester/spandex compression boxer briefs that I have.

Some type of wicking long-sleeve shirt is in order for a base layer. Something like this Under Armour Men’s HeatGear Armour Compression Long Sleeve T-Shirt from Amazon should be a good choice.

With pants, I think zip-off hiking pants will be the way to go in this case. That way I can start with shorts and as it starts to get colder on the way up, I can zip the pant-legs on if needed… something like these Wespornow Men’s-Convertible-Hiking-Pants (Amazon link).

The pants are another item I’ll check for at a couple of thrift stores first.

And, of course, I’ll be bringing some other miscellaneous items:

  • Brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Knife (better safe than sorry)
  • A small tube of sunscreen
  • Disposable rain poncho
  • Gloves?
  • Gatorade
  • Clif bars
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Banana

And I’ll spray with some bug repellent before heading up. The only one that seems to work well for us here in Boquete is the REPEL Lemon Eucalyptus stuff, so that’ll be my go-to.

As you can see, this isn’t just a matter of booking the trip and going. There’s some preparation and gear needed if I want to do this right. Boy, oh boy, the things you gotta go through to climb an active volcano nowadays!

Other thoughts on hiking up an active volcano

I talked to the tour company and I’ll be booking the tour once the new year hits. It’s a private tour, which is nice so I don’t have to wait for others as we climb (or vice versa). However, it’s $85 per person with a minimum of two people. I’m considering just paying for two people though just so I don’t have to worry about dealing with anyone else in the mix.

She’ll pick me up from our place in Boquete and we start the hike at 6 am. That means we should get to the top of the active volcano around noon. Lunch is included with the trek so that’s a little bonus before we head back down after that.

It probably goes without saying that this is going to take some work from me to prepare for this. Walking to the gym and town here several times a week isn’t going to be enough. I’m going to need to step up my game quite a bit on the walking and hiking side of things.

Because we live in the mountains here in Boquete, I can train relatively easily outside – no need to be cooped up on a treadmill. Now I just need to go out and do it. I’ll start doing more hiking up hills now and continue with my backpack with some weight in it later this year.

So the training and the actual climb are good as far as fitness goes. I’m already a regular at the gym so this will be just kicking it up a notch. It’s hard to believe that I’m in the best shape of my life at 46 years old. Nevertheless, I guess we’ll find out if I’m in shape enough for this challenge!

And the win/accomplishment of getting to the top of the volcano will feel great, I’m sure… too bad that’s only the halfway point.

Is there anything I need to worry about?

Well, I need to be careful with my knees. They’re still good, but sometimes I feel old age coming my way. My left knee doesn’t always enjoy squats too much so I need to exercise caution with it. It probably won’t be an issue since it’s rare that it’s a problem, but it’s still a concern that I need to pay attention to. I hope the hiking sticks help with that on the way down.

Then there’s the elevation. Going from Boquete’s elevation of 3,900 feet to Volcán Barú’s peak of 11,404 feet is a big jump. Even though the altitude didn’t bother me on the drive, Dave shared some good info:

And regarding altitude sickness, when you ascend rapidly like in a jeep it could affect you differently than a long climb over many hours. Some folks might be bothered by one more than the other, or by neither. It’s a weird thing and science still doesn’t fully understand all the reasons behind it. Most experts believe staying well hydrated can help keep it at bay but that’s still not proven.

So, that’s something to be aware of and I’ll ensure I stay hydrated (good regardless).

Then there’s the fun fact that there are jaguars on Volcán Barú – yes, jaguars! Our guide, Melissa, said that she hasn’t seen any of those over the years here so that’s encouraging. She has seen a jaguarundi though. The chances we’d bump into either are slim, but I know me and I’m sure I’ll spend some time digging into what to do if an encounter happens.

Oh, and last but not least, there’s the small challenge in and of itself – can I make it to the top (and back)? I think I’ll be fine and I’m up for the challenge. Besides, Melissa is tough and says she’s never had anyone not making before so I don’t plan on being the first.

By writing about it here, it’ll help me hold myself more accountable. After all, would I really want to come back and say that I failed the mission? You’d almost feel bad for me if that happened!

And that’s it, folks – time to get preparing for the big climb! I’ll be sure to post about it in January or February once the big day happens.

What do you think? Have I lost my mind to hike up an active volcano? Any suggestions or advice?

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

12 thoughts on “I’ve Decided to Hike up an Active Volcano…”

    1. Let’s just agree that however long it’ll take me, you would have been able to do it in half the time! And I’ll just pretend that it’s because I want to savor the climb more than you and not because you’re in much better shape than me! 😉

      Thanks for the help, Dave!

  1. I think your time at the gym will serve you well. As long as you wear clothing that wicks moisture away from your body and wear comfortable shoes, all will be fine. I’m from Colorado and have gone on many mountain hikes, it’s always a new experience because of the many variables involved. At 46 years, you probably still have the ability to out run a jaguar or dodge flying lava. I’m looking forward to reading your post describing your experience.

    1. Haha, thanks, David – I will do my best to outrun any jaguars or lava on this journey! 🙂 I appreciate the words of encouragement as well. Even though I’ve become a regular at the gym and hiking in general, I haven’t done much in the realm of hiking up mountains or volcanoes so this will be something new.

  2. Wow, that sounds like it’ll be a great adventure. Have fun! I need to do more adventuring myself. I feel like I’m taking it too easy lately.

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