Stories​ from Tajumulco

My heart is beating fast. I have to take a couple of short breaks to cool down. A few clients are ascending the last steep part In front of me. I ask myself what is wrong? Just four days ago I had no struggle at all and now I can’t even breath in a calm and controlled way.

I have been volunteering as a guide for QT for about 8 weeks. I remember how motivated I was in the beginning, as I took every chance to be on our hikes. My first three-day-trek to Lake Atitlan and then my first trip up to the highest point in Central America, Tajumulco. I felt already before that I going to be my more favorable hike. Long climb, camping at 4000m and still being surrounded by trees (highest altitude growing pine needle trees), a smaller group and even the 4hours ride in chicken bus or shuttle. Killian, a guide from south Germany was my lead guide at client hike to Lake Atitlan and is now leading my first ascent of Tajumulco (TJ). He showed me all the turns, what to do when we arrive at basecamp, his own little tricks. I was eager to learn everything but as a client needed some Ibuprofen in the middle of the night, I was glad he took over. I was glad as he checked if the sky is clear at 3:45am. That is the time we get up for the last 200m climb to the summit and to watch the whole happening of the sunrise. 

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A week later, I found myself the third time heading to TJ, now first time as a lead guide and a new guide with me. Many more times I went up and last Tuesday, four days ago, the eighth time, the other guide with me got sick and I had to take over everything. Setting out lunch, setting up the tents with his help, starting the fire, leading the clients up the side summit for the sunset, prepping the dinner etc. And it felt really easy. I woke up at 3:45, this timing still finding us within a cloud and descending to let our clients sleep for another hour. My first time having rough conditions, first time deciding that only those who have no symptoms of altitude sickness are coming up to the summit and deciding we are actually going up, neither the less it’s cloudy and windy. On the way up, another client started feeling sick but we went already too far to turn around since the route back to basecamp is easier than up to the summit. The wind was howling over the ridge, into the crater and back out the backside of the volcano, where our way back is. I instructed the group who went up that we have to walk along the inside of the crater since it would be too dangerous with the strong side winds on the ridge. Everyone was ready and followed me closely on the new route I was taken.

In the end, we made it safely back to basecamp, where the ones who stayed back started to feel better and the other guide already started to heat up the water for hot drinks. We were still in clouds but after another hour as we set down the tents and got ready for the descent, the sun rose higher and the clouds slowly disappeared. The wind was still strong and blew the clouds in the scenery which opened up below us through the valleys. 

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It was so far my most challenging but also kind of most rewarding experience of guiding up a group of motivated hikers up Tajumulco. I went through the whole trip in my head again, what could happen or what decision I took and those trips are also the one I but also our hikers learn the most. What gear is the right gear, which routes to take, how far your body and mind can go? 

Back to the present trip. I was happy arriving at the basecamp after struggling that much. We have a fast group, never have I been that early at basecamp which also means, I definitely have time for a nap after lunch and set up the tents. We have no wind and the sun is beating down strong. Just four days later, instead of having water drops coming down from the pine trees due to the clouds, I have to make sure not getting a sunburn. Instead of standing and touching clouds, we have a clear view. I let the group watch the sunset with the other guide which is also the first time and went back to basecamp to prepare the hot drinks and also have a few minutes for myself. After dinner, everyone retreats back to their tents and I stay outside with the flickering fire and glowing embers, burning our prep-sheet of yesterday, my little ritual.

My watch vibrates as usual at 3:45 and this time, I wake up everyone and none is staying back. As we reach the summit, the first bit of orange is painting the edge of the horizon. As usual, I am telling everyone to find a nice spot to lay down their sleeping pad and get in their sleeping bags. After handing out the “summit-cookies”, I walk to my usual spot and instead of watching the sunrise I fall asleep right away. I dream of my past job, finishing kind of my last tasks as I wake up to a bright sky. The sun has been already up for 30min and everyone already packed up. That’s when I realize again, how tired my body and mind is. We went back the along the ridge to basecamp, have breakfast and decent the moment. At a viewpoint and our “Instagram” spot and explaining everything about the volcanos we see, I take a couple more minutes saying nothing and let everyone and myself embrace and inhale the moment. 

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On the way back to Xela after a great trip

Feeling my tired body and mind, I still have a warm smile on my face, thinking back of all the people I met, conversations I had, experiences I made, funding for the school I helped to gain, kids I saw smiling as we meet them and moments of freedom I felt. I feel it when I am sitting at the fire, waiting for the water to boil, every sunsets/rise I am watching, hugs and smiles from our clients and all that makes me happy doing what I do.

Heres to all who joint so far my guided trips to the top of Central America!

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