Friday, September 12, 2008
But one quickly realizes as soon as they are smacked down by the climb that the name refers to a certain type of punishment associated with a climb of this nature. The climb is long, relentless, steep, and has no warm up. And,it is most certainly punishing.
So why do it? Are we just gluttons for punishment? Maybe. But for me when the climb is over and you pass through (sneak really) the mysteriously beautiful fences of a remote finca called pillar and realize you are sucking wind looking out over the entire Antigua valley below, it all starts to make sense as to why you've come all the way up here.
The view. That's right...the view. To see the 3 volcanoes (Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango) that once towered over you while just a tourist back in Antigua on the valley floor now seem to be at eye level and not so oppressive.
You were'nt really gonna let me get away with saying its for the view were ya? Its the downhill...yeah the downhill that's so much damned fun. The views nice too, but come on. The trail rolls through fun fast open sections, tight technical rock gardens and you can test your luck on the tight rocky switchbacks at the bottom.
Bring it on....maybe you can tag along on our next morning out!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Far up in the Quiche Department of Guatemala, and situated in a natural bowl-shaped recession, Nebaj is the largest town in the Cuchumatanes. When you mix this area’s long history of civil resistance with it’s proud, colorful preservation of Mayan traditions and stunningly beautiful backdrop of mountains and waterfalls – it’s no wonder this off-the-beaten-track town is one of
After a hearty delicious farm breakfast at the Finca (complete with pancakes and homemade fresh cream), we grabbed some of the fresh cheese they produce at the farm and headed out for what would be one of the more challenging hikes. The dirt road out of Acul ends at a tiny village named Xexocom, and it’s an 800 meter climb up switchbacks to the even smaller outpost of Chuantuj – situated on the rim of one of the many high-alpine plateaus in this region. Beautiful panoramic views of the Cuchumatanes are all around us during this day’s hike, and at the end of the day we had climbed over 1000 meters on the day. The only people we saw for the last 4 hours of hiking were two farmers hiking down from the altiplano with their horses!
Coming into Chuantuj on the topside of the ridge we begin to understand why so few people populate the high plateaus of the Cuchamantanes. Weather conditions up here are always unpredictable and fogs roam constantly through the highlands, chilling hikers and creating confusion in what was (only minutes before!) a perfectly lovely sunny day. Cloud forests, moss and fern covered pine forests, and rocky outcroppings cover the rugged topography of these ridges, giving our group time to get lost in mushroom blanketed thickets and strange stone formations. Houses in tiny hamlets like Chauntuj are constructed of local woods and topped with corrugated aluminum brought on horseback from days away. Almost everyone in the highlands is a farmer, raising potatoes, garlic, corn, or whatever else they can successfully raise to trade or sell.
We bedded down for the night in a spare room in Chuantuj used during harvest season for storing potatoes. We opted to seek out a shelter rather than set up our tents because of a good-sized rainstorm which ushered us into the village. As we dried our boots next to the fire, the guides on the trip – Juan and Sean – cooked up a feast for the group and passed around tea and hot chocolate. Situated at over 3100 meters above sea level, Chuantuj can be a chilly place to spend the night. We woke up rested with some sore calves, but happy to be setting off on a beautiful hike up on the high plateau.
Today’s hike took our group on a long windy hike across the top of one of the massive high-alpine plateaus this region is famous for. Landscapes here can best be described as “dreamy” or “fantastical”. Sinkholes, dense pine forests, brightly colored high-alpine flowers, trippy rock gardens and wide, sprawling plains make it a feast for the eyes as we make our way from one edge of this high mesa to the other. We pass by another tiny (sub-100 pax population) village, Chortiz, as we wander towards Pauil Pais – a larger sized village on the plateau by virtue of its road connection to the valley town of Aguacate.
Horses and mules wander outside the villages up in the high country, some of the few farm animals hearty enough to handle the conditions up here. Our
Another reason this area is so fascinating to many hikers is its remoteness and ruggedness – and their apparent effects on the locals here. Many Cuchumatanes residents haven’t ventured farther south than the nearest large city Huehuetenango, situated just outside the mountain range in the valley to the south. Most travelers to
Another day full of dog-assisted hiking past Pauil Pais, our group traversed the gargantuan
Walking down from the high plateaus the final day and descending into the charming town of