Are We Too Old to Be Climbing Volcanoes?

Hikers Take A Break - El Hoyo Volcano, Nicaragua
Line up at the edge of El Hoyo Volcano, Nicaragua.

The weight of my backpack at 5:00 AM was brutal: 9 liters of water, 1 sleeping bag, and sundry other camping bits and bobs. And I was one of the lucky ones. Dan carried all that plus an old school (read: heavy) four-person tent.

Even at this hour, it was steamy. Under the weight of my pack, I was glazed in sweat before we reached the crossroads for the chicken bus to the trail head. I looked around at the young, energetic faces – mostly in their early 20s – and wondered, “Am I too old to be doing this?

A few hours later we were scaling the black ash base of Cerro Negro, an active volcano in northern Nicaragua. As we neared the rim, a crater emitting eggy plumes of sulfur dioxide fumed on my right. The black volcanic gravel of our climb yielded to iridescent mineral deposits, boulders, lava chunks and white ash. On my left, it was a surprisingly long way down to where Mother Nature had drawn a stark line between the slope of black volcanic gravel and the lush, electric green canvas of pastures, rich soil and rolling hills surrounding the cone.

Cerro Negro Volcano Crater, Nicaragua
Looking into Cerro Negro volcano.

In this moment of relative tranquility, it occurred to me that this volcano had given and — as recently as 1999 — it had also taken away.

How NOT to Run Down a Volcano

At the edge of the volcano, a slope of fine volcanic pebbles descended to a base almost 200-300 meters down.

“You should really run as fast as you can…all the way to the bottom.” John, our ebullient guide, implied anything else would be an epic waste of an opportunity. He even took everyone’s cameras halfway down to capture our folly.

“Is this really a good idea? Will our insurance cover this?” I wondered, my age again revealing itself.

As the first of our group began their run down — arms and legs flailing and voices cracking in terrified delight — my adrenaline kicked in.

Someone in the remaining group suggested Dan and I run down hand-in-hand for the camera.

OK, c’mon,” I said, grabbing Dan’s hand.

He was too willing. A split second later, we were off to the races, bounding and sliding down the cone. Dan’s strides were a little too much for me though. Our fleeting moments of coupledom were quickly followed by Dan unknowingly dragging me down the volcano.

This isn’t fun anymore. STOP!!” I yelled.

After I took stock of the raspberry gravel wounds down my left leg, we opted to part ways. As in life, some undertakings are more fun as a couple while others are best pursued alone.

See for yourself in the video:

Volcano Number Two: El Hoyo

Two volcanoes, one day. That’s the trick and the treat of this particular trek.

It was midday and I was drenched only minutes into the steep two-hour climb through the gap at Las Pilas. Fearing heat exhaustion, I slowed and focused on one foot in front of the other. Meanwhile, most of the group bounced Tigger-like up the steep path in the oppressive heat.

One rain storm and a few water breaks later (I was so thankful for each and every one), we arrived at the top of El Hoyo volcano, our campsite for the night. Dazed and exhausted, I barely registered that we and the mountain were enveloped in clouds. Nearly 12 hours of movement had taken their toll.

Early Bird Gets the View

“Guys, you have to come out here and see this rainbow!”

It was 5:20 AM. My first thought: “Ugh.”

My second thought: “This is John’s ploy to draw us out of our tents.” Dan concurred.

I went outside just to be sure.

And there it was: a rainbow (which multiplied to two – Alexander’s Dark Band) and a rapidly clearing sunrise view of Lake Managua, Momotombo Volcano, Lake Asososca (our destination later that day) and the vast, awesome green valley that lay among them.

Those bruises on my hips, the muscle ache in my legs. It was all worth it.

I decided I’m not too old for this after all.

A Word about Quetzal Trekkers

We did this in 36 hours with Quetzal Trekkers in Leon, Nicaragua. We will write more about them later. For those interested in this hike, it’s referred to as El Hoyo. It’s really three-in-one (Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Lake Asososca). It’s kicks your ass, but it kicks ass.

For those interested in trekking in Guatemala or Nicaragua, Quetzal Trekkers is a fantastic organization. They not only deliver a unique experience, but 100% of their profits goes towards helping street kids. Their prices are reasonable and they can lend you virtually all the equipment you’ll need. All their guides are volunteers who give a minimum of three months of their time to the organization. Their jobs are not easy, but somehow they make it look so. These guys and gals are some of the most dedicated and passionate we’ve had the pleasure to meet on our travels.

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  1. Pete DeRitter says

    As they say, “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” (maybe not saner)
    Running down the volcano reminds me of running down the sand dunes here in West Michigan. Done a few nose dives myself.
    I love those panoramas.

  2. says

    That was fantastic! Good for you, you are not too old at all! You show those little 20 – year old’s whose the boss! I loved the video where you are just being dragged by Dan. When we summited Kilimanjaro last year, I couldn’t run down either. People were running by me and whenever I tried, I just fell and tumbled down the mountain. It is tough!

  3. says

    Thanks for the information on Quetzal Trekkers; have done a little googling and they seem like a great organization — I love it when interests like these come together with social responsibility!

  4. says

    We trekked Cerro Negro with Quetzal Trekkers when we were in Leon. We unfortunately only had time for the 1-day trip. The overnight sounded awesome…but exhausting. They were a great group. We had a blast and have also highly recommended them to others.

  5. says

    Just found your site and love your journey and philosophy on it all! You def have a new follower – and that rainbow at the end their…sounds magical and makes me want to climb myself! :-)

  6. says

    you’re certainly not too old – good for you!! I climbed Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala 3 years ago when I was 26. I went with my cousins who were also in their mid 20s to their early 30s. We were winded after the first half hour, but our guide – easily in his 80s – strode on for hours without even breaking a sweat. I’ve never forgotten how easy it was for him. It gives me a lot to strive for as I get older.

  7. says

    I’m glad you’re not too old to be climbing volcanoes! How else would I travel vicariously through Nicaragua. Again, your panoramas are awesome!

  8. says

    Thank you all for your comments! We just returned to “civilization” (i.e., an internet connection) today after a break on the Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua.

    Don’t worry, I really don’t believe I’m too old for any of this outdoor stuff…and hope to keep it that way for a long, long time! We’ve got Machu Picchu and a few other big treks ahead of us in South America, so this was good training!

  9. says

    Interesting article. Climbing a volcano sounds very exciting. I don’t think you’re too old to climb a volcano. Just take your time and go for it. After all, how many people can say that they’ve climbed a volcano — I know I can’t!

  10. nikol and martin - vrsovice says

    holla …. thxs for nice male vrsovice under the hole
    hoping see you back in real vrsovice
    take care stay in touch

  11. says

    @Nikol and Martin: It was really fun to meet two people from our old neighborhood in Prague – Vrsovice – at a volcano in Nicaragua! We will be back in Prague next summer to renew our visas, so we’ll see you in the real Vrsovice then!

    @Hans: You were always at the head of the pack going up these two volcanoes, so I hope my account of the journey matched yours :) Safe travels to you as well!

  12. says

    @Laurent: We’re honored you think so highly of this piece that you put it on the Quetzal Trekker El Hoyo hike page! It was an incredible trek with a fantastic organization. Good luck with your work with Quetzal Trekkers.


  1. […] Every week, Taxi Gourmet features a cab shot from a new part of the world. This week’s photo comes from Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll, who left their jobs in Prague, Czech Republic in 2006 to travel the world, eat adventurously and share stories with and about people they meet at They took this beautiful picture of two bicycle cabbies in Rivas, Nicaragua, where they also learned how not to run down the side of a volcano. To read more about their adventures in Nicaragua, click here. […]

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