I wake up groggy-eyed and heavy-headed in my tent, neck stiff from sleeping on my backpack. I stare blankly at the tarp ceiling, and puff little vapor clouds with my mouth, when I hear a rumble outside. At 3,500 meters, everything outside my cozy sleeping-bag cocoon turns frosty. I desperately don’t want to get out of my warm little bubble, but I have to. 

The day prior was spent climbing up 3,500 meters from the foot of Volcan Acatenango to base camp. The terrain was rough, rocky and very vertical. I try to stand up and my knees buckle slightly. “This is going to suck,” I whisper under my breath, steam puffing from my mouth. I wake the others and hobble outside. Everything on the mountain is pitch black, only visible when you shine your narrow beam of light around. The stars are out in full force, illuminating the distant city of Antigua, only shimmering dots of light from way up here. And then there’s the volcano. 

Volcano Fuego — the whole reason we’re here — decided to be kind to us. Erupting dust and rock every minute on the minute, occasionally she decides to show off with a big spray of lava, a thick, glowing yellow blob that dissipates down the mountain like orange and red fireflies. I shake my head in amazement of both what I’m seeing and my absolute stupidity for going on this trek, and gather my things.

My buddies, Dan and Ben, join me around the fire for a morning (well…3 AM) hot chocolate the Guatemalan way — a big simmering bowl of water swirled with a healthy brick of dark chocolate. We sigh and stare blankly at the bubbling pot, all wiped from yesterday’s hike, and silently dreading the climb ahead of us. Only 500 more meters. That’s nothing. We did 3,500 the day before, so this ought to be easy…right?  

Wrong. We begin our climb like we did the day before, full gear on our backs, dressed in a winter coat and a hat, but this time we have a headlamp. We look almost eerie with our headlamps on — just tiny ghostly dots of yellow in the black. We start to hike. 

One foot in front of the other. Rinse. Repeat. The terrain, already a solid 30 degree angle, begins to tilt, slowly reaching 45, and everything starts to hurt. Every step is a workout. Every move sears my calves. The ground changes from a comfortable dirt path to a sand that swallows your ankles with every step. You take a step and you sink. You take another and you slide backwards. I stop often to catch my breath, noticing that Ben and Dan are doing the same. Who knew that mountains got steeper the closer you get to the top? 

Finally, just as day starts to break, we reach the last rock scramble. The ankle-deep sand gives way to sturdy bedrock covered in a thin dusting of ash. Somehow, this makes things worse. Every step forward slides me four steps backward. I crouch down on my hands and knees and crawl my way up the last bit of it so I don’t topple backwards. 

Finally, literally four steps away from the top, my feet give way to the slippery dust and I start to slide backwards, but this time I’m not stopping. I turn around and see nothing but a downward slope behind me. No trees, no rocks, no nothing — and I’m picking up speed. Panicked, I try to grasp at anything around me, scrambling to hold onto a twig, a branch — anything. Andres, a German guy I met yesterday, quickly throws me his hiking stick and I grab onto it tight. He hoists me up and I sit for a second, my pounding heart slowly returning to normal. Phew. That was freakin’ close. 

As I regain my composure, I walk over to the edge of the volcano and peer over to its noisy neighbor. Volcano Fuego is billowing black smoke next door, puffing plumes of ash into the sky just as the sun peeks over the horizon. Over the next hour, as everyone joins me at the top, the sky bursts with light, dancing with blues, yellows, reds and oranges, the volcano silhouetting the background. “Damn,” I say to Ben. “Seems like a good enough reward for the hardest hike of my life.” He chuckles and the three of us sit there, 4,000 meters high with half the sky golden and the other half black, stars still shimmering behind us. Behind the volcano we can see all of Antigua, groggily waking up in the distance, the locals preparing for a day of work. Dan laughs to himself before turning to us. “So, how about that way down, huh?” 

  • Gilad
  • : I'm a traveler in my 20's with anxiety, OCD and hypochondriasis. Growing up, I never thought travel was for people like me...anxious, worried, Type-A people. But since I started backpacking, I noticed that literally anyone can and should travel, and I hope to spread that message to anyone else who may be too worried to book the ticket.
  • : https://www.anxiousandabroad.com/
  • : https://www.facebook.com/anxiousandabroad
  • : https://www.instagram.com/gil.ad.ventures/
  • : Everyone has worries about travel, some more than others. Anxious & Abroad wants to put those worries at ease with helpful tips, recommendations, planners, and guides from someone with anxiety and OCD, so you know that if I did it, you can too. Learn what to pack, how to plan and much more.
  • : adult_(19_and_over_as_of_31st_december_2019)
  • : This is the first time this story has been published.