Christmas Day, 2022
The volcano hike became an option on Christmas day. Fernando and I were looking for things to do in Colima and Trip Advisor had recommendations for a company called Admire Mexico. I showed it to Fernando who was hesitant about booking with some random company online (he has trust issues) but on Christmas day he agreed that I could message them and see if the volcano hike was available during our travel window. Not even considering that a company would respond on Christmas day, I emailed Jupiter with Admire Mexico and he responded promptly saying they could accommodate us, and that they have rooms available for rent at their home base to facilitate in ensuring the early start to the volcano hike isn't a problem.
Then it was almost a two month wait. Fernando googled, I googled, and we debated how long the hike actually was. There is a road to the base of the rocky climb that could be seen in the photos but we weren't entirely sure how far we had to hike or how much we could drive. I could have emailed Jupiter and asked, but honestly, I like not knowing everything about a challenge I am taking on and Fernando never asked me to find out.
February 22nd, 2023 - Comala
We arrived in Comala (the base town of Admire Mexico) the night before our hike. We checked in and went to check out some of the town. We had already been to the museum/house of Alejandro Rangel the day before with Fernado's mom and aunt so we were focused on the town square. We wandered in the general direction of the town square and found it fairly easily. We were off by one block. The square was busy and I enjoyed free roaming with my camera.
As much as I hope you enjoy the photos from Comala, you're not here for that. You're here to read about the volcano adventure, so here we go!
We left Comala at 5:30am and after picking up another hiker (Salim) Jupiter drove us to the neighbouring town of Guzman in the tour bus. We stopped for a quick break and Jupiter grabbed us tortas for breakfast from a local shop. From Guzman it is around 25km to the volcano, 18 of which is on a windy switchback gravel road. As Jupiter navigated the switchbacks we learned about the local farming industry, which grows avocados, blackberries, and other berries. I marvelled at the fact that you can grow avocados in what feels like an incredibly dry ecosystem. Avocados take something like 25L of water a day per tree to grow. Colima/Jalisco do not feel like they have a temperate enough ecosystem for that but as I learned, they do! There is a four month long rainy season. The hillside we travelled on receives enough water to support the growth of cedar trees at mid elevations. A few kilometers up the road a dog appeared and was running ahead of us until a car passed us and it ran with them. Jupiter told us this dog lives nearby and runs up the road and summits the volcano every day! It's around 40km round trip that this dog travels a day.
We got to the parking area, packed our gear, and started walking up the road. Fernando and I had packed so many layers in anticipation of this hike. We had no idea what 4,000m elevation feels like and how many layers to bring. We opted for one layer each when we actually got there though and a long sleeve for the sun in case we needed them. I knew it would be cold in the shade but since we were going to be moving, and tank top seemed reasonable. There's a gate to prevent the public from accessing the volcano monitoring centre so we walked on the road for four kilometers. Normally I would find this very boring, but we learned about Jupiter and how he became a guide, the plants that are similar to those in northern BC (like Lupins). There are pine (Pinus Hartwegii) and fir (Abies Colimensis) species endemic to the volcano, and a lot of the pine has been affected by a pine beetle. Juniper (Juniperus monticola) is also common between northern BC, along with an endemic moss that I didn't notice but Fernando learned about while googling the scientific names for the pine and fir for me. Jupiter wasn't sure if the pine beetle was classified as endemic or an epidemic here, but a significant portion of the trees were affected. Reforestation efforts have taken place on the volcano and they have noticed a significant increase in the presence of birds and small mammals following the infestation, similar to what we experienced in BC.
We learned about different kinds of volcanos and how long it had been since Nevado de Colima had erupted (around 7,500 years ago). It's not considered extinct until it hasn't erupted for 10,000 years so it is considered dormant. Volcan de Colima (the one pictured below with the more uniform shape) is still active and much younger. I thought when we started the hike that seeing Volcan de Colima would be the highlight, but compared to Nevado de Colima, it is small! Don't get me wrong, the photographer in me would still love to capture it from more angles at sunrise, sunset, and during an eruption, but I was surprised how much shorter it is in comparison.
4,000m elevation and counting
We left the road at the volcano monitoring centre and followed some trails. It wasn't sand or gravel, but it sure felt like we were walking on a beach. You know that feeling of walking in sand where you take a step forward and feel like you slide two inches back when the sand gives way? That feeling was present. Overall not a bad feeling, just providing context for you. This was much more enjoyable than when I hiked the sandy beaches of the West Coast Trail with a 50 pound backpack on in the rain.
After about a kilometer we stopped to strap on our helmets (provided by Admire Mexico) for the ascent up the rocks. I probably wouldn't have thought to wear one if they didn't provide them and I'm not entirely sure it was necessary but I can completely understand how a company would implement the use of helmets to mitigate risk to their clients. There was the potential for rocks to be dislodged from people ahead of you and also for falling. Easily mitigated by helmets.
It was here that I really noticed the altitude. I don't know what the altitude was at this point but I could feel it. I felt like my heart rate was getting up higher faster than normal and had to stop and remind myself to drink water and breathe slowly. Fernando and I had noticed it walking on the road when it got steeper, but it hadn't been bad, we just needed to breathe deeper. I had a snack, felt better, and we carried on. Jupiter led the way and I brought up the end of the line (there were four of us). Full disclosure this next section was extremely embarrassing for me. But I will write about it because it was part of the experience.
We climbed the rocky section. Every step for me felt difficult. I leaned into the rock wall as instructed and kept my center of gravity as low as I could. At first I felt okay, but as we continued I fell further and further behind. I was so slow! I've never been a fast hiker but this was something so new to me. Fernando was encouraging and supportive. The altitude wasn't hitting him as drastically. He said he could feel it but it wasn't something that impeded his ability to keep climbing. I felt like couldn't get enough oxygen to keep pushing. I had to step what felt like every 5 meters to bring my heart rate back down and stop the dizziness. At one point, probably 250m from the summit, I stopped and leaned over a rock to argue with myself. I was not giving up. Yes, my body was uncomfortable. It wants to keep me safe and alive and everything I was asking it to do went against the natural instincts of self preservation. I knew I wasn't really at risk though. Was it hard to catch my breath? Yes. But that didn't mean I was dying. It just meant I had to slow down. The dizziness was the worst though. It came with no nausea but it was enough to make me almost fall from dizziness a few times. The inner battle was on and I was going to complete this hike. Little sections at a time. Actually, the fact that I was the only one feeling this poorly may have been the worst. Struggling like that in front of strangers and Fernando was hard emotionally.
Jupiter cheered me on from the top, where he, Fernando and Salim waited. I made my way a few feet at a time. When I got to the top I was so dizzy I just sat down. I didn't even take the time to appreciate the views in front of me until I had some water and a snack. The volcano dog was there and I shared my water and lunch with him. I had also packed up a ziploc bag of dog food for him after learning he would likely be at the top when we got there. I happened to have dog food in my luggage from the night before when I saw dogs that I thought needed food but didn't. Feeling better, I took it all in. 4,260+ meters of elevation makes all the surrounding mountains look like baby mountains. I was too dizzy still to go close to the edge but we took photos at the summit to celebrate our success before heading back down with the volcano dog. The group that was at the summit when we arrived disappeared quickly down the trail so it was just us.
I dropped my camera....4,260m of elevation and I dropped my camera. The connection on my camera carrier had gotten turned and it wasn't locking it properly. On top of that I forgot to re-secure it with the strap to my bag in case of accidental dislodging of the camera. It fell down four rock steps before coming to a stop just before Fernando. It had a scratch on the viewing screen and my brand new lens had dents around the edge of the lens. I refused to look at the rest of it. It went into Fernando's backpack and stayed there. Needless to say, the rest of these photos are a collection of iphone photos taken by Fernando, Jupiter, and myself. They aren't edited, just snapshots of the beautiful adventure we had.
The descent was much easier for me. With every step my body was feeling better and I was confident in the terrain. It was rocky with a combination of loose rocks and solid rocks so I just made sure my footing was good and down we went. Salim struggled going down - he had a sudden influx of fear once he reached the summit and I thought it was really impressive how he handled it well enough to go down the hill. He was borderline having a panic attack. Jupiter helped him descent EVERY STEP of the way down the rocks. I'm not even kidding. He told Salim where to put his feet and hands, when to watch Jupiter move through a section so he could repeat it confidently, and took the route that were comfortable to Salim. This is why guides are so valuable. Between the education and mental assistance we all received, Jupiter more than earned the title of best volcano guide we could have asked for.
After the rocky section Salim was feeling better mentally and we proceeded down a different way. We didn't walk back down the road but instead we walked down sandy/gravelly courses cut through the volcano. The volcano dog was still with us, enjoying some shade while he waited for us slower four-legged creatures to navigate the terrain. It reminded me a lot of climbing the cutbanks in Prince George and then going back down. As we reached the forested section again we were reminded of the drier transition zone to the grasslands found around 100 Mile House in BC. Lots of big grasses and conifer trees.
At the bottom we relaxed. We ate lunch - sandwiches Jupiter made for us. I fed the volcano dog more dog food, the last of our water, and he shared my sandwich. I wasn't feeling savoury food - I wanted easy to consume sugary food. Then, we headed home. Salim was dropped off at a bus station to head to Guadalajara. He's travelling Mexico for another month and I can't even imagine where his adventures will take him. Jupiter dropped Fernando and I off at his aunts and we were taken for dinner by his aunt.
All in all, a pretty perfect day.