Sj and I celebrate each child’s birthday with an adventurous experience. For Josiah’s 15th birthday, we decided that he and I, together with Hannah (age 12), would hike toward the summit of the 13,000-foot volcano Nevado de Colima in Ciudad Guzman, Mexico.
Dramatic views of two Mexican volcanoes were in store for us at the Parque Nacional de Nevado de Colima. A treacherous dirt road lead to the summit trail of Nevado de Colima, with excellent views of her active neighbor, locally known as the “Fuego” (fire volcano).
We enjoyed a pleasant stay at Hotel Fuerte Real in Ciudad Guzman (elev 4950), the closest city to the two volcanoes. After getting (what I thought was sufficient) gasoline at the Pemex we proceeded to the volcanoes. From the main highway, we passed the local technical college of Ciudad Guzman and turned left onto a steeply winding dirt road that climbed about 6500 feet in 10.5 miles.
The road itself was about one and a half lanes wide. Thankfully, we had the road all to ourselves on the way up. We passed one vehicle on the way down. It is hard to imagine this road with Mexicans eager to see the snow but inexperienced in wintry conditions, barrelling down this treacherous road.
Only one S-curve had a small “dangerous curves” sign. We joked that all the other unrailed, unmarked curves must be considered safe. Joking stopped when we saw a cross indicating a fatality between the two curves.
At Josiah´s request, we stopped several times for some of the most spectacular vistas. The pictures with the more steeply pointed summit are of the very active Volcan de Colima. Because of its activity, it is only accessible to volcanologists. Just weeks before we came, the volcano released a plume of ash that went 3 miles into the air. Officials had then put a ban on travel within 3 miles of the volcano.
At the gate to the park, a gatekeeper named Daniel greeted us. He directed us to proceed another 2.5 miles to the trailhead. He apologized that there were no more maps. At one point we turned left down a logging road and had to backtrack 1.25 miles. To prevent confusion on the return trip, we left tree branches indicating the direction of our exit.
We were very glad to see some workers that directed us to the designated parking area about 300 yards ahead of us. Since we noticed the road continued onward, we went forward about another 1.5 miles until the road proved too steep for the camper.
Finding a small concrete building, we pulled over and walked the rest of the way on the trail. We followed a yellow marked trail that led to a fire station and cell phone towers.
NOTE: I should say that, officially, hikers should take the trail that begins at the parking lot 1.25 miles back. Nonetheless, two firemen did see us on their property and gave no indication of wrongdoing on our part.
As we hiked, it soon became evident that we were breathing much thinner air. Going from sea level to more than two miles up is a challenge on the lungs. The trail was well marked toward the cell towers. Together with our trusty English Springer Spaniel, we clambered over volcanic ash and igneous rocks that dotted the landscape.
As the altitude increased, we left tropical Mexico far behind us. Dramatically, we saw the vegetation change. Pines became more numerous and dense. Towards the top, pine needles formed a brown carpet on most shoulders. Also, mountain wildflowers grew abundantly with lavender flowers dominating the shoulders of the trail.
Finally we reached the towers, the view of the Nevado de Colima is stunning. At approximately 12,000 feet, the clouds rolled below us and periodically obscured the view of the summit. When the clouds cleared, we clearly saw the crater of Nevado–long dormant, but the untouched ashes and volcanic rock gave a dramatic reminder of the power that still lies beneath. The cascades of ash on the face of the Nevado gave a moon-like appearance to the saddle between our venue at the cell tower and the summit.
While we were taking in the view, we heard the voice of the active Volcan de Fuego. The technical term is a volcanic degassing. I can only describe it as three thunderous roars, something between a gasp and a growl. We all looked at each other with the shocked gaze of wonder, excitement and awe. The warning sign behind us had been destroyed except for the last two lines indicating that the sound was 3 miles (5 km) from where we stood.
BRR! While we shook momentarily at the volcano´s roar, we shook more from the cold at the top. The change in climate is just as dramatic. Snow will grace the area in just a few weeks; it´s not hard to imagine. When the clouds rolled in toward our day´s end, the temperature easily dropped to the 30s. Switching from 90’s to 30’s in a day was rough. Our lightweight jackets were not enough and encouraged us to keep in motion.
Just before heading back down, we quickly started a campfire. There we were in Mexico, shivering and gladly warming our cold-stiffened hands by the fire. Even with the cold, we had an unforgettable eye and ear full.
When we reached the camper, I realized how much gas we had burned on the way up. Thankfully, I had an extra gallon along. Also, Daniel the gatekeeper eagerly sold us a gallon that he quickly siphoned from his 4-wheeler.
It takes a lot to for Josiah and Hannah to run out. Nonetheless, they took turns snoozing on the way down as late afternoon turned to dusk. We stopped for a couple dramatic sunsets.
Back at the hotel, we reunited with a relieved mother, shared the pine cones with our little ones, defrosted in our private jacuzzi, filled up on local hot corn soup and recounted the memories of a lifetime.
Watch this video to see more of our climb and views from the top.