All alone on a volcano.

Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

Pacaya which is described as an active “complex volcano” is easily accessible from Antigua in Guatemala.    Walking tours to the summit are conducted depending on conditions at the time with the trail being closed if volcanic activity makes it hazardous.   It’s believed the volcano first erupted about 23,000 years ago and has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish invasion of Guatemala.   Rising to an elevation of 2,552 metres (8,373 ft) the volcano was dormant for a century before erupting violently in 1965,  it has been erupting continuously since then making it one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

During my visit I was,  of course,  carrying my photo gear and as a result was a little slower than others making the trek that day.    Arriving at the top gave some fine views over the surrounding countryside and some interesting views of the fumaroles which were smoking away.

Smoking fumerole, Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

Having made the walk up,  with the loose stones crunching under my feet as I went,  I took in the scene which was impressive,  but there was no flowing lava to be seen.    Other walkers having got to the top earlier than me,  and having enjoyed the view,  were starting to make their way back down the side of the volcano.     This left me alone at the top,  taking some time to get some pictures.   It was at this time that I heard a crackling hissing sound nearby,  turned around and saw that about 10 metres away the ground had opened up and there was now hot red lava following out of the newly formed crevice.

Lava flow, Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

Whilst this was an exciting occurrence,  it was also disconcerting.    I was now alone on top of an active volcano with no one else in sight and quite possibly,  no one else aware of what was happening.   Added to that was the knowledge that other flows could spontaneously occur as well and potentially block my path back down to the base.   Not a pleasant thought!    I was able to get a couple of quick photos and then decided it was time to get moving back down the trail.

Sunset over the slope of Pacaya

Descending the trail,  it was late in the day and the warm light of the sky contrasted against the black volcanic foreground.

The blackened slope of Pacaya

It was a steep trail in parts with loose stones under feet.   Although there was some fading light in the sky the trail itself was quite dark given the time of day and the shadows of the black rock.    I was wishing I’d carried a torch.

Lower slopes of Pacaya

As I approached the car park near the bottom of the trail,  I paused for one more photo of the surrounding countryside.

All these images were captured on colour negative film and the technical quality of the final image I would now regard as unacceptable if captured with a modern digital camera.   Digital long ago surpassed film in imaging quality,  given the same scene today I would happily push the ISO rating to 1600 or higher knowing that the result would be superior to what was available with film at ISO 400-800.    ~KD