Date of Trip: February 2011
Several friends, a guide from Habla Ya and I set out to climb Volcan Baru, in Boquete, Panama. It’s about 14.5 kilometers, with a 6,000-foot elevation change, reaching the summit at 11,479 feet.
It was a pleasant, sunny morning as we set out at a steady pace; signs were random and infrequent, so it was hard to judge just how far we had gone or how far we had to go.
We wanted to be halfway before stopping for lunch, but we couldn’t find any signs to figure out where we were. We were tired and hungry and didn’t know how far we had come (later on, we discovered that we all were having the same thoughts at this time: “What did I get myself into, and will I be able to make it to the top?”). At this point the “road” (mostly loose gravel) was quite steep, and each time we turned around a bend, another steep section appeared.
Finally, we gave up on the marker and stopped for lunch. The food was key — a pretty basic sandwich on Bimbo bread (yes, that is the real name of the local bread), but we were hungry and tired and it tasted really good. A great little piece of chocolate to top it off, and we were on our way again. Just a few hundred feet past where we stopped for lunch, we found the marker we had been looking for, and to our great surprise, we discovered that we were actually 2/3 of the way up the mountain, and not 1/2 as we had thought. At that point, we all knew that we could finish the climb, and proceeded with enthusiasm.
An ATV passed us in the afternoon — this was Habla Ya’s ATV with our camping gear, sleeping bags, and dinner. How great is that? We only had to carry water and snacks in our backpacks, which hugely reduced the effort required to climb the mountain, and when we arrived at the campsite (1.5 km below the summit), all the gear and food was already there.
Except for a number of blisters, we all made it in good shape — 13 km in 6 1/2 hours. The weather was cool and clear at the camp grounds, but we were hot and sweaty, so it was perfect. We relaxed, helped to get our tents set up (though the Habla Ya team did most of the work), and munched on some snacks.
We then hiked the last 1.5 km to the summit. As we neared the summit, we arrived at “tower central,” an area consisting of a number of buildings and a plethora of cell and Internet towers.
Once past these towers, we had to climb the rocky area (about a 5–10 minute climb), which was challenging and required total concentration.
But our timing was perfect — the sun began to set just as we arrived at the summit. We were truly on top of the world, above a sea of white, puffy clouds.
The skies began to turn pink in the distance as the clouds danced around us. As the sun sank lower and lower, the colors became more and more vibrant, to the point where we were in total awe of the gift that Mother Nature bestowed upon us. The night sky replaced the vibrant colors, and we descended to the campgrounds for a well-earned dinner prepared by the Habla Ya team.
The food hit the spot and included a delicious fried rice with chicken, a Panamanean staple. After recounting our day’s adventures, we settled in for the night. At 11,000 feet, it was significantly cooler than the mid-80s I am used to, and I think it got down to the low 50s that night, but I’m not sure. I do know it got cold enough for me to shiver throughout the night, despite the claims on the sleeping bag that it would protect the user down to freezing point.
We arose early the next morning and, with difficulty, climbed the 1.5 km to the top again. We were definitely sore from the day before, and it was very noticeable in those first 15 minutes, until our bodies adjusted. We arrived up top just after sunrise, and it was clear on the Pacific side and mostly cloudy on the Atlantic side, though we were able to see land briefly.
We returned to the campgrounds, ate a hearty breakfast, and began our descent. We had heard that going down was more difficult than going up, and eventually I came to believe that, as did the rest of the group. The first 1/3 of the way down was pretty smooth, and we were still high from what we had experienced at the summit. The road consisted mostly of loose gravel, which was difficult to navigate, especially on the steeper portions of the road. Even with walking sticks (and for me, the arm of Victor, our guide), it was difficult to stay on 2 feet and most of us had an unexpected “sit down” at some point during the descent. It took nearly as long to get down as to go up, much to the surprise of all of us. We all had achy knees, along with many other aching body parts, but it was well worth every ache and pain. What an awesome experience!