Climbing Volcan Baru This past February, I climbed to the highest point in Panama. This peak is found at 11,398 feet above sea level atop a dormant volcano called Volcan Baru. It was the most grueling and challenging thing I have ever done in my life. It taxed every once of my body and mind. I don’t know that I will ever do it again, but I am definitely glad that I did it. It is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
A group of about 20 of us set out around 5AM from Rio Sereno, a small town on the Costa Rican border. My husband and I ate a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast, oatmeal, and coffee since we knew that was the last full meal we would have for at least 38 hours.
I made the mistake of drinking a big glass of water right before we left knowing that our water would also be rationed during this time. I suppose drinking the water wasn’t really the mistake; not going to the bathroom right before I left was. As you can guess, I had to go to the bathroom so badly that we had to stop the van so I could get out. Fortunately, there was not much oncoming traffic, it was still before sunrise, and I found a tree to go behind. That was not the way I wanted to start out this trip.
After a last-minute stop at Romero’s (the only nice grocery store for miles around), we finally made it to the drop-off point, where we started the long descent up the volcano. The first hour was a pleasant one through a beautiful green forest of large trees and strange-growing mushrooms. Then, the terrain changed into more of a hands-on climbing up the trail. It was extremely dusty at one point and we all got very dirty.
One of the hardest terrain types to climb were the white lightning rocks. (That is just what I call them. It is hard to describe them. They act sort of like a quick sand that your feet get buried in, but it is composed of baseball and softball sized rocks.) Actually, these were worse coming down the mountain, although my husband rather enjoyed “skating” down them. I was afraid I would break something.
We finally made it to the base camp around 4:30 PM. We brought tents and sleeping bags to sleep in in the crater of the volcano. It was very windy and very cold. We built a fire and sat around it singing and telling stories as we drank hot chocolate. My husband and I slept for a little while, but soon we were shivering ourselves awake, so we got up and sat around the fire.
Early the next morning, we made the final climb to the very top of Panama, where you can see the Pacific on one side and the Atlantic on the other. It felt pretty amazing to have accomplished that- to be on top of the Panamanian world.