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The fatal ascent of the Fuego

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On June 3, 2018, the volcano Fuego (Guatemala) erupted: its deadliest since 1974. The emission of pyroclastic lava and fiery clouds caused the deaths of 114 people in the surrounding villages.

Two months earlier I was carefreely climbing this giant peak at 3763 meters. I mean its neighbour, the Acatenango (3976m) from which one can admire the “Volcano of Fire” (Fuego) roar and spit out its smoke almost every ten minutes. A dazzling show that I absolutely wanted to immortalize in the film Fuego above.

The ascent was not easy and the road was long. We left with a small group of 15 people around 12pm to climb a difference in altitude of about 1500 metres with a load of about 15kg on my back. The base camp was reached around 5pm. I thought I would rest and admire the spectacle that was taking place on the other side of the valley when our guide proposed to go on an accelerated expedition to the Fuego crater. This created the most beautiful but trying physical ordeal of my life.

Gear used

  • GH5 Camera, Sigma 18-35, Metabones Ultra 0.71, GoPro Hero4
  • No tripod
  • Drone Mavic Pro
  • 5 liters of water (it was too much especially when you know that 1L=1kg), a bad backpack
10 euros the Fuego supplement, it’s worth it!

Despite the attractive rate supplement, of the 15 members of the group, only 5 volunteered. Relieved of the weight of my backpack, my drone in my pocket, I threw myself without water or food, with my inexperience of the mountain, into this second ascent of the day. The descent of the Acatenango slope separating it from the Fuego was done at lightning speed between tree trunks, rocks and ravines. When I got to the foot of the Fuego, I was done. The legs? Cut off. The breath? Taken. Lucidity? Gone. Lifting one leg to put one foot in front of the other becomes a torture at this altitude. Give up? Too late I’m in the hollow of the valley.

“I can almost reach it” – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Fortunately, I have my lucky star with me. A couple of Corsican hikers give me some cookies and some water. Just what it takes to reach the objective: a landing 300 meters from the crater. Night falls, the Fuego makes a bewildering noise, I throw my little drone blindly without being sure that it can return, guided only by the lights of the crater. And then a rash. A magnificent show (see film above), a dazzling firework display but without artifice, entirely natural, almost supernatural.

In the Maya worldwiew, volcanoes are sacred places where cosmic forces are present in everything.

Fuego

It’s time to turn back. The return to the camp was even more difficult than the outward journey. Endless. Last of the group, behind, alone with myself, I end up arriving at the camp carried only by the strength of the mind. Exhausted but proud, with rare images in my head. Unforgettable.

Author: Vladimir Bodiroga