The Volcan Nevado de Colima is not actually in the state of Colima, and the nearest city is not the city of Colima. The Volcano actually lies within the state of Jalisco and the nearest major population centre is Ciudad Guzman, also in Jalisco.
Nevertheless, Colima locals are still proud of their Volcano. In fact, they’re proud of both of their Volcanoes, because they claim ownership of the Volcan Nevado, which is dormant and is occasionally covered in snow, and the Volcan de Fuego, which is still active.
The Volcan Nevado was the goal of my hiking party, comprising of residents of Colima from as far afield as Australia, the UK, New Zealand and the US. We had expected the company of some Mexicans but they had enjoyed themselves a little too much at the previous night’s fiesta.
We had dismissed the thought of climbing the Voclan de Fuego, because it’s regular eruptions leave it accessible only to the mad scientists from the Univeristy of Colima. We scheduled the climb on the Volcan Nevado for December because at this time of year the summit is more likely to be covered in snow – even though that is a rare and unpredictable occurrence.
An assault on the summit of the Volcan Nevado must start early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and allow hikers the chance to descend safely during daylight hours. Thus, we put ourselves to bed at a ridiculously early hour of the afternoon, and woke at a ridiculously early hour of the morning in order to reach the base of the climb before sunrise.
With bleary eyes we drove through Colima and witnessed the fiesta spilling out onto the streets. It reminded me of a story I read once which explained that the closest sensation to altitude sickness is a strong hangover. We could have saved ourselves the effort of climbing to 4260 metres and just got drunk with the locals.
We drove on through the darkness and arrived at the base of the volcano. We quickly hitched our day packs and began the hike. At times, we could hear a scurry of feet that were clearly not human, and a rustle in the bushes. The darkness prevented us from determining its origin, and most of us were still too sleepy to worry about it.
We pushed on through the pine trees and felt the air thin as we gained altitude. Even for a day hike, without heavy packs, the altitude makes the climb a challenging one-day hike.
The trees soon cleared as the landscape opened to more rocky, alpine terrain.
At the same time the sun pierced through the horizon and we were finally able to see the source of the rustling – a random dog that had followed us from the beginning of the trail, and was to guide us to a point just below the summit. It was one fit and excitable dog.
The climb is arduous, and relatively steep, but very rewarding. Stunning views open themselves to the hiker at regular intervals and the passing clouds envelope the nearby peaks.
Patches of snow contrast brilliantly with the black and grey rock, even through we had missed a solid dumping of snow.
The air cooled as we continued to climb and provided a pleasant climate and welcome relief from the often stifling heat and humidity of Colima city.
Our canine guide barked us in the direction of the jagged summit and we soon reached the peak, celebrating like true conquerors, with handshakes, snacks, congratulations and even a swig of Scottish whisky from the Brit – who was clearly not lightheaded enough.
We managed to relax at the summit for a decent length of time and enjoy the ever-changing views. It is said that on a very clear day, it is possible to see all the way to the Pacific Ocean. On a slightly hazy day, it is still possible to see both Ciudad Guzman and Colima, and determine unequivocally which is closer.
It’s also possible to gaze upon the Volcan de Fuego, and hope that it would erupt, because despite the obvious danger, it would be a great sight from up here. Even the regular ‘fumaroles’, or emissions of ash, are an impressive site from the peak of the volcano’s twin.
The descent was enjoyable and fairly relaxed, and we even managed to surf our way down part of it on the loose shale, with no sprained ankles to report. We shed our layers as we passed back through the pine forests to the base of the volcano.
Thus, we bid ‘adios’ to the dog and headed back to Colima.
The biggest error we made on this day was stopping in Atenquique for lunch. The food was good, a nice hefty Mexican meal of rice and beans, but the stench was atrocious. The fumes spewing forth from the local paper factory were overpowering and made us a feel very sorry for the poor workers who were forced to live there. We’d all escaped altitude sickness, but feared for our health if we lingered too long in this town.
We decided to finish our lunch in the car.
Tired, happy and satisfied, we arrived back in Colima, just as some of the local revellers were arriving back from their own all-nighter.