I consider myself a fairly active and in shape person, but it’s no real surprise that life on the road has me a little off my game. Whenever Kevin and I have an opportunity to spend a couple of days in the woods hiking we usually jump at the chance. We had just gotten over a brutal stomach bug so what better way to welcome ourselves back to the real world by doing one of the hardest hikes of my life!
When we first started planning this trip I saw ourselves sticking mainly beach side, but we soon discovered that Mexico is filled with National Parks. You can wake up one morning and be greeted by the ocean and within a couple hours you can be high up in the mountains wearing hats and gloves and starting fires at 4pm just to stay warm. This was an exciting discovery for us because life is all about balance and just as calming as the ocean can be, the woods can provide the same level of comfort for both of us.
Back in San Diego, hiking is usually one of my main forms of getting exercise. I love waking up early in the morning to jump on a trail and check a four-mile hike off my list before 8:00am. If I’m going to work up a sweat, I’d much rather be surrounded by nature than walking on a treadmill. Since San Diego is blessed with year-round perfect weather, this butt burner workout is always available. On top of that, at least twice a year there will be an overnight backpacking trip on my schedule where we will trek 10+ miles up a mountain to fully immerse ourselves in nature and disconnect for a couple of days. To prepare, I significantly research these overnight hikes before strapping my pack to my back and hitting the trail. I know the altitude gained, mileage round trip, difficulty level, user reviews, water sources, weather, etc. Leading up, I usually do difficult hikes just to make sure I’m ready (especially if there is a significant altitude gain).
Fast forward to our current adventure; we’ve really been going with the flow with our plans. We usually just look at the map and do a couple of google searches and if it’s something we’re interested in, we go. In this situation I think we hit a small language barrier. Even though our Spanish is getting better, we’re not well versed in having a conversation regarding hiking, so we went into this whole thing a little blind and unprepared.
The road to the park was unpaved, winding, and dusty. Props to Kevin and Poppins for handling the road without any problems. On our way up, we were passing people in full on winter gear. We soon discovered as we were gaining elevation the temperature was dropping significantly. We had literally just come from the ocean so it was funny to step out of the truck in shorts and flops and get sideways stares. Here come the gringos!
Parque Nacional Volcàn Nevado de Colima is located on the Colima-Jalisco state board, spans about 3.6 square miles, and has two volcanoes within the park that are 3 miles apart; the active Volcàn de Fuego (12,300ft) and the dormant Volcàn Nevado de Colima (14,000ft). National Parks in Mexico have some similarities to the ones in the States, but for the most part they are different. While there is usually still an entrance fee to get into the park – which is around $3.00 – the roads are usually unpaved, you don’t get a handy pamphlet with park info when you enter, and there are no rangers walking around to point you in the right direction or field your questions.
As we were pulling into the park we were unknowingly pointing to the top of Nevado de Colima joking about how it resembled the Grinch’s grinchy lair of Mount Crumpit. We had no idea it was the peak of Nevado de Colima or that we were about to climb to the top the next day. We got to our campsite during daylight and immediately had to layer up and start a fire, it was about 30 degrees outside in the sun. The campground itself was cool and made us miss our hiking buddies back state side. Guadalajara is the nearest city so there were lots of young people from that area coming for the weekend to camp out and do the hike. That night we got a collective 3 hours or so of sleep due to the cold and slanted angle of the truck, we were shocked when we woke up the next morning and hadn’t turned into icicles.
There were a few things that made this hike so challenging for me. First off, there were no switchbacks on the trail so it was literally straight up. For those of you who aren’t hikers, switchbacks are bends in a trail that create a gradual ascend and descend… keyword being gradual. When you gain elevation it’s an easier way for your body to adjust to the change rather than shocking it all at once. Altitude sickness is awful and can be very dangerous: headache, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, etc. If I knew what I was getting into with this hike I wouldn’t have started my day with mostly coffee and barely any water. Whoops. Hindsight is 20/20.
Secondly, I had no idea how long our hike was or what to expect. We thought it was about 4 km (2.4 mi) from some janky sign that was at the entrance. I thought 2.4 miles…. “Piece of cake!”. That wasn’t entirely accurate. For me personally, hiking is 90% mental. I hiked down into the Grand Canyon a few years back and on our trek out we started at 3am. This was great because it was pitch black out so my brain had no concept of what I had to hike out of. As soon as the sun came up I saw switchbacks that never ended and cried on the inside. I soon slowed my pace and it took me twice as long to get out of that canyon than it should have, all because of my mind. I digress, but when I realized how winded I was very early into the hike my brain kicked in: “This is no piece of cake”. I began checking my odometer on my phone to see how far we had gone which was one of the worse thing I could have done. It’s like watching the clock at work on a Friday afternoon when you swear the clocks been stuck at 3:30 for the past hour.
Lastly, I just wasn’t prepared. We had no idea where we were going, how long the hike was or how much elevation was gained. We didn’t have enough food and definitely could have used more water. I didn’t have a big enough breakfast and certainly wasn’t hydrated enough when we started the hike either. Maybe we could have done a smaller hike in the area prior to jumping on this trail. Also, a lot of the people we saw hiking had serious hiking gear and were wearing helmets. I thought to myself… hmm, helmets, that seems a little excessive.
The first half of the hike, like I mentioned before, was straight up through a pine tree forest. The trails were marked but very poorly so we got turned around a couple of times. Once you past the pine tree’s the terrain turned to lose volcanic gravel, again going straight up. Here there were NO trail markings, it was a giant free-for-all where the gravel would just fall behind you each step you took. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. After we climbed the volcanic gravel “path” there were amazing views of Volcan de Fuego. I thought that this was the top and I was pumped thinking, “thank goodness this is over”, and celebrated by eating my banana. To the right there were observation decks and satellite towers which is where we thought we might be hiking to originally, but when we got to this point we realized that the trail didn’t go to the right. All the other hikers we had encountered (the ones with the helmets) continued to the left. I gave it my best shot to convince Kevin to just call it a day at this point and turn back around, but he wanted to continue on. I agreed, but on the inside, I was thinking “Fuck this!”.
The next part of the hike was the easiest. It was a flat ridge that had awesome views of Volcan de Fuego. All the sudden the trail was gone, and all that was in front of us was rocky terrain that we would climb for the next mile or so up to the summit of Nevado de Colima. Inner dialogue: “I think this is where the helmets would have come in handy”.
I’ve never been on a hike where you had to use your feet and hands. Silver lining: at least now we’re getting a full body workout. As you can imagine the last part of that hike was challenging and scary. It was a struggle trying to find the easiest and safest path up the cliffside – one wrong step and the rock beneath your foot would go tumbling down the mountainside and hopefully you didn’t go along with it. We were about a quarter of a mile from the top when I just lost it… out of nowhere I just started crying. I was quitting and not going to continue to the top. I was so scared and so exhausted mentally and physically it just wasn’t worth it for me to keep pushing myself. I had no idea which step to take next and I just envisioned myself taking the wrong step and tumbling down the mountain. I was not prepared for this and there was no part of me that was having fun. So, I cried, got mad, and gave up. It really paints a funny picture for those of you who know me well. Clinging to a cliffside unable to move crying.
Kevin continued up the mountain, and after I was done with my mountain side meltdown, I discovered I could actually see the summit. So, I got my cry over with, summoned the little bit of energy I had left in me, and made my way to the top of the mountain. Of course, a small part of me was happy to make it to the top but it wasn’t my usual normal feeling of achieving the top of the mountain. I usually feel elated, grateful, happy, triumphant and empowered. I was completely drained. We sat at the top for a while signed the registration book, took selfies and ate what little snacks we had left. Perhaps I wasn’t feeling so empowered because I knew the climb down was going to be just as challenging.
I fell a lot going down, it was like my legs had just given up on me. I’m not sure if anyone remembers those unimpressive toys from back in the day… the one with an animal about 3 inches tall on a pedestal with a button on the bottom. The one I recall was a giraffe, it would be held together with beads and string and all you had to do was push the button and the giraffe would just collapse. The minute you took your hand off the button the giraffe would be upright again.That was me going down the mountain, I literally must have fallen 7 or so times. At one point towards the end I was just rolling down the mountain. Looking back, a pretty hilarious image, but during…not so funny.
Either way, we made it to the top and back safely, and fairly unscaved. During, and for a while after, I had no good feelings about this hike at all, and in this blog post I don’t think I’ve said anything positive about it. Looking back, it was a beautiful hike and I would actually do it again – just on much different terms. It’s never really a clever idea to go into a hike where you gain 4,000 ft. in elevation in less than a mile and a half when you haven’t hiked in months. At least not when you’re 32 years old. Nevado de Colima, aka Mount Crumpit, kicked my ass physically and mentally, but at the end of the day it gave me an amazing experience to look back on that I am grateful for.