Nat’s Travels – Climbing The World’s Youngest Volcano
I love a good climb. I’m quite an active person when I travel and love to challenge myself. I’d heard of the volcano Paricutin in Mexico and that it could be climbed, so naturally it was high on my list of things to do. There was very little information to be found about the climb, but I managed to find out the town that you have to go to do the climb. It looked like a guide would be needed, and horses. But there were no actually tour companies that offered the volcano hike. So me and the other half headed over to Angahuan (the nearest town) early on the morning that we planned to do the climb.
Volcán de Parícutin is the youngest volcano in the world, and the only one that mankind actually witnessed the birth of. The cinder cone volcano is listed as One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
The volcano first appeared in 1943, in the cornfield of a farmer. It was then active for seven years, during which time scientists were able to document the full life cycle of this type of eruption. By 1952 Paricutin had become a 424 high cone and had caused damaged to an area of over 90 sq miles. Three people were killed and two towns completely buried during the nine years of activity. Although the cone is still hot, the volcano is now classed as extinct.
Finding a guide was extremely easy. As soon as we got off the bus two men with horses came straight over asking if we wanted to go up Paricutin. It would be 400 pesos per horse, plus another 400 pesos for the guide. So we agreed, 1,200 pesos was much cheaper than we’d thought the trip would cost.
We followed this guy to some more horses and were introduced to our guide, Rafeal, who was his son. Rafael couldn’t speak English, but we were able to communicate with our terrible and basic Spanish, plus gestures. My horse was called Espiritu and Dave had Capitan. Espiritu certainly lived up to his name! They both looked well cared for to my novice eye, so I was happy to go. Although I will say, I hate American saddles. They are so uncomfortable!
We rode for ages. Paricutin could be seen in the distance and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Just after we left the town a dog started to follow us, I assumed it was Rafael’s dog. He followed us through the lava fields as we headed to the volcano.
When we got to the National Park we had to then pay for entry. Didn’t expect that extra cost, but it makes sense. It wasn’t very much either, only 20 pesos each.
The next part of the ride took us through lava fields. It was such a surreal place, everything was black. Barely anything was growing. The horses’ hooves sunk into the ground as they walked. Ash rose in little clouds everytime the horses took a step.
Climbing The Cone
Eventually we came to the base of the cone of Paricutin. Here there was a small house and a few more dogs came running out. This is where the caretaker lives, or that is what we gathered from our guide. He watches the volcano, and ensures only those with guides climb. I guess he also keeps an eye on the volcano itself, even though it is classed as extinct.
We left Espiritu, Capitan and the guides horse not far from the house. We went up the cone quite a long way, but it was very interesting. Even with the language barrier Rafael was great and showed us some interesting things. There are hot spots in on the cone, Rafael pointed out places that we could touch, telling us “Calor”. There were also spots where you could see the steam coming off the rocks and other rocks that you could literally hear sizzling. It’s quite a worrying and humbling experience to be stood on a volcano that is still hot. Such a powerful force of nature, even if it is extinct.
The climb was fairly difficult, as we were mainly climbing ash. It felt like I was taking three steps forward and two back. Absolutely exhausting. But eventually, we came to the top of the crater.
At the top you could actually look into the crater. We also had two choices, go straight to the highest point and then down, or walk around. So we went around. The dog was still with us, so Dave asked Rafael what the dog was called, the guide looked confused. It turns out that the dog was a stray, he follows everyone up! No one knows why, he must just like the walk.
As we walked around the crater Rafael told us that the lava fields go on for 20km. It was quite a view in all directions!
Once we’d reached the highest point the way down was much easier. We literally just slide down. Well, it was more scree walking, but I’m not very good at that, so I will use the term sliding! As I went down, my feet became buried in the ash, it was so hot! The rest of me got covered in ash too. We reached the house at the bottom and literally had to shake out our shoes!
A Dragon’s Lair
The way back was much the same as the way to the cone, with one slight changed. Not long after we had left the national park, we took a different turn. This turning took us to the church of San Juan Parangaricutiro, of what is left of it.
When Paricutin erupted, the town of San Juan Parangaricutiro was destroyed and all that remains is the church. It is a bizarre sight. The best way I can describe it, is that it looks like a dragon’s lair. I expected Smaug to raise his head at any moment! The single tower rises out of the solid lava and the altar is untouched. It is a strangely beautiful combination of brick and lava, an impressive metaphor of man made vs mother nature.
Rafael took us through the main entrance of the church and to the altar. The altar is actually still used for worship. We walked around what is left of the church, going through windows, over walls and solid lava. A very bizarre experience.
Back To The Village
At the church ruins, the stray dog left us and we mounted our horses again to head back to the village. The horses were ready for home! Both were constantly trotting.
Instead of going back to the square, Rafael took us to his house. His father and other family members came out to great us. The horses greeted the family as we were helped down, just a bit saddle sore from the long ride. All in all the trip had taken about 7 hours, so a very long day!
Rafael’s father asked how the tour was and told us how to get the bus back to Uruapan. So after paying and saying our goodbyes we headed to the bus and made our way back.