Dec 4, 2013

Guest Post 3 - Santa Maria Full Moon

Interested in a Quetzaltrekkers hike? But not sure if it's really going to be everything that those (somewhat-full-of-themselves) Sexy QT Guides crack it up to be? Well... being a Sexy QT Guide myself, I can't really help you out... but if you want to hear the report straight from the words of a recent client, check this out!

Guest Post #3, Written by Travis McMullen, Client on November 2013s Full Moon Santa Maria Trek. 
The night sky. It was always only about the night sky – the moon and the stars. The statement has multiple meanings: the way it illuminated the path ahead, how peaceful the night seemed, how clear the stars and constellations were, just how the full moon seemed the glow – regardless of whether or not you were looking at it. That night was all about the sky.
Once a month, Quetzaltrekkers offers a full moon Santa Maria hike, where clients get to hike up Santa Maria during the full moon, commencing at 10:00pm. A few quick facts about Santa Maria:
  • It provides the perfect mirador (scenic overlook) of Volcano Santiaguito – one of the most active volcanic craters in the world – erupting every 30 minutes to 60 minutes
  • Elevation of 3,772 metres (12,375 feet)
  • Stratovolcano
  • Its eruption in 1902 was one of the biggest eruptions of the 20th century
It was a cool November night when I, along with other clients, partook in the full moon trek. On the bumpy truck ride to the starting point, the cool breeze tested our layers of clothing and left the face feeling cold. As the sides of the truck were quite high, we had no choice but to let our gaze wander up, taking in the full moon and all the different stars as the truck weaved through the city and into the surrounding countryside. That was when the mind really started to appreciate it all. You can climb a mountain or volcano at any time, so during the full moon, it became clear it was all about the sky.
Once off the truck, it was gear on and up the volcano. Given the ambient light produced by the full moon, only a few headlamps were needed for the trek. The combination of moon and artificial light illuminated the ground below us so we could see where we were hiking.
Despite the frigid air, we were soon heating up from movement and we paused to start shedding layers, many of us going all the way down to just a t-shirt. Cool air met with warm body heat, counterbalancing to keep us slightly warm as we continued.
Throughout the night and early into the next morning, the ascent became gradually more and more steep, becoming more taxing as we neared the summit. The elevation also started to come into play, an excuse I used when I started to confuse the landscapes I was looking at. As we crested up above the clouds, the moon illuminated the clouds below us in a beautiful grey tinge. With the other mountains visible in a dark black outline, and the lights of the surrounding towns illuminating the points, it looked like the clouds were a large lake—similar to the view I had seen at Lake Atitl├ín during another Quetzaltrekkers trip.
Turning to one of the guides, I managed to gasp out my amazement in the cool air. “Look at that lake! Isn’t it just beautiful?” After what I’m sure was a quick mental assessment on the guide’s behalf to make sure I wasn’t suffering from altitude sickness, she calmly replied in a humorous fashion, “they’re clouds, not a lake.”
With my pride damaged, the group continued the ascent, using the frequent rest breaks to converse with each other – to find out each other’s stories, remark on the views, and discuss the uniqueness of hiking during the full moon. At times, when you looked at the full moon, you were blinded, like a deer looking at a car’s lights. It was an interesting experience, to see just how much the moon can light up the surrounding area.
Just before sunrise, when the sky was beginning its shift from dark to dawn, we found ourselves just below the summit. Our final task—a steep ascent up the volcano peak, the distance being a couple of hundred meters. Exhausted, short of breath, yet full of a sense of accomplishment, we made it to the top just in time to witness the sunrise.
Sitting on top of the volcano, we watched the sun slowly crest above the other mountains on the horizon, casting different shades of orange and red across the sky. Slowly but surely, the sun illuminated the other mountains across the ridgeline.
With the sunrise completed, many opted to pull out their sleeping bags for a few hours of well-deserved sleep. Others, myself included, were content to just sit on the volcano, looking at the scenery and down into volcano Santiaguito, which seemed like an arm’s distance away. Throughout the morning, we were able to witness the volcano erupt – smoke being pushed into the air with a roar as Santiaguito showed its power.

After a hearty breakfast, we began our descent. Even though we followed the same route, it was a different experience being able to see everything in the daytime. A few hours later, we made it to the bottom and returned to Xela—memories full of the night sky. 

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