10 Life Lessons From Climbing Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

mehealth & fitness

I'm not the adventurous type, but when I was offered the chance to climb Pacaya Volcano on my recent trip to Central America and get up close and personal with flowing hot lava, I knew I'd be missing a once in a lifetime opportunity if I passed it up.

I read this site, that review, and the reality about the difficulty of the climb here, here, and here. I dismissed it all, knowing if I let myself worry, I'd miss out and regret my decision forever.

While I knew I'd appreciate the experience after the fact, I wasn't prepared for what would happen along the way—the life lessons I would learn. Here are 10 that stand out:

  1. Have a guide. When you are in unknown and sometimes dangerous territory—like climbing on unstable lava rock in the pitch black for 2 hours straight—having a trustworthy, knowledgeable guide is worth his/her weight in gold.
  2. Get back on the horse. Life's challenges aren't too different from ascending steep mountains. Don't do all the climbing yourself. Rely on someone to carry you when the going gets tough—even if it's a horse and you are afraid based on past experiences. Get back in the saddle and take the load off in preparation for the climb ahead.
  3. Build a support system. Let others in. Don't underestimate their courage and strength. Rely on them to buoy you up during the difficult times and return the favor, providing strength and encouragement when they need it.
  4. Keep going. Sometimes the path is difficult—hot air blowing up through crevices; hot lava up ahead; rumbling mountains threatening to erupt at any moment; deep crevices, reminding you that one wrong move could mean a tragic fall; no hand rails; no lights; and definitely no medical help. Keep going, because the beauty of the final destination is made up of all the steps you take along the way to reach it—the amazing vistas as well as the unstable, steep ascents.
  5. Be flexible. Let go of the need to be on solid ground. Sometimes life is like walking on lava—it's unstable, it crumbles, and it's jagged. And... it's beautiful and the path that's leading you to your final destination—with all of its up and downs, steep climbs, and rough terrain. Appreciate it and go with the flow by opening yourself up to new ways to move forward—even if it means being a bit wobbly for a while.
  6. Have the right tools. Not knowing what lies ahead can be disconcerting, especially when the fear of deep crevices and jagged edges loom. Climbing to the top of a volcano after sunset without a flashlight, gloves, proper shoes, food and water, and other supplies would have been sheer foolishness. Having and using the right tools makes the journey possible.
  7. Appreciate the journey. Take time to stop and take in what you are doing (climbing a volcano), seeing (beautiful vistas at sunset), and feeling (every emotion imaginable—excited, scared, determined, reflective, appreciative, bold, wimpy, courageous). How can you put a price tag on the experience you're having no matter how challenging?
  8. Have fun! There's nothing like roasting marshmallows over hot lava to say climbing the volcano was a worthwhile experience. Add in elements of fun all along the way to make the journey more enjoyable and the memories sweeter.
  9. Take a break. The climb to the top isn't a race. If you need nourishment—mentally or physically—stop and take a break. Take a drink. Grab a quick snack. Catch your breath. Get some encouragement. Think about how far you've come.
  10. Capture and relive the experience. Take pictures and video along the way. Reviewing the images will help keep the memory fresh in your mind and although it may—like my experience climbing Pacaya Volcano—cause you to hyperventilate a bit each time you retell it, it'll also bring back all the amazing emotions of the journey you enjoyed!
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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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