Volcan Baru is the highest point in Panama. From the top, on a clear day, you are able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Carribean Sea.
The idea was to get to the top for sunrise. The hostel we were at, Mamallena, offered a shuttle to the bottom of the access road for $5.
We were told to bring money for our return, warm clothes, and plenty of food and water.
Beyond this, we were on our own. A group of about 8 of us were dropped off at the bottom of the road and the driver took off. It was just us and the darkness.
The only instructions we were given was when in question to go right, not to go to fast so we wouldn’t freeze at the top, and to pay the ranger on the way out. The hike was supposed to take about 6 hours up and the same return. It was 14.5 kilometers (about 10 miles!) each way.
The road was just a dirt road that went on forever. The moon was super bright so in the beginning of the hike we didn’t need flashlights.
About 30 mins into the hike, we had a nice night view of Boquette.
However, we still had a long ways to go. We were trying to pace ourselves as he had stated we could make it up in 4 hours but would freeze at the top (32 degrees plus wind chill.)
People were not happy with me for taking this flash photo in the darkness:
It slowly began to get cool as we climbed; but I stayed in a t shirt for the first few hours.
We began using our flashlights as trees started covering our path; we also began to ration our water and food supplies since we were all pretty understocked. There was no one out there except for us.
Now it was really becoming chilly- I threw on what I had, a fleece, long pants, and a wind breaker. My shirt was sweaty and cold.
Our group ended up breaking into 4 and 4, a slow group and a fast group. Our fast group was charging forward no longer heeding the warning to pace ourselves, only thinking about getting this freezing cold hike over with.
Finally, we came close to the summit where there was a shelter.
It was 5am and we were close to the summit. The winds were picking up, and the sun didn’t rise until 7. We were in the exact situation he had warned about. We decided to take a break here and try to nap/pass some time.
When we first stopped, we were a little chilly but not too bad since we were working hard climbing straight up the entire time. Our elevation gain by the end of the 14.5 kilometers was to be 2 miles.
Once we stopped, however, we really started to feel that 32 degrees. The sweat wicked the heat from our bodies, we were all lying quietly trying to stay warm. We hadn’t slept from the day before and were just plain exhausted.
There was talk bout starting a fire but none of us had a lighter. It was starting to get seriously cold. We were talking about huddling together. Finally, we decided just to carry on, keep walking, at a slow pace to keep our blood flowing. This seemed to work well.
We finally reached the summit around 6:30. I don’t know if it was warmer, or just felt warmer from hiking, but it didn’t seem all too cold up here and the wind wasn’t bad. The moon was still shining.
Slowly, the sun started to rise.
We weren’t quite at the top. There was about 10 minutes climb left.
We made it! We were all so glad to be at the top and that the hike was over. The rising sun instantly made us warmer.
At the top, there were about 10 more people that had taken their 4wd jeeps up the trail and had left at 4:30am to make it there for 7.
Once the sun was up, we could indeed see both oceans. It was a very nice view and we all sat and enjoyed it.
As the sun rose, we could actually see the shadow of the mountain. This was something I hadn’t seen before.
We stayed for probably 45 minutes, but what comes up must come down. We had a looong hike ahead of us.
Now, up sucked. Down was way worst. The 10 miles dragged on and on and on.. it never ended. We ran some of the way, walked quickly, but the signs didn’t lie we were not making progress as quickly as we would have liked.
On the way down, however, we were able to see the views we couldn’t see during the night before.
The lead four of us on the way up were also the lead on the way back.
It was 10:30am. We hadn’t slept, had run out of water hours ago, and were hungry and completely depleted. We finally reached the ranger station at the bottom!
The man there arranged for our taxi pick up, which we were not happy to walk another 2 minutes downhill to catch it. The guy wanted to charge us $16 for a $5 cab ride, but we were all too exhausted to argue.
We all agreed that we would never do the hike again, would never have done it if we had known what it was going to be like, and that if we were to do it again, we wouldn’t do it for less than $1000. Was it worth it? Probably when I look back on it. At that moment? No way in hell.
I don’t think it was worth hiking it in the middle of the night, freezing, with no sleep, but hiking Vocan Baru with a full night’s rest would probably be worth it. There was a lot of garbage on top and communication antennas. Some people said it was super beautiful, but I have hiked quite a few mountains (that I have not had to go through all this for).
After eating, we finally got to sleep around 12:30pm. Wow. That was intense.