Personal Journeys


July 17, 2005

A Memorable Place

After a hard climb, a volcanic show

By Cynthia Garner

Special to the Sun

It was New Year's Day when my 64-year-old father and I embarked on a climb of the active Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

It was my father's first trip outside the United States in nearly 40 years. As an environmentalist and amateur geologist, he was thrilled by the possibility of seeing lava at the summit.

Just before we arrived at Pacaya Volcano National Park, we saw the Fuego volcano erupt in the distance, and Dad was beside himself with excitement, shouting and trying to get a picture.

We began our hike from the park's ranger station, at 6,720 feet above sea level, with 12 others and a guide. The trail was steep, and we climbed the forested slope using rocks and tree roots as stairs and handholds.

At the beginning of the climb, I doubted that I would make it, because I had been up all night with an intestinal bug and a harsh cough. But somehow, by the time we reached the halfway point, my cough was gone.

We came out of the trees into a grassy meadow. Towering above us was Pacaya's cinder cone -- a sharp, black triangle stretching up into the clouds. It was a desolate, beautiful landscape.

The ground under our feet was black volcanic sand, with patches of grass and scrubby brush. There were no bugs or songbirds, and the only sign of animal life was a bull, hunkered under a wiry tree at the edge of the trail.

The sun beat down, and the wind cut across our faces, but the view was incredible. The climbing was slow. Our feet slid out from under us, and our legs burned. We rested often.

The others in our group charged ahead, made it to the summit long before my father and me, and were already on their way back down before we reached the top.

"It's too bad you couldn't make it," someone said. "We saw lava. It was really cool."

"We're going to make it," I replied. "We're not coming this close and then turning around." Dad wanted to rest again, but there wasn't time.

After nearly another hour of hard climbing, we reached the summit. Dad yelped and ran right up to the edge.

Fiery red lava shot out of the cinder cone in spurts -- flying out with weightlessness, like tissues caught on the wind. The vent, a glowing hole only a few feet wide, was hissing and churning like a washing machine. We were at 8,373 feet above sea level at the edge of the crater, and we could feel the heat of the molten earth on our faces.

My dad, arthritis and all, had stepped outside his comfort zone and shared an unforgettable moment with me. Each time lava flew out of the crater, his face beamed with excitement, and I knew it was an adventure he would talk about for the rest of his life.

Cynthia Garner lives in Catonsville.

My Best Shot

Don Ingram, Ellicott City

Surf and sky of Australia

I took this photo around sunset in March after spending a beautiful day along the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia. This view is looking north toward the appropriately named town of Surfer's Paradise. The beaches there are wide and white, and the water is warm, deep and a beautiful shade of blue. One note of caution: There are stinging jellyfish all along the Queensland coast at that time of year, and at this beach there were shark nets in the water.

Readers Recommend


Mark Mathiowdis, North East, Md.

My friends and I hiked six miles in the Rockies, to an elevation of about 12,000 feet. There was a beautiful glacier lake, and we caught several trout. On our hike down, I stopped to take a picture of the mountains just as the sun hit the snow-covered peaks. The vastness of the Colorado wilderness was impressive.

Santorini, Greece

David Morris,


My wife and I recently returned from visiting the beautiful Greek island of Santorini, part of the Cycladic group of islands, which owes its existence to a volcanic eruption in 1450 B.C. The veranda of our hotel was situated on steep cliffs looking out on the volcano's crater, now filled by the sea. We had wonderful views.

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