Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano

Hikers Brave Its Unpredictable Temper
  |  Gorp.com
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I keep having this bad premonition that I'm going to be conked on the head by a flaming hot basketball-size rock. This is not an irrational fear given the intermittent flurries of boulders pounding and bounding down the cinder-ash sides of Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano just above us.

We are hiking through the deep green rain forest that circumscribes the base of Arenal. A low cloud cover obscures the mountain's peak so all we can see through the green jungle canopy is a fine white mist. But the constant burbling emanating from the volcano's cone some 4000 feet up the slope and the crashing and rumbling of the rocks being flung from the volcano's core are unnerving. We keep an eye cocked toward the sky, ready to scamper out of the way of any red-hot missile that may come hurtling out of the mist toward us.

Realistically, the chances of us being carbonized by an errant lava rock are not that great. The last hiker to actually be burned to a crisp occurred a decade ago when three hikers were caught by a particularly energetic eruption. One was fatally burned, the other two were seriously injured. But the volcano seems particularly active this day, a fact confirmed by a local guide we happen across on the trail, and we are wary of flying lava. We don't want to have our names added as a footnote to the lore of Arenal.

Arenal is an unpredictable monolith dominating the ranchland and forests of this mountainous area and the local populace never knows what to expect. The volcano goes through cycles of relatively calm dormancy, interspersed by outbreaks of active spitting and spewing. When we planned our trip to the volcano, we naturally hoped for a period of high activity with its accompanying fireworks show, but now that we're within a stone's throw of the hot magma, and Arenal is throwing, we are having second thoughts. While we marvel at the power that is evidenced in the clamor and spectacle of the eruptions, it does nothing to ease our fears about being incinerated.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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