Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano

One Shot to the Top
  |  Gorp.com

The grumbling from above, no longer muffled by the isolating effects of the jungle canopy, keeps us on edge. Each eruption is announced with a sharp report similar to a cannon shot, followed by a growling roar that sounds like a cross between rolling thunder and Godzilla's stomach after eating half of Tokyo. We can feel the ground rumble beneath our feet. From somewhere up the slope we hear gigantic rocks skipping and somersaulting down the gradient. We have come about five miles from the road near the village of La Fortuna, through the rain forest to this point on the naked slope. It has been a hot and hard climb through rough terrain with the ever-present threat of catapulting rocks on our minds. We have ascended beyond the recommendations of the local guides, who at this time are no longer leading clients much beyond the confines of the upper rain forest.

With the limited visibility, we know it is unsafe to proceed further. Besides, any further progress would be futile since we would practically have to reach the summit to see any volcanic activity. The day is growing short and light is fading. We decide to stop and regroup and decide on our next move. Then, as if on cue, the mist disappears, the clouds that have enveloped Arenal blow away, and there it is. In its near symmetrical beauty, the conical mountain is revealed.

Arenal has two peaks, the result of an ancient eruption that blew out of the side of the mountain and then formed another cone. Both summits sit before our eyes. We can see the active cone flinging rocks up into the sky where they tumble back to earth and begin their cartwheeling roll down the mountain's flanks. A puff of ash dust explodes with each impact and the rocks fracture and splay into ever smaller and more numerous bits, one trail of hot rock becoming two, then four, then twenty, fanning out over the lower slopes.

In the bright daylight, we can barely discern any color to the show. But as we watch from our slopeside vantage point and the setting sun is chased by encroaching darkness, the show becomes more intense and vibrant in the fading light. As the sun slides below the horizon, the orange glow from the mountain's mouth replaces the sun's glow and we are treated to a fiery display of shooting sparks, skyrocketing boulders, and streaking lava. After dark, the dull scenery transforms into a colorful palette of reds, oranges, and yellows, the lava an incandescent flow, lighting paths of fire down the smoldering black mountainside.


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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