Missed opportunity at El Misti volcano

I’ve always wanted to hike a volcano. There’s no source for this desire of mine that I know of — no suppressed trigger from my childhood, no daredevilish dream needing realizing, no genetic memory of mountaineering in my family tree. For no rational reason I want to stand at a thin point in the Earth’s mantle and stare into a conduit that leads to the core.

El Misti volcano in the distance, outside Arequipa, Peru

El Misti volcano in the distance.

This desire of mine makes no sense. A volcano, particularly an active one, is clearly not the safest place to spend time. There are potential hazards like exposure to the elements on the barren slope, extreme altitude sickness, and poisonous volcanic gases secretly leeching into the air. Oh yes, and the chance of oozing, skin-searing death by sudden lava or the Pompeii-style instant baked alive death by pyroclastic flow.

Then again, I pursue a lot of travel activities that are not always in my best interest — and some that even scare me. Slides. Street food. Deserts. Canyons (a terrible pairing with my fear of heights). Talking to strangers.

Somehow, hiking the recently declared active El Misti volcano in Arequipa, Peru never occurred to me. I saw its snow-tipped cone pass by the smeared windows of the buses that took me in and out of Colca Canyon. I saw it hover over downtown Arequipa through the car-exhaust-tainted and mist-veiled distance. But I never saw it as a summit to attempt, only a beautiful backdrop.

Later, after leaving Peru behind, I read other people’s trek reports from El Misti:

“I had to purposefully pant like a dog to stay conscious.”

“I wasn’t the only one on the verge of collapse…We had failed, but at least we had failed pretty well.”

“Climbing over boulders was one thing, but the sand and volcanic ash was even worse.”

“I basically just put my head down and marched up the side of the volcano for hours and hours and hours.”

At over 19,000 feet high, I’m sure an El Misti hike would have kicked my ass. I just think that I would have enjoyed the ass-kicking experience.

El Misti and vicuñas, Peru photo

The volcano, El Misti, and vicuñas, a type of Peruvian camelid.

Have you ever hiked a volcano? Did it kick your ass?