Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Hazards of Hiking Solo

Now that summer's here (January to April, more or less) I want to tackle the challenge of climbing Cerro Gaital, the tallest peak of the caldera around El Valle. You can see it in the photo above. It's a breathtakingly beautiful, heavily forested, mist-shrouded peak. A climb up Gaital would probably be a dawn-to-sunset hike for me, or maybe even a two-day trip.

I'm mindful of an incident that occurred last year.

One day we heard the loud thumping of a helicopter circling over the valley. Salma had never heard this sound before and became alarmed. We went out into the yard and managed to spot it in the distance, traversing the north side of the valley.

A few days later I heard that a North American tourist in his 60's had gone hiking up Cerro Gaital on his own and gotten lost.

The tourist was lost on the mountain for three days and two nights.

I saw Cleo at the market later and I said, "Hey, did you hear about the guy who got lost on the mountain?"

"Sure," Cleo said. "They searched for him by helicopter and then they sent a rescue team to bring him off the mountain. Look, I have the video here!"

(So that's what the helicopter was doing that day!)

And indeed Cleo did have a video on his cell phone of the man being carried down a trail on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. Turned out the guy was alright, just dehydrated and severely insect-bitten.

I have gone hiking along many of the local trails by myself - I went up Cerro La Cruz alone and at night. But Gaital? No way. I would not attempt that without a guide.

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