Hiking into a Volcanic Caldera

During my trip to the Galapagos, we stayed three nights on Isabela Island.  All the islands of the Galapagos were formed by volcanoes and Isabela is no different, but it was the one island where we ventured up to, around the rim of, and into a volcanic caldera.  Isabela is also where I learned the difference between a volcanic crater and a volcanic caldera.  Craters are formed during the eruption of a volcano and Calderas are formed when the volcano collapses in on itself.

Our day started early with breakfast and the opportunity to make our lunches.  Knowing that the sandwich would be in our packs all day, I wasn’t overly excited about the tuna salad that was offered.  I stuck with a tomato and cheese sandwich instead.

The weather we encountered during the drive to the trailhead was not impressive…fog, mist, even rain.  Luckily our guide from Intrepid, Zambo, had prepared us by ensuring we brought along raincoats or ponchos.

As with several experiences during the Galapagos, we ran into other groups at the trailhead, but the guides must have a secret schedule because once we The Group The Trailstarted it felt like we were the only group on the trail.  Our group of 16 (which had…20, 30, 40, and 50 year-old age groups) split into several smaller groups dependent on ability.  It was humbling to have the younger folks practically run up the trail.  Given my impending sixth knee surgery, I pretty much brought up the tail end most of the way.  I honestly didn’t mind because I hate being in a rush when I hike and was happy to use my knee as an excuse.  I would always rather enjoy the scenery and stop frequently for photos.  And, I knew eventually they’d have to wait for me to catch up.  😉

It didn’t take long before we hiked our way out of the fog and were greeted by vividly blue skies and the sun of the equator (the sun directly overhead is something to experience…grueling…lot of sun block was used and still some of the fare-skinned folks still burned…especially the Irish  ;-)).

Sierra Negra

Suddenly, we turned left and in less than 100 yards we were standing right on the rim of Sierra Negra.  It was breathtaking and otherworldly.  Even the remaining fog was beautiful as it slowly billowed over the edge of the caldera.  Our guide proceeded to explain the history of Sierra Negra.  It’s the most active volcano in the Galapagos and last erupted in October 2005.  It was easy to pinpoint the last eruption within the caldera because of the harsh line between vegetation and black rock.  Not only was the scene beautiful, my legs were grateful for the break.

Sierra Negra Caldera

Fog BillowingFog Billowing

Lunch with Finches

Lunch with FinchesAfter many photo opportunities we were off again.  We hiked up and then down again before came across some benches settled among a group of trees (there were not many trees along the trail) where we ate lunch with the company of brave finches who practically landed on our shoulders.  Here our guide suggested we leave our packs and since he was leaving his (and because we hardly saw anyone the entire day) I gladly left mine behind.

Hiking into a Caldera

We hiked uphill a bit further before coming to another volcanic caldera.  This time we hiked down into the caldera.  The surface was very uneven and the rocks were quite sharp.  I would HIGHLY recommend hiking boots/shoes.  The landscape was impressive.  Many times I felt like I was hiking on the moon or another planet.  Since the rock within the caldera was mostly pumice, it was fun to pick up large rocks and hold them with ease.  Some of us crawled through a small lava tube just to say we did.  Honestly, the rocks were so sharp it wasn’t easy to navigate even though the distance was short.

The hike into and around the caldera was very hard on my knees, but completely worth it.  Although, it was hard to convince myself on the way out that it had been worth it.  Luckily I have photos to prove it was.

Colorful CalderaColorful Caldera

Caldera with CatcusOtherworldly Landscape


Climbing Through a Lava Tube

Entering a Lava TubeExiting a Lava Tube

12.5 Miles; 136 Flights of Stairs

The hike back to the trailhead was ordinary.  We had already seen the magnificence of the area.  All said, we hiked about 12.5 miles and 136 flights of stairs (according to my Fit Bit).  And, even though the group didn’t stop and wait for us slower folks, it ended up that we were only 10-15 minutes behind them.

Having grown up in Alaska, I have always been fascinated with volcanoes and I couldn’t have been happier that I finally had the opportunity to step foot on one.

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