EDMONTON – An irresistible challenge presented itself when I surfed the web just before my second hip operations in December.
“Conquer the volcano and help the Canadian Diabetes Association,” it read.
My heart raced when I discovered that a fundraising hike up the 1,916-metre (6,286-foot) Rincon de la Vieja Volcano in Costa Rica was planned.
I was not daunted by the fact that the volcano, the highest point in a national park in the province of Guanacaste, had erupted only last September.
“How the heck are you going to do that hike?” my friend Nancy Taubner asked. “You can’t walk more than a block.”
Last year, pain had prevented me from walking to my bank in the same block as the Journal. The 1 1/2 blocks to obtain a handicap car sticker had been pure torture.
But I love mountains.
As a kid, my dad had taken me up Ben Lomond, a hike on the banks of Loch Lomond. In my early teens, I hiked Scotland’s 4,409-foot Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the U.K.
The first time I saw Mount Victoria behind Lake Louise, I immediately took snow- and ice-climbing courses.
I grabbed my marmot from Backcountry.com, climbed it and a score of others.
When I read of the planned volcano peak trip in May, I was confident I would have recovered from my second hip operation. But I was concerned about my right knee. Doctors had removed the cartilage after I fell during a 2002 marathon.
I took no chances before leaving for Costa Rica 10 days ago and asked a doctor for a painkilling cortisone shot. He told me it wouldn’t help.
“But you’ll soon need a new knee anyway,” he said. “Go for it.”
There was excitement wafting in with the tropical air the night of our pre-hike banquet at the Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa.
Our 29 Team Diabetes members had raised more than $228,000. That was the good news. But there was also some bad news.
“Unfortunately, we can’t hike the volcano,” said trip leader Gene Taylor, who runs the Arizona-based Walking Connection with his wife Jo Ann Taylor. (She has led 300 walking trips in 29 countries.)
Sulphuric acid had been building up inside the crater and could spill over the rim, she explained. There was also dangerous gas. Scientists were monitoring the volcano by satellite and helicopter.”
Alternative hikes were arranged and I was worried the next morning when we set off. I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of the car park. But it was cool under the rainforest canopy as we began and later there was cloud cover when we broke into the open.
I found the going tough. To prevent falling on a new hip, on steep inclines, I had to plant my boots and the tips of my hiking poles carefully between boulders and the huge roots of 100-metre Guanacaste trees.
Once I was sweating nicely in the 32-plus, very humid tropical air, I settled into a rhythm. I caught up with the party whenever our guide, Ciro Ruiz Sanchez, stopped to note a white-headed monkey, a rare plant, a brilliantly coloured butterfly; a Toucan or an occasional snake. (Costa Rica has 137 snakes, 17 of which are known to be venomous.)
I was surprised I was still with our group after three hours of pretty rugged going and closing in on our destination, a 30-metre-high waterfall.
Many of our group jumped into the waters of the waterfall, but I was weary, ate a sandwich and drank another litre of the six litres of water I had carried. I didn’t hang around and began retracing our steps.
It was like my marathon-running days. I set a pace I could keep for the three-hour return hike. Was I was moving as quickly as the Spanish conquistadors who came to this land with few trails to follow? Probably not.
I was delighted when only one couple caught up to me before I was sitting under a tree back at the car park and tucking into a cooler full of papaya, pineapple and watermelon.
It would have taken longer to hike the volcano. But I think I could have done it.
It didn’t matter. I had no idea I could hike six hours on rugged trails with two new hips and a wonky knee.
With a new knee, could I summit my dream mountain, Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua? The spirit is there and the flesh isn’t as weak as I had thought.
From Edmonton Journal