Sledding a Volcano

One volcano-related assumption which I’ve had to let go of since arriving in Central America is that a volcano is a volcano.

Anyone who grows up in Scotland knows that mountains are not just ‘mountains’. There are mountains, but there are also ranges, hills, Bens, and Munroes. There are the kind that, although tall, the fitter of us can walk up without much in the way of equipment; there are others which may be smaller but are impassable unless you really know what you’re doing.

I wasn't expecting it to be so blue...

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Volcano Sandboarding Update: Part 1

As promised, I have more photos of Volcán Cerro Negro (I’m still looking for some video). The photo below shows the variety of rock size on the hike up the volcano, as well as the underside of the sleds.

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Unfortunately, Pierre and I didn’t take many pictures of the actual descent, since we were preparing ourselves and didn’t think we’d be able to safely use our cameras while sledding. What we did photograph was the natural beauty of the volcano and its surroundings

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Here’s a more full explanation of how the sledding ended: The transition from the slope to level ground wasn’t as jolting as I’d feared, and I skidded to a stop just a meter or two from the slope without wiping out. Standing up, I shook the gravel out of my shorts and shirt, looking around for Pierre, who was pouring stones out of his shoes nearby. As long as you can sit straight in the middle of a sled, it seems that you can slide down the volcano with only basic protection and get away with only having to wash up afterwards.

Volcano Sandboarding

Note: More photos of the experience are in my first and second updates to this post.

Volcán Cerro Negro, the youngest volcano in Central America, last erupted in 1999. Less than twenty miles from León, a city that I will be posting about soon, the volcano’s main attraction isn’t the crater itself, although the powerful opening to the center of the Earth–which in the past three decades has spewed columns of ash and gas up to 24,000 feet high–is not unimpressive. Instead, most people climb Cerro Negro just to descend it. Why? Because its steep slopes, almost 2,400 feet high, consist of black volcanic stones, which are finer than normal gravel and heavily mixed with ash and dust. How do visitors get from top to bottom? Many locals do it by foot, running down in great leaps. Most tourists rent a wooden board with a metal underside: either a snowboard or sled design depending on their experience and daring.

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The volcano and its surroundings, together known as the Reserva Natural Complejo Volcánico Pilas El Hoyo, amount to a protected area of 2,140 hectares that includes at least five different types of ecosystem. Entrance fees, as well as the rental of sleds and protective gear, somewhat help incentivize the conservation of the volcanic complex by surrounding communities, mostly farmers (cattle, peanuts, eucalyptus, corn, etc.).

Having only snowboarded once before, I opted for the sled, and Pierre did the same. We hiked up the volcano on the larger rocks (fist-sized to full boulders) for maybe fifty minutes, pausing to take photos of the beautiful hills that starkly contrasted with Continue reading