In 2016 I undertook an epic adventure to visit friends in Nicaragua, Central America. This is home to a large amount of volcanoes including one of the worlds permanent lava lakes (Volcan Masaya). One of the most exhilarating parts of this trip was hurtling down the side of a 720m high volcano on a plank of wood, partaking in a recently developed extreme sport called Volcano boarding.
The journey began at the BigFoot Hostel in Leon where a group of anxious and excited thrill seekers, and I, boarded an open top truck and bounced down through the city and out into the countryside to find our volcano.
The volcano that we were going to launch ourselves down is called Cerro Negro. It is a 720m high basaltic cinder cone. It is a very special volcano because normally cinder cones are volcanoes that only erupt once, they are known as monogenetic volcanoes that generally erupt a relatively small amount of material into a mound, or cone, of volcanic rocks. Cerro Negro, is unusual as it has erupted more than once and has experienced a more varied range of eruption styles than the average cinder cone. The most recent eruption at this volcano occurred in 1999.
When you reach the volcano you have to enter into the welcome centre and pay a small $5 fee to enter the park. The welcome centre includes information, models and images of the volcano and the surrounding area, there are toilets and refreshments available. You can also pay for a picture with a snake, and gaze at enclosures of bright green lizards.
I was visiting Cerro Negro as part of a tour group with the purpose of boarding, but you can take a hike up the volcano for the views and hike down again without being part of a tour.
Our volcano boarding experience began with a hike up the steep sided, black volcano in the high heat and humidity of the mid-May morning. We hiked and climbed over black clinker and sharp a’a lava on the lower section then up the finer-grained gravel and sand up to the top of the first crater. It’s not a difficult climb but the temperature and humidity make it seem more difficult than it really is. The sharp rocks and loose gravel make sturdy footwear with good ankle support a must.
You can hike a round the top of the first crater rim to reach the second crater at a higher elevation. From here you get a perfect 360 degree view of the land. Peering down into both of the craters is an amazing experience, smelling a light amount of sulphur in the air wafting up from fumeroles below. You can also see the path of old lava flows trailing all the way from the top of the volcano and off into the distance.
Our crater rim experience was made even more magical by the presence of huge amounts of butterflies of all sizes and colours. There were also plenty of bees, as nearby beekeepers are situated at the base of the volcano.
Boarding the volcano
After a safety briefing on the ‘sandy’ side of the volcano we put on some large overalls and goggles to protect us from the rocks and ash that we were likely to be caked in during our decent. From the very top, and the launching area, you can’t actually see the base where you will hopefully end up. After all the hype and all the wait your adrenaline kicks in and you wonder: ‘what on earth am I doing?!’ Before you embark on the journey you have to sign your life away and now you’re about to throw yourself down a volcano reaching speeds of 65km/hr (45mph) or more!
Eventually it was my turn…. I placed my board down on the ground and gingerly sat on it, gripping the rope handle in my hands between my legs. I lifted my feet off of the ground enough for the board to start sliding. I got faster and faster and faster. The uneven ground makes the board shift unpredictably as you gently try to keep your balance by tapping your feet on the rocks either side of the board. Towards the bottom a larger mound rushes towards you and you know in an instant that you’re going to fly and most likely fall off…sure enough I got some air and span off of the board and down the slope of the volcano like a big star-fish. After managing to get back on the board it was difficult to get momentum again as the lower slopes of the volcano have a much gentler gradient. At the very bottom you hit a thicker patch of soft sandy volcanic material and your board gently comes to a stop.
Along with your newly formed black beard of rocks all you want to do is do it again!
Visiting Cerro Negro: https://vianica.com/attraction/7/cerro-negro-volcano
Volcano boarding: http://www.bigfoothostelleon.com/#!volcano-boarding/cp6c