These Guys Climbed 37 Volcanoes in 27 Days


Marceca and his fellow climbers on a mountain in Guatemala. (Nico Marceca)

Not many people in this world have climbed 37 volcanoes — especially in one month. But when Nico Marceca wanted to do something special to raise money for his favorite charity, Niños de Guatemala, he turned to his passion for climbing volcanoes for inspiration.

“It was back on my first volcano hike in 2008, while roasting a marshmallow above a river of lava, when I decided I’d like to climb every one of them someday,” says the native New Yorker, who now works as a travel guide in Antigua, Guatemala. And he knew that when the day came, “It was always going to have to have an element of charity.”

Related: Now THAT’S a Campfire! Man Roasts Marshmallow and Drinks Beer Over Lava Lake


Marceca’s favorite niño, Luis, who goes by his middle name, Ernesto. (Nico Marceca)

The two came together organically some years later. Marceca got involved with Niños de Guatemala — a charity that sets up primary schools and educates hundreds of children in the Panchoy Valley, where Antigua is located. For $50 a month, he became a sponsor to a 5-year-old boy, Luis Ernesto Hernandez Gil. “You see all these kids that didn’t have opportunities before. They are such polite children, and the schools have done an amazing job making them critical thinkers and giving them a chance. It’s just such a wonderful thing to see,” says Marceca.

It got him thinking: If $50 a month could pay for lunch, school supplies, and teacher salaries, what type of impact could a larger donation make? It was time to realize his dream of scaling all the peaks in Central America while raising money in the process. In an instant, 37in27 was born. For charity, he would climb 37 volcanoes in 27 days, a feat that had never been done before.


Galindo, Marceca, Cook, and Prosch Arriaza on a mountain. (Nico Marceca)

Marceca teamed up with three other hikers who would also raise money for their favorite charities: Luis Galindo, a native of Guatemala and avid mountaineer, would hike on behalf of Asociación Q’ukumatz, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the social, economic, and cultural rights of indigenous youth; Steve Cook, a Chicago native who gave up his finance job in New York to work in a jungle orphanage in Guatemala, would be climbing for Habitat for Humanity Guatemala; and Reinhard Miguel Prosch Arriaza, who was born in Munich and raised there by his Guatemalan mom and German dad, would be climbing on behalf of the company he works for, the Integral Heart Foundation.

The hike kicked off on Dec 31, 2014, just a little after dawn. The plan was to knock out “one giant per day,” including Central America’s two highest peaks — Tajumulco (13,845 feet) and Tacaná (13,425 feet). The men would begin “driving” (their term for climbing) at 6 a.m., and 14 hours later, around 8 p.m., they would reach their lodgings — hostels in whatever town was nearby. By day 16, they had conquered 18 high-altitude peaks in the western part of Guatemala. With seven days left to scale the remaining 19 eastern peaks, the group decided to climb multiple midsize and smaller volcanoes on the same day. On their most ambitious day, they climbed four volcanoes.


One foot in front of the other (Nico Marceca)

But the most challenging?

“Santiaguito, hands down,” says Marceca. “This 8,202-foot peak is the devil! It is the equivalent of climbing up and down the Empire State Building about six times!”

In addition to being one of the most active volcanoes in Guatemala, the way to the top of Santiaguito is tricky and treacherous. Hikers must circle the base of another volcano — Santa Maria volcano (12,375 feet) — then drop down 2,500 feet, then hike up through the center of a group of giant volcanoes. “Then you have to scramble up a slippery, muddy, mossy wall, which is pitched at 70 percent,” Marceca says. “When I was looking up at the wall, my head was tilted completely back. It was almost vertical.” After surviving that, the men had to scramble up another 300 steep feet of loose rock.

Related: Who’s Up for Ash-Surfing? Amazing Volcano Vacations

But to get to the tippy-top, they had to conquer one last vertical spire — with no ropes or equipment. “All I kept thinking was, ‘Everything about this is trouble,’” says Marceca. “The last 15 feet of climbing up the spire, we were holding on for dear life.”


Here comes the lava. (Nico Marceca)

Santiaguito was one of three active volcanoes the group climbed — the others being Pacaya and Fuego. Four days before hiking up Fuego, the largest national newspaper in Guatemala featured the peak on its front page, warning residents of its active eruptions and of possible evacuations. The crew was not deterred.

“We climbed up Fuego’s ridge at night to really be able to see the eruptions and capture them in photos, and after just a short time of waiting, boom! This massive eruption starts spitting out lava rocks the size of cars, which would hang in the air for over 30 seconds,” says Marceca. “That feeling of staring up at the suspended lava rocks, not knowing if they’d continue to fly or rain down on us, will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was one of the most intimidating and exhilarating moments I’ve ever experienced.”

Luckily, no one sustained any major injuries. “I lost two toenails,” says Maceca. “And we all got sick at one point, but that was basically from being rundown. It’s like doing a really intense workout when your body is completely exhausted and then having to do another workout right after that.”

While there were some seriously tense and scary moments, there were some light-hearted ones as well. A group of donors offered $750 if Marceca would climb a volcano wearing a frilly dress. He accepted the challenge. “It was one of the most uncomfortable hikes of my life,” he says. “We unexpectedly met crowds of people while climbing Chicabal Volcano, all while I was wearing a greenish-blue floral dress!”


In the clouds (Nico Marceca)

When all was said and done, the group climbed a total elevation gain of 86,000 feet or, as Marceca puts it, “the equivalent of doing Everest from sea level three times” and raised close to $20,000 — with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to the charities.

“For me, it’s the charity aspect — not the physical challenge — that resonates the most,” Marceca said a few days after completing 37in27. “I was up there doing peaks, and I passed a woman walking on the same ridge carrying a bundle of firewood to cook her meals. You think about all the homes that have dirt floors and the lack of access to basic needs, how people live compared to you. It was the one thought that was always on my mind up there, and it remains with me today. I hope that through this event we were able to inspire and encourage people to take action and to help those who are less fortunate.”

Log on to make a donation or sponsor a child.

Related: 5 Amazing Vacations That Help You Save the World

The Volcano Diver (Video)

Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. And Check out Yahoo Travel’s original video series A Broad Abroad.