Climbing Acatenango Volcano in 2 days

 
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Climbing Acatenango was the highlight of my trip to Guatemala. Acatenango is a stratovolcano (volcano built up by many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice and ash) close to the city of Antigua. Acatenango is joined with Volcán de Fuego and collectively the volcano complex is known as La Horqueta.

The view over Volcán de Fuego is one of the reasons people attempt this climb. Fuego is also a stratovolcano but it is active. Fuego is famous for its small gas and ash eruptions that occur every 10 to 15 minutes. Its eruptions are beautiful and more visible by night.

View over Fuego from Acatenango Day
View over Fuego from Acatenango during the day

Route and timeline

Experienced hikers can do it over a day but it is worth staying longer to admire the spectacle during the evening. Many local tours offer lodging options in a refuge or a tent at the base camp to stay overnight. Not without mentioning the wine and marshmallows around the campfire.

We started the hike around 2,550 m. Two small camps were available along the way where you can get drinks, snacks and fruits from locals. Most people reach base camp at 3,660 m during the mid-afternoon. Guides usually start cooking and cut some wood for the campfire at 3pm. Dinner is served at 6pm. During sunset, the eruptions begin to become spectacular! The sound delay of every eruption will indicate how far you are from the volcano. Only 3 little seconds so 3 kms away. Not bad knowing that hot gas and volcanic matter can move at around 100 km/h and lava at 60 km/h!

For the complete route, the GPX file can be downloaded on ViewRanger.

On the next day we woke up early at 4am to begin the final ascent to the top to reach the 3,976 m. It took about one hour. We waited patiently in the cold and windy summit for a few minutes. Just the time to realise where we were standing: on a moonlike surface inside the volcanic crater. The sun came out really quick and released the first sunbeams over all the volcanoes surrounding us.

Acatenango Summit
Acatenango Summit

Getting ready

Be among the people who are prepared and aware of the challenge. It is a though hike and good hiking gear will make the difference during this adventure. 4 layers are recommended as the temperature can get below 0°C at the summit when there is wind. We were close to -15°C. Good shoes, headlamp, hiking poles (they rent sticks at the entrance) and a good backpack are necessary. You will have to carry 4L of water as per the park entrance instructions. Guides use 1L at the top to cook for you.

Tour companies

A few companies in Antigua offer this tour but we decided to go with Tropicana Tour for all the good reviews they have. It turns out they have one of the best located campsite with a perfect view on Fuego. Daniel and Osbaldo, our guides, were fantastic and told us many stories about the volcanoes. Spanish speakers will definitely get a better experience with most of the guides. Some companies propose to hike the Fuego on the first day to get really close to the eruptions but we decided to not take more risks.

Cloud Computing Return of Experience in France

 
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Having worked in North America for 5 year prior to joining Cloudreach in France during 3 years helped me see how far behind we were in terms of cloud adoption in France. But during these 3 years I really got the opportunity to see AWS, GCP and Azure convincing all the large French companies and the cloud becoming more mature and an acceptable and safe option.

Some of the motivators that force companies to move to the Cloud:

  • Startups that began to compete with them and are faster are executing because they are already in the Cloud
  • Number of new services available in the Cloud, automating common solutions and making costly existing internal processes or VMs completely useless
  • IoT, AI, Containers, Datalake and data processing speed capabilities offered by the Cloud
  • Unique capabilities of the Cloud to innovate and play with different services very quickly
  • Large companies that successfully made the move to the Cloud, removing doubts that some C-level had in the past
  • Cool and trendy technologies making recruitment of talents easier

I have seen companies mostly struggling with:

  • Designing an organised Landing Zone that will host everything that they will create in the Cloud
  • Setting up correct permissions and roles for user access and machine authentication
  • Building their network including planning for the future of their organisation
  • Choosing the right tools for automation of their infrastructure and their applications
  • Estimating the cost of their infrastructure and optimising it after the first month of use
  • Dealing with operations after the creation of the resources
  • Bad knowledge of Cloud providers SLAs for the services they use and what they need to change to make it acceptable for production

Pro tips to make the move easier

Train your employees and help them to get certified with the fantastic ACloudGuru, Coursera and Udemy. Yes the certifications are costly and a very good business for Cloud providers but they will assure a correctly set up infrastructure.

Then if you haven’t read it already there is great blog post about the purpose of having a Cloud Center of Excellence (CCOE) to transform your entire organisation.

Architecting the right way

Having an experienced Cloud Architect among your team will make a significant difference. Read the Well Architected Framework from AWS. Document as much as you can, make clean designs with Lucidchart and their library of AWS, Azure and GCP icons. Iterate and keep them up-to-date.

In terms of infrastructure automation, most companies are using the solution made by their Cloud provider or Terraform. For application automation many solutions are available on the market like Ansible, Chef, Puppet, etc. Don’t try to do both with the same tool.

If you call for help to automate your infrastructure, don’t let a company or a partner just deliver the code to you. Train your people first and make them participate to the code reviews until they are able to reuse and make their own templates.

To conclude, every company has its own level in term of Cloud Adoption: some are slowly moving to instances with a bit of automation, others are born with containers and serverless. Whatever your situation is, I hope this post would have helped. Enjoy your cloudy adventure!

Getting a taste of Iceland with this 5 days itinerary

 
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I read so much about Iceland and it was exactly as described: beautiful and shocking landscapes. We chose to travel during the month of May which is shoulder season. It is a great month to visit, just before the tourist season begins. Prices were correct and the long day length was also very enjoyable. You might pick this month for spring wildflowers and first-rate birdwatching. We took some pleasure in identifying all the birds that crossed our path with the help of this webpage.

Day 1: Blue lagoon and Reykjavik.

For our first day, we rented a car directly at the airport, we went with Sadcars. Then we drove to the Blue Lagoon, about 20 minutes away. Book in advance and plan for 2 hours inside at least. Bring a water resistant case for your phone so you can take some great pictures inside. We enjoyed the large geothermal waters and got our silica mask inside the lagoon. The water’s milky blue shade is due to its high silica content. After exploring the entire lagoon, we drove to Reykjavik and explored the city with a stop at the Sun voyager statue and Hallgrímskirkja church. We stayed at the KEX Hostel.

Day 2: The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is the classic route that most people do. It began with Thingvellir. When Viking settlers arrived in the 10th century it was the site they chose as the meeting place of Althingi, the world’s oldest parliament. Second stop was the Strokkur geyser. It is one of Iceland’s most famous geysers, erupting once or twice every 10 minutes. Its usual height is 15 to 20 metres, although it can sometimes erupt up to 40 metres high. Gullfoss Waterfall came next and we were very impressed with this massive waterfall with wide curved three-step “staircase” and a very large crevice. Lunch was particularly excellent in the Fridheiman Farm, a tomato farm using the natural hot water. After that, we went to the Kerid Crater and passed Flúðir but decided that we had spent enough time in the geothermal waters. We stayed at the Héradsskólinn Guesthouse.

Day 3 – The South Coast

There are a few words to remember for the Icelandic explorer: jökull for glacier, foss for waterfall, gljúfur for canyon, fjara for beach/coast. We started the day with my favorite waterfall Seljalandsfoss. It is very easy to access and you can walk behind the waterfall. A second waterfall inside a small cave is also available a few meters right after. Skogafoss is the second must see waterfall, larger and very impressive. Ideal spot to use your wide angle lens. We stopped randomly for a fish and chips at “Nailed it” just after and it was just perfect. If you want to relax a bit more Seljavallalaug Zwembad pool is also a great thing to do on your way to Vik.

If you have time continue to the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. We choose to continue with Reynisfjara beach, the world-famous black-sand beach. Be careful over there with the deadly waves while you admire the enormous basalt stacks and turn your back on the ocean. We picked the Vik Farmhouse Lodge as our base camp for the 2 nights as it was ideally located for all the things we wanted to explore. We would recommend only two things in Vik for the evening: a restaurant Sudur Vik and a bar with a great selection of beers Smiðjan Brugghús.

Day 4 – Glaciers and Hiking

One thing about Iceland is that even if you have a perfect itinerary you will be tempted to stop in front of all the beautiful landscapes along the way. Glaciers, mountains, waterfalls are everywhere and they are just incredible. Our day consisted of Jokulsarlon and Vatnajokull National Park. You can find some of the trails here. Svartifoss was beautiful inside the park, its basalt columns have provided inspiration for Icelandic architects, most visibly in the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. Don’t forget to check all the trails available near Skaftafell and Svínafellsjökull. We spent quite some time at Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon looking at the procession of luminous blue icebergs. As everything is melting and moving to the ocean, the panorama is always unique. It is the deepest lake of Iceland with its 248m.

Day 5 – On the road again

Our return flight was in the morning so it was already time to drive back to Reykjavik from Vik and drop off the rental car at the airport. Surely we will come back!

Climbing Gran Paradiso and Mont-Blanc

 
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Mont Blanc just after Dôme du Goûter

Climbing Mont-Blanc (4810m) was something close to my heart since I did Tour du Mont-Blanc last summer. It is something that must be planned ahead as you must find a guide (highly recommended) and book refuges (highly demanded). Our guide was suggesting several summits for acclimatation but we picked Gran Paradiso (4061m) in Italy which look vertiginous with an airy ridge at the summit!

With a good preparation, you will put all the chances on your side to make this dream come true. This preparation first starts at home throughout the year to maintain your physical form (running, cycling, hiking, skiing…). Both summits need specific equipment and knowledge of alpinism, don’t underestimate them. Prior to doing this experience I’ve heard and read so many different things online, I can tell you that both summit are not easy. You never climb the same mountain twice, the weather can change everything and altitude affects everyone differently.

Day 1 – Hike Lac Blanc, Argentière – 4 hours hike

We started the adventure with a hike to Lac Blanc, possibly Chamonix’s most famous walk. A perfect start to test some of our new equipment and warm-up for the intense week to come! After taking Flégère cable car, in about one hour we arrived at the lake. After couple photos in front of the frozen lake we took the direction to Argentière to slowly go down and enjoy this section of the TMB (Tour du Mont Blanc). Then, we took a train to get back to Chamonix from Argentière train station.

Day 2 – Hike Grand Balcon Nord, Grotte de Glace – 5 hours hike

Our original plan was to climb Mont Buet (3096m) but current conditions were preventing us from getting to the top so we changed our plan! A great alternative that we found was to hike Grand Balcon Nord and then explore an ice cave (Grotte de Glace).

The hike starts at the famous cable car “Aiguille du Midi” but instead of going to the top, you will stop at “Plan de l’Aiguille” (2,207 m) and begin the hike along Grand Balcon Nord to Montenvers via the Signal de Forbes and its extraordinary panorama. From there you should have a splendid view on the Mer de Glace, the Drus and the Grandes Jorasses. A few more steps down and you will be able to get to the famous Grotte de Glace. The ice grotto is cut into a living glacier. The grotto has to be dug out every summer since the glacier moves about 70m every year. It was fantastic to get inside with the hot weather.

Day 3 – Rest, enjoy Chamonix and get the rented gear

It was great to have a day to relax and buy missing items. We rented crampons and alpine boots at Sanglard and they did a great job at giving us tips on how to set everything up. Finally, Climbing World cup was also right in front of our hotel so we had no excuse to not go!

Day 4 – Mountaineering training – Aiguille verte – All day

We were very excited to finally begin the adventure with the guide! He brought us ice axes, helmets and climbing harnesses. Getting all that equipment on you will make you feel like a real alpinist. However only when we started to climb a very steep hill in the snow with the heavy boots and crampons we realized in what we were getting into. Objective of this training day was to give us an introduction to cramponing, progression in rope and elementary knots. After seeing another group climbing an ice wall we asked our guide to give it a try! It seems we did very well for a first time climbing an ice wall, first with 2 ice axes, then just one!

Day 5 – Drive to Gran Paradiso in Italy through Tunnel of Mont Blanc and climb to first refuge – 2 hours drive + 2,5 hours ascent

We started the day by a short drive from Chamonix to Gran Paradiso starting point: a parking surrounded by beautiful mountains. After about 2,5 hours of ascent we arrived at Refuge Federico Chabod (2750m). We spent the evening waiting for results of the world cup as France was playing against Belgium that night! Without any cellular network, everyone was riveted to the only radio available in the refuge.

Day 6 – Gran Paradiso summit day – 7 hours ascent/descent + 2 hours drive

This days was the occasion to complete our alpine training, develop our mountaineering, glacier travel and rope work skills! We started around 4:30am, right after breakfast and a short night of sleep. The route was easy at the beginning, but after about one hour it was time to put on the crampons, set the ropes between us and be very careful to avoid deep crevasses.

It was cold but the scenery was amazing, we were very excited to make it to our first 4000+ summit! The final ridge finally appeared and only a few people were thinking about launching themselves into the last few meters. This part is usually overcrowded, because it’s where a Madonna statue is standing. Without hesitating our guide brought us to the statue, passing everyone one by one we managed to get the statue just for us! 4061m! Our descent was easy if we don’t mention my friend’s sunscreen which made us half blind for couple hours! We used a different path to get to the parking and stopped at Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele.

Day 7 – Chamonix to Tête Rousse Refuge – 1 hour transport + 2,5 hours ascent

No time to rest, already time to continue the adventure on the popular Gouter Hut route! We took the Bellevue cable car (with couple hours waiting due to a power outage) from Les Houches and then took the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle (2,372m). Only 2,5 hours to get to the famous Tête Rousse Refuge. This is where we slept. We would enjoy our successful booking of both Tête Rousse and Refuge du Goûter to make the ascent in 3 days.

Day 8 – Mont blanc Summit day – 10 hours ascent/descent

4am! I woke up without any difficulty: after months of training, the day to climb Mont-Blanc was finally here! I remember checking the weather outside quickly before getting breakfast and see the exceptional conditions. We had absolutely won the lottery for our 9 days in the French and Italian Alps. Of course the route is popular as I mentioned before, but it is also infamous for the Gouter couloir also known as “death couloir”. The key is to cross this section early in the morning. Hours which are the most critical are between 11am and 1.30 pm when stone falls occur. When I looked at the path to the Refuge du Goûter, I really thought it was a wall to climb because it was a strong 600m steep, close to vertical, section of rock. The truth is that it went very well and we climbed it in about 2 hours.

We did a one hour break at Refuge du Goûter and dropped some of the gear that we didn’t use on the final ascent (helmet, extra clothes, etc). We actually dropped hiking poles and other items along the way to finish with an almost empty backpack at the summit. What I will remember from this day is the physical and mental challenge that represents the latest 800m, it felt endless and even when I thought we were at the end of the mountain, there was another! But the best view comes after the hardest climb. Being on top of Europe is a unique moment, a lifetime experience.

Day 9 – Refuge du Goûter to Chamonix – 3,5 hours descent + 1 hour transport

With a smile on our faces and the motivation to get back in the valley, the descent went fast, extremely fast! We actually ran while laughing to get on time to catch the train at Nid d’aigle. Probably too much energy left, the long training before Mont-Blanc paid off after all.

Mountain guide recommendation

If you are interested into starting this adventure, don’t hesitate to contact me to get my professional mountain guide contact details.