When the Tough Get Going...

Parque Nacional Sierra de Agalta

Oct 1, 1998
Outside Magazine

Isolated in eastern Olancho, Honduras's second-highest mountain range and its accompanying 148,000-acre national park keep away all but the most determined hikers—the sort who instinctively know that the four-day, 12-mile trek up La Picucha, Agalta's highest peak at 7,723 feet, is worth taking both for what you won't see (other hikers) and what you will: an honest-to-God dwarf forest atop the summit.
Though Grupo Ecologico de Olancho can arrange guides—contact Conrado Martinez at the Cohdefor office in Catacamas (011-504-885-2873)—a good sense of direction will get you there solo. From Gualaco, head north toward San Esteban, turning east after three miles onto a marked dirt road, which you'll follow until it dead-ends at the trail. You'll then climb for about four hours along a sweet-gum-forested ridgetop and then zigzag across the Río del Sol until you reach a two-pronged waterfall at La Chorrera, the base camp where you'll sleep the first night. From here, the sometimes faint trail rises steeply for five hours. If you get thrown off while circumnavigating one of several hurricane-felled trees, just look for machete marks and backtrack to the trail. Pitch your tent when you reach a tiny clearing with fire pits.

During the two-hour ascent the third morning, the world around you changes form: The trail is masked by a dense, slippery mass of aboveground roots; the air becomes wetter, intermittently opaque; and the forest shrinks, its gnarled, stunted pines covered in moss and lichen—a rare ecosystem cooked up by the altitude, high winds, and near-constant moisture. If the gods are smiling and the skies are clear, you'll command 360-degree views over the treetops, from 8,010-foot Pico Bonito on the northern coast to the parrot-green Mosquitian jungle off to the east.
Back down at the foot of La Picucha, head east to the nearby town of Catacamas and then embark on a day trip to check out eastern Honduras's newest tourist attraction: the Cave of the Glowing Skulls. Discovered by amateur spelunkers in 1994, this 3,000-year-old burial chamber holds nearly 200 skeletons that sparkle cinematically in the light, thanks to aeons of calcite dripping from the roof. The remains, which long predate the Maya, may have belonged to ancestors of the Pech. The tourist-courting Honduran government has been busily building facilities—including ladders, platforms, and electric lighting—so that visitors can safely peer into the chamber, which is located on a ledge 30 feet above the cavern floor. The newly revamped cave is slated to open this fall, but you'll want to check with the Cohdefor office in Catacamas before heading out.

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