Daniele Rocchi gave me a tip about a cave in Nicaragua. I checked out his trip report and decided to check it out. Maybe I could even get up the climb they reached… Though it sounded unlikely…

In August 2014, the Costa Rican Caving Association receives a report of a volcanic cavern located in El Hoyo Volcano, Department of León, Nicaragua. The information comes from the Austrian Kevin Koppensteiner, who discovered the cavern in 2008 when he worked as a volunteer guide for the Quetzaltrekkers organization.

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The topography of the term cavern elucidating a total length of 256 meters to the vertical wall. We determined that trying a vertical climb on this rock would be too dangerous, and the presence of air indicated the possibility of another mouth, so we decided to leave this mystery for a future visit.

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View of the preliminary 3D model of the cave with the topographic data obtained, prepared by Andrés Ulloa

After my second round of volcano boarding I had lunch with the others who were in a tour to climb the same volcano. I asked the guide what he wanted me to do… Head up first, follow them up the mountain? He said he didn’t mind if I joined them, so after asking everyone on the tour, I headed up the mountain with them.

It was interesting observing the different people on the tour. There was a couple who were on their first overnight hike, a guy who was not at all happy with the drizzly weather and steep incline, an enthusiastic gung-ho girl that reminded me of Sierra, and then another quiet girl who was there for the nature and peppered the guide with questions. The group split on the way up and I ended up hiking with the couple.

At one point, sitting in the rain on a small earthen bench I was trying to work out why I couldn’t feel the water seeping into my shoes… It was because the ground was hot! You could see it steaming in places! As we climbed you would notice this in more and more spots.

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The weather wasn’t amazing, and soon the views were obscured in a thick fog.

We enjoyed some maní fruit and even saw a coral snake before reaching the flat bowl just below the summit that is the common choice for camping.

I helped the guy set his tent up and then searched for a cow paddy free site for myself. I wasn’t really raining now, more of a thick mist. I soon had collected rocks to anchor my tent and seeing the inactivity decided to lay down for a bit. I dozed off and awoke in the dark. I could here the others preparing dinner in the small, little more than one sided shelter. They had a fire going, and I cooked a pot of noodles after accepting an extra burrito.

I was the second to retire, and the last to rise in the morning. In fact when I got out of my tent into the heavy fog (that has put a damper on our hopes for a great amanacer) almost everyone had packed. They decided to head down which seemed a shame… Why not at least head up and look at the sinkhole? Shorly you’d see something.

I said bye and rested for a while longer reading and napping. At one point I opened my tent fly and couldn’t believe the giant hole just above me. It is visible from the highway… El Hoyo means “the hole ” afterall …

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It was soon time to go exploring . I grabbed some water, my crappy new camera and my phone to use as a gps… I’d found the entrance on satellite imagery and got it confirmed by Daniele.

I past the sinkhole on the way up. The sulfur vent was also pretty obvious. The summit crater full of cows and much more vegetated than I’d expected.

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On the way to the entrance I past a steaming tree trunk figuring it’d probably been baked to death… Not further on I found a large hole with stream and perhaps other gases gushing out. It had to be the entrance… But it looked pretty vertical… also smaller and covered by vegetation… Would it even be visible form satellite imagery?

I tried to get in from the other side. Passing under a large chock stone I climbed down some tree roots to get a better look. It was hard to see with all the stream… Maybe 10m down. (At least another 10m needed for rigging?)… I wasn’t getting in here. I pulled out my GPS to check where I was… It might be the wrong hole!? The one I had tagged was 20m or so away… Sure enough, I was soon peering down into a much larger hole that wasn’t vertical.

I’d received a report from a local who had been on the original exploratory trip that the entrance had completely collapsed and was impassible… But it still looked quite easy to enter to me… Climbing over the recent rocks and large tree now featured in the entrance, I was soon in the entrance chamber with a thousand bats flying around me.

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Walking over the breakdown, like the original party, I was supprised at the dimensions of the passage which seemed to be heading straight for the crater. I wasn’t really sure how the cave had formed. It didn’t look like a lava tube…

I passed some snake skeletons but never actually saw any alive. The cave sloped down to a fairly flat area with a lot of water dripping from the ceiling into small pools. You could probably camp there when it was a little drier.

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Sloping back up, I again climbed on breakdown, this time a little smaller, before dropping down to a tighter section of passage with a strong draft as well as orange flagging from the original survey. I passed in the wind for a bit. It felt great. And then proceeded into the next room and the bottom of the climb… After a quick look at it, I was pretty sure I could scale it. It was less vertical than I had expected. Virgin cave fever didn’t really take hold of me as I carefully made my way up the wall testing rocks as I went. The first part wasn’t difficult, but towards the top everything was loose. I dug out a small step and did some bridging before finally topping out. There was a good chance I was the first person to set foot here!

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The passage ramped up again before a tighter section into what looked to be the terminal room. There were a lot of bats and on the floor a lot of plant matter. It seems to have fallen through the crack system in the ceiling which might be claimable. I wasn’t going to try it myself. Even if I made it through it seemed to be the end of the cave. I’d got maybe an additional 30m.

Heading out the drizzle had returned. I headed back to camp and eventually decided to spend an additional night. I was still recovering from Dengue and plus, surely thered be an amazing sunrise! As the rain continued into the night, sometimes quite heavy, it seemed unlikely… But when I woke around 5am it was actually partialy clear.

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 I walked up to have another look at the vent… There could also be cave down there.

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Returning to camp I began packing. A few locals checking on the cattle and some other hikers checking out the mountain appeared before I dropped down the side towards the lake visible in the distance.

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The trail was pretty clear if braided in spots and I made good time to the lake were I quickly went for a swim to cool down.

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On the far side of the lake was some elevated sleeping platforms under a crude shelter. I had lunch watching the butterflies on the beach.

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A guy at a finca wanted me to pay to exit to the highway. It seemed like he was just searching for money and couldn’t even find the payment book. I didn’t wait around long before heading to the highway. I had a ride before a bus passed. I wasn’t really sure where I was going an staying in the back of the ute ended up back in Managua. I checked out the lake before heading to the Plaza to get wifi and charge my phone.

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It was dark when I left. I bought some food. Walked towards the exit of the city and ended up catching a chicken bus for 15C to km 19 where I camped on the outskirts of Masaya National Park. IMG_0239

I hiked up towards the volcanoes though interesting terrain that reminded me of hiking in Hawaii. I was most of the way up when a ute stopped to give me a ride. Or so I thought. Their real motice was to escort me back down to the entrance. “It was too dangerous”. “You need to go on a tour “. It was mostly bullshit I think. Masaya is an overpriced big money making volcano. But something you probably want to do once and forget about the lucrative fee.

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I hitched into Granada with a very nice engineer from Managua. We shared a fresco in the park, bought a pottery mug and once he left I checked into Boca de Boca and booked a tour to Masaya.

I went to the pool with some girls, made a quick dinner and then headed up to the volcano.

Getting there around 5pm was prefect. Still a bit of light to begin with, but you could also experience it in the dark after half an hour.

The pool of lava was mesmerising. It was like looking at a camp fire.

We enjoyed trivia at the hostel before bed.

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