At the heart of the Maya Mountains, surrounded by rainforest, Victoria Peak is the second-highest point in Belize, and an exhilarating goal for the intrepid. Janelle Chanona braves the trek, the elevation, the fog — and perhaps the occasional jaguar — to reach the coveted top.

If it weren’t for my skin, I’m positive my heart would explode right out of my chest. An intense pressure in my head magnifies my laboured breathing, deafening everything else. As I slowly lift my gaze to the earthen wall that the trail has become, streams of sweat course down my back. Not for the first time, I think, “What have you got yourself into now?”

A self-proclaimed weekend warrior, I have skydived over the Belize Barrier Reef, dived among the stalactites of the great Blue Hole, and ridden my bicycle across the length and breadth of Belize. But hiking 3,675 feet to the top of Victoria Peak is an intimidating challenge. The distance between base and peak is not long, about seventeen miles. But the mountain rises so sharply from the forest floor that the hike is considered one of the most strenuous climbs in Central America.

Located within the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Victoria Peak is the second-highest elevation in Belize. The four-day climb is reserved for “intrepid” hikers. While the first ten miles are a relative walk in the park, it takes a special kind of courage to get from there to the aptly named Dead Man’s Camp at mile twelve. Every step on the steep gradients of those two miles pales in comparison to what lies ahead. And zero to twelve, well, that’s just day one.

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