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Ben and Ange - On the Road

Climbing an Active Volcano

CHILE | Friday, 4 April 2008 | Views [947]

Volcan Villarica - Catching some sunset rays!  Hard to stop taking photos.

Volcan Villarica - Catching some sunset rays! Hard to stop taking photos.

Our final stop in the wonderful Patagonia was Pucon! An irresistably gorgeous wee town snuggled up to an active volcano! Volcan Villarica is a classic pyramid shaped volcano of about 2800m and is still active! It huffs and puffs away and apparently we should only be worried when we CAN'T see the smoke coming out the top. Honestly it looks like something I'm sure we all drew on the cover page of our Yr 6 Volcanos assignment!

Our first night in Pucon had us a tad baffled. We were strolling about at 8ish wondering where everyone was? Came to the conclusion that we were just being early birds and it would surely get busier at the more respectable (South American) hour of 10ish. But no! What we didn't realise is that the Patagonian HIGH season is now officially over! Quite refreshing in many ways - but a tad quiet for sure! The only logical thing to do, therefore was perch ouselves on a roof-top bar and indulge in 2 for 1 picso sours! Kinda imperative for making grand Volcano Climbing plans :-)

Next day involved a bit of a late start and a wee curse of the cheap pisco sours. But they are so good!!! Found ourselves a suitable guide company to take us up the Volcano and proceeded to bag them about all the "useless" stuff that we would have to take along with us. Surely we wouldn't need all of it says us! Just a gimmick for the tourists! Well yes in the end we very much did end up eating our words, we used EVERYTHING they gave us. So after booking our trip for the next day we thought we should get a little preperation in so we headed for the natural hot springs that night and proceeded to drink our way through a bottle of champers while preparing our muscles for the jouney,,, uh huh, I'm sure that's what all mountaineers do, right?

The big day involved getting up at 6:30am before the sun was up and making our way to the pick up point. A little after 7 which was the pickup time and no one was there from the company we started to get a little annoyed. But eventually along came the guide with a sheepish expression on his face. DAYLIGHT SAVING had FINISHED that night!!! Here we were at a bit after 6am and a full hour early! Made us feel a little bit better that it got him as well but back to the hostel we went for a half hour lie down and then up to do it all again.

Take 2

Picked up in our mini bus and taken to the base of the chair lifts. The base of the volcano is a ski resort in winter. The volcano itself is about 2800m high (know this from the fact that our camera has an in-built altometer! how cool is that). The minibus takes us up about to about 1000m and from there it was time to don the backpacks and start walking,,,,to the chair lift!! It's not cheating it's called utilising available resources :) That took us up another 400m so we only had another 1400m up to go,, still a bloody long way!

So up we trudged for a about an hour and a half up the black rocks and soil.  At this stage we're engulfed in wispy cloud cover as it was an overcast day.  But soon enough and in most spectacular fashion we've popped out of the cloud cover into glorious sunshine and are peering down onto the top of clouds.  We've also reached the glacier, and here's where the fun starts.

 Remember all that gear that "they made us carry" yes we needed it. So on with the waterproof pants, the gaiters (protects your shins and calfs from your own crampons), the crampons themselves, helmet and icepick. Now were starting to look the part. Walking for the first time in crampons is certainly a new experience and one that takes a little time. At first you don't trust them in the ice and you walk all wrong but after a few tips from our other travellers (65 year old Canadians who were members of the British Colombia Mountaineering Society!! and put us to shame!!) we got the hang of it and away we went.

There is something a little magical about climbing up a mountain above the clouds with your crampons and icepick. Makes you feel like a mountain climber! fancy that :)

So we trek for another hour up the ice until the ice finally gave way to the rocks of the volcano again. Off with the crampons and we started the final hour of our climb scrambling up the scree to the crater (or is it cone?  Or summit?).

All exhaustion and discomfort is vanquished by the most breathtaking view.  A sea of snowy white clouds dotted with peaks of other distant volcanos.  And apparently there's a dragon somewhere nearby, cos we keep hearing hissing and roaring and can see wisps of smoke and steam coming from the mountain :-)

The volcano proved itself quite nicely.  The weird yellow/red of the crater and the numerous side vents of steam were enough - but the random WOOSH and roar of more steam and smoke made you realise just where you were!  Standing on the rim of the crater of an active volcano... of course.

So normally the descent of mountains (especially ones this STEEP) is quite agonizing!  The constant jarring of the downward step is enough to make even the healthiest of knees creak and groan.  And the first leg of our descent was all this.  A bizarre experience was to actually be getting a sore neck from looking down at SUCH an angle. 

Our second and final legs of the descent were just plain fun!  Once we reached the glaciar we dug yet again into our trusty packs and found the final piece of essential equipment.... a canvas nappy thing!  Strapped this to our butt sit ourselves down in a wee snow chute and ... SLIDE!!!! down the volcano.  Our trusty guide gave us ICE-PICK instructions (ie how to slow and BRAKE while sliding down the side of an active volcano) and set us loose!  The first two slides were a bit of a warm up.  Lying back, lifting the knees and feet and not braking are the keys to speed.  So once that was all mastered we reached the final slide.  This was a veritable TUBE of checains.  The walls so steep and tall that you were almost entirely encased in ice with a view only of white clouds in the distance!  This baby was STEEP!  AND FAST!  AND A WHOLE LOT OF FUN!!!  The gravelly end onto volcanic rock was a tad uncomfortable... but hey... who notices that when the adrenaline has kicked in so well?

The last third of our trek down was much like treking down a giant sand dune.  The scree (volcanic pebbles etc) is so fine that its much like sand.  So giant steps were the order.  As well as keeping mouth closed and sunnies on - against all the dust.

Thats the volcano folks!  We loved it. 

Our reward the next day was a lazy afternoon in a row-boat on the lake.  Stocked up with wine, beer, cheese, fruit and fresh bread and made a bit of a picnic of it.  Rowed a grand total of ... oh about 100m... but gee we were two VERY HAPPY campers!

Caught ourselves a "cama-class" bus ride to Santiago and here we are.  We've finally managed to drag ourselves out of the lovely Patagonia.  Sigh.  What a treat it was!


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