Existing Member?

Odyssey number 2?

The Mighty Villaricca!

CHILE | Tuesday, 18 May 2010 | Views [772] | Comments [1]

Following on from the last post, we awoke on Sunday to a glorious day so thunderbirds were go for the Volcano climb. We were relatively unsure as to what to expect; although we knew we needed some fairly technical gear so it wasn´t going to be a walk in the park. We arrived at the base (1000m above sea level) at about 8.30am and began the ascent in thermals and treking shoes, carrying masses of food, ice picks, crampons, and full snow suits in packs on our backs. The first two hours of the climb was over rocky terrain climbing underneath a non operational charilift (I´m sorry to say). The views were magnificent; the weather perfect and the pace steady but constant. The secret I found was to get in a rhythm and follow my guides footsteps. Your climb becomes almost mechanical, your body naturally begins to almost automatically move your feet in time with his; which stops the brain telling you every third step ´my legs are tired and I want to stop climbing now!´ We had a couple of 10 minute breaks which was just enough time to wolf down some food to keep the energy levels up. The last hour before the snow line was hiking through ash and a crumbly dirt which I envisage is like hiking up sand dunes. We stopped briefly to swallow down a sandwhich and some much needed chocolate before ditching our trekking shoes and donning helmets, snow boots, gators, crampons and icepicks. The sun was beaming so we didn´t need the snow suits which was a relief. The last two hours of the trek was hiking through the snow up an impossibly steep slope. They instructed us on how to attempt to stop ourselves with the ice pick should we miss step and go tumbling down the mountain. It was so steep that the speed you would have gathered in a matter of seconds would have made it near to impossible to stop yourself. Again the pace was slow and steady and generally our group found the climb pretty tough going. By this point we were climbing at about 2500m, dehydrated in the belting sun and Cazzy who detests hill walking at the best of times was having a little trouble with dizzyness. I was beginning to worry as it was bloody dangerous and I was unsure how I would explain to Mum and Dad how I had managed to let my little sister fall off the side of a Volcano. Every step required careful foot placement, pick placement and balance. At one point I mentioned to Caz that due to the dizzyness perhaps she should think about stopping. Cazzy told me in no uncetain terms (and a few expletives) that there was no way she was not reaching the top after the hellish climb. True to her word Cazzy valiently kept going. I can´t begin to explain how amazing the views were. Unfortunately it was so difficult to balance and keep your footing that taking photos was near to impossible. I managed to take one on the slope but it was nearly my undoing do I didn´t try again! The last 30 minutes to the top was like climbing a wall it was so sheer. Once we got to the top though, what a feeling! One of the most rewarding, invigorating experiences I´ve had in a long time, if ever. We took off our crampons and dropped the picks and walked around the rocky lip of the volcano. When approaching you could actually see the heat waves and hear the roar of the lava; it sounds like a freight train! We walked further around the lip and finally saw the cauldron of bubbling lava. It was spectacular and quite surreal. At certain points the constant bubbling and rumble of the lava would crescendo in a wave of lava that with a mightly roar would send a spray of lava exploding upwards, lighting up the rocky crater around it. Absolutely incredible. The heat and the steam coming from the lava is intense. I took some photos and a video which do it absolutely no justice but again I will post when I find a computer with an accessible usb port. We commenced our hike at 1000m and the top of the volcano is 2800m so a fairly steep bloody climb! We were all completely elated at the top and quicky agreed that Villaricca was now firmly at the top of our list for South America thus far. I would be surprised and thrilled if anything else outside the inca trail manages to top the experience. Whilst the scenery is amazing independently, I think it is the effort of the hike and the knowledge that not everone can do it makes the experience.

At the top prior to beginning the descent we were instructed to put on all our snow gear (helmet, snow pants, snow jacked, enormous gloves and something dubbed ´the nappy´ which was a tough nappy like piece of canvas which wrapped around your bum). The crampons went in the bag and we began our intially slow descent. After a few minutes of climbing painfully slowly down the slope we got to the first slide run. Did I mention we were going to slide down the mountain? When I say slide down I mean sit your ass on the slope and with only your ice pick to attempt to slow you take off down the slope. We had a 30 second instruction on how to use the ice pick as a brake which basically equated to holding the top of the pick (with the pointy bits) like an oar and digging the handle into the snow close to your body. Needless to say my abilty to control my body hurtling down the snow was not good. Oscar our guide was the first to take off and I must say I began to become very very nervous. I know I´ve spoken a lot about the steepness of the slope but when you´re standing at the top looking down about to lose control with nothing to stop you but an ice pick, the adrenalin starts pumping. The first three runs I dug that bloody handle so hard into the snow I nearly popped something in my shoulder but somehow managed to keep some sort of control over my speed. The last run was ridiculously sheer. I said to Alvoro our other guide: there is no bloody way I am going to be able to control myself or stop. He said ´si Kate, go´. Uhhh not overly reassuring, especially after watching Brendan and Dave lose control on the way down. Never the less after seeing that they somehow managed to stop before sailing off the side of the mountain, off I went (heart pumping). For the first ten seconds I had an element of control, then it was all over. I was completely cannoning down the slope; ice pick flailing, speed gathering, absolutely out of control. Your feet send up such a spray of snow into your face that you are blind, so seeing where I was supposed to be stopping was impossible. I just kept repeating to myself: do as Dave said and keep your body straight if all goes to hell; don´t let yourself get upside down or sidewards. The only comfort was that there were about 6 people near the stopping point who would hopefully jump on top of me or serve as some sort of crash barrier should I fail to stop. Needless to say I managed to stop and did not sail off the volcano into the sunset. After the adrenalin rush of the slide I was thoroughly jelly legged and was for the first time of the day: exhausted. Who would have thought going down would have been harder? Sliding down we covered in 5 minutes what had taken us about 2.5hrs to climb.

When we hit rock we took all the snow gear off and began the climb down through slopes of fine rocks and ash. It was almost like skiing at some points. Unfortunately for me I must have twinged something in my knee on the last slide and it was giving me grief so the last hour was not overly enjoyable.

We arrived at the bottom at about 5pm thoroughly spent but elated. The elation I felt was fairly quickly quashed by the thought of the 20 hr bus ride departing later that evening to cross back into Argentina. Ouch. And did it hurt. The first half was okay but after a 2 hr layover in Santiago at 6.45am we got on a lower quality bus and the next 12 hrs were painful to say the least. Aside from the fact we were all sore and tired the bus was constantly delayed at mountain passes and we had a very long wait at immigration. Alls well that ends well though; we arrived in Mendoza (wine country) and checked into our fairly nice digs, had a quiet dinner and all collapsed.

Very much looking forward to mountain biking thorough wine country, a few bottles of red, maybe a massage and a few days off the hiking! 



Hope the 'blogs' are a continuing thing Kate - loving the read - waiting for the next one.....yes I know you have been busy!!!

  AP/DP Jun 12, 2010 6:48 AM

About kate2501

Follow Me

Where I've been

Photo Galleries


My trip journals

See all my tags 



Travel Answers about Chile

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.