Dance on the Villarrica Volcano
We had to be at the office of the adventure tour provider at 6:45am in order to grab our equipment for the climb of the Villarrica Volcano. Since my biorhythm isn’t really up to speed at this time of the day I needed to return three times to the hostel to get stuff which I forgot to bring. First it were the ski gloves, than I needed to exchange my normal sunglasses against the ones with strong protection (spectron 4) and lastly to get a pair of shorts. I was only in a layer of thermals at the bottom and planning to wear the ski pants provided to us but it turned out I better walk up in trekking pants and use the ski pants only for sliding down the mountain during the descent. So I put my trekking shorts on top since I didn’t want to climb the mountain in underwear.
It was a 45min drive from the office to the volcano. When driving towards it we could see its peak glowing in red fire. This made me actually realize what I have signed up for. It’s an active volcano, steaming and with a lava lake in its crater. It was really amazing to see that glowing mountain in the dark.
We started the ascent with a chairlift ride bringing us up to 1,870m. I was sharing a chairlift with Mollie my fellow traveler from the UK. Since she doesn’t ski or snowboard she never went on a chairlift before and was a tiny bit scared but everything went smoothly. The chairlift itself was pretty basic and you didn’t even have a security bar to pull in front of you.
From the chairlift it’s a roughly 1,000m climb until you reach the peak at 2,847m. It took us 3.5 hours to walk up there. The guides set a speed which was convenient for me to walk. For a number of people it was either to fast or the mountain to steep so they became exhausted and needed to return.
The first part of the climb went over ashes and small volcanic stones and took roughly 1h and 20min. Then we hit the glacier ice on which the second part of the climb took place. Therefore, we needed to put on our crampons and gaiters to protect our pants from the spikes of the crampons. In addition we got our ice axe out and one of the guides demonstrated to us how to use the equipment. When walking in crampons you need to take care you always put all spikes in the ice and not just half of them to get maximum stability. You also need to open your legs a bit when walking to not put the spikes in your gaiters causing you to fall. The ice axe always needs to be on the mountain and not the valley side when walking because otherwise it is too short when using it as a kind of walking stick for additional stability. In case you fall and slide down the mountain you shouldn’t use your crampons to stop you sliding since this could break your legs. Instead you hold the ice axe with both hands in front of you, turn on your stomach and hew the axe into the ice which should stop you sliding down the mountain.
The third part was a roughly 30min climb over volcanic rocks without the use of crampons. This is supposed to be the hardest part of the climb although I personally didn’t find it harder than the previous part. We reached the peak at lunch time and had our sandwiches right at the rim of the crater. The view up there was amazing. You could see the surrounding mountains and the big smoking hole of the crater.
We spent a bit more than one hour at the peak. My fellow traveler Jurie from Japan was a bit scared of the smoke since it is toxic. Our guides said a short visit to the peak will be of no risk to our health. The guides are actually much more exposed since they come here frequently. I could actually feel the smoke in my lungs and needed to cough a couple of times. We spent the time at the peak with walking along the crater rim and having a look into the big steaming hole. From time to time we could even see pieces of red glowing lava in the crater which was truly amazing. While being up there me also remembered the German movie “Tanz auf dem Vulkan” (in English “Dance on the Volcano”) and I ask Jurie to dance with me which she did. There is no photo so you need to use your imagination to see Jurie and me dancing on the volcano.
For the descent we put on our pants, jacket, gloves, the special protection for the bum and attached the plastic to slide on to our gear. After walking for a few minutes we arrived at an ice channel which we used to slide down major parts of the snow cab. One of the guides demonstrated us the technique for save sliding and how to use the ice axe to brake. While sliding down the sun was very intense leading to parts of the channel being filled with ice water. After a while the ice water was also in my pants and underwear which was a not so pleasant feeling. We quickly left the ice cab behind us and stepped into loose ashes to go down to the bottom of the mountain. In this terrain you basically go with your heels first and when stepping into the loose ashes you slide a bit down which speeds up the whole process of going down. This reminded me of going down from the peak of the Mount Kilimanjaro where I had to deal with similar terrain.
Around 4pm we were back at the bottom of the mountain. On the way down we not just covered what we walked up but also the piece of the path we went by chairlift. Down at the bottom a van was already waiting for us. We drove back to Pucón where we returned the equipment and had a drink with our guides. Afterwards I went for dinner with Ann my fellow traveler from Canada. She heard the curry in the vegetarian restaurant around the corner is especially good and the both of us enjoyed this lovely food.