Finally, after about a week of waiting for the weather to clear, today is the day we enjoy the ascent of Vulcán Villarrica – one of Chile’s most active volcanoes.
Villarrica is one of a small number of volcanoes “worldwide known to have an active (but in this case intermittent) lava lake within its crater.” This volcano has been erupting since 1552, with the earliest recorded eruption in 1558.
And a good enough reason for experienced and non-experienced climbers worldwide, to climb the volcano.
Organising the climb
The main reason is that Politur doesn’t seem to have enough people for the day we want to climb. As a result, we seem to be getting the run-around from this company. Regardless, I have to say that Carolina from Politur is very informative, friendly, and provides a lot of detailed information.
Hope we made the right decision as there is a lot of talk about dodgy companies.
If you’re not sure on a company, go to the Tourist Office (corner O’Higgins & Pelguin) and read the official comments and experiences left by tourists that completed the climb, with differing companies.
What’s provided for the climb
Aguaventura provides a backpack containing: boots, mountain wear consisting of a jacket, pants, mittens, walking sticks (absolutely crucial), a slide, crampons, a helmet, and a gas mask.
The day before the climb, you must go to Aguaventura to try on boots, clothes, helmet, and check your equipment.
Extras you need to take
On the morning of the climb, you need to take lunch, fruit, water, chocolate and snacks, sun glasses, and sunscreen.
All of these extra items go into your pack. My pack weighs around 10 kilograms and you don’t want to go over this weight.
On the day of the incredible but strenuous ascent…
Leaving around 07:00 hrs the drive takes around half an hour until you reach the Parque Nacional Villarrica. Driving a little further we cannot go any further, even with snow chains attached to the 4×4 as the snow is just too deep from last night’s fall. So, we start to ascend on foot.
Snow-covered vistas resemble a magical Christmas postcard – simply stunning!
Luckily, Aguaventura is the first company up the volcano and the guides take time to cut out the new path in the snow, so the mountain is untouched or unmarked by any prints – climbers follow the guides closely up the steep ascent.
As winter arrived early this year with lots of fresh snow around, the climb is quite arduous.
The bible: Lonely Planet advises this trek as only a medium climb in the scale of easy, medium, hard. Although, I truly believe that the author must of completed this climb in the summer or was super fit. I didn’t find this a medium climb but instead, found this hard…maybe because I’m short and the snow is deep!
A couple of short breaks for water and some chocolate whilst climbing up through knee-deep then steadily increasing to waist-deep snow, provides temporary relief on this strenuous climb.
Our group of fourteen becomes even smaller as a couple of climbers opt to go no further after the first stop at 1,200 metres.
The climb is slow through snow and breathing the volcanos thin air.
Thick fog shrouds the volcano the higher we climb and at times, the visibility is reduced to only around 15 metres.
Quite surreal catching glimpses of the lakes and parts of the opposing Caldera del Sollipulli volcano deep beneath us – absolutely breathtaking.
Stopping at 1,800 metres for a quick rest, we rest again at 2,300 metres for lunch and a chat about whether to push further or not. While we rest and have lunch guides discuss our options, which also depends on the time you arrive at this point.
If it’s early in the day, then the guides have time to take slower climbers up to the summit. Although if it’s later, then they’re not too interested in taking slow climbers to the top. This is mainly due to failing light when descending the volcano.
From our group, only eight climb the last 500 metres to the crater. This group includes faster experienced climbers and also younger climbers.
Some in our group – like me – are just too slow at ascending. Some can go no further – physically, mentally, or both. One young climber collapses in a heap and just cries, as she’s climbed this far but advised not to go any further as she’s too slow and the descent is still to come.
The guides want you up and turned back from the crater by 14:30 hrs, as in the winter the sun starts to set at around 17:00 Hrs.
So understandably, it’s not wise to descend in the dark regardless of whether this is by sliding or climbing down the volcano.
Typically, you use your plastic slide to slide all the way down the volcano, which would be excellent and exhilarating fun.
Today, as the snow is too thick and powdery from last night’s fall, a climb back down the volcano is the only option for our group.
The long slow descent is also difficult, especially after the exhausting ascent. My legs turn to jelly by the time I reach the base of the volcano and just want to sit.
As we wait at the base of the volcano for the rest of our group’s climbers to join us, a beautiful sunset dances wonderful colours across the snow.
The rest of the climbers finally arrive on dusk and although happy to complete the 500 metres to the crater, they’re very disappointed as they only spent ten minutes at the crater. Apart from a lot of pungent smoke at the top, they were forced to cut the stay short for the climb back down the volcano in the failing light.
Returning to Pucón after an incredible day
On the return trip to Pucón, through sheer exhaustion our little adventurous group of climbers fall silent, although satisfied with the unforgettable day and brilliant scenery.
Arriving back at our hostel, a hot shower and wonderful hot chocolate is in order before settling down to a hot cooked and welcomed meal. It’s the simple pleasures in life that are the very best, especially after a tough day…
Following the long wait in Pucón for the ascent and the incredible day climbing the volcano, decide it’s time for a little quietness with some rest and relaxation, away from the maddening tourists and daredevil activities.
Time to rest the weary bones.
The next stop on Chile’s map is further north to rural Chillán, to explore more of this gorgeous country. I hear Chillán is not a tourist destination at all, but we’ll see…