The ascent of Vulcán Villarrica, Chile

May, 2011

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!

Vulcán Villarrica, Chile, trekking, climbing, volcanoVillarrica 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

For the volcano climb, we have two preferred tour companies in mind: Politur (CH$48,000) and Aguaventura (CH$40,000).

Finally opted for Aguaventura.

The main reason for this decision is that Politur didn’t seem to have enough people for the day we wanted to climb. As a result, we appeared to be getting the run-around from this company. Regardless of this, 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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Base of Vulcán Villarrica

The day before the climb, you need to go to Aguaventura to try on boots, clothes, helmet, and check your equipment.

Your 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 and think my back weighed around 10 kilograms – you don’t want to go over this weight.

On the day of the incredible but strenuous ascent…

Leaving around o7:00 hrs, you drive for about half an hour until you reach the Parque Nacional Villarrica. You then drive some more until you cannot go any further, even with snow chains attached to the 4×4. The snow is just too deep from last night’s fall and we start to ascend.

Leaving the 4×4, snow-covered park 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 this mountain is untouched or unmarked by any prints. Closely our group of climbers follow the guides, 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 did not find this a medium climb but instead, found this hard…maybe because I’m short and the snow is deep!

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Short break

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Other groups overtake us

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Still climbing

Our group of fourteen became even smaller when a couple of climbers opted to go no further, after the first stop at 1,200 metres.

It’s a slow climb.

The higher we climbed, much fog shrouded the volcano and at times, the visibility was reduced to only about 15 metres. It is quite surreal when catching glimpses of the lakes deep beneath us, or parts of the opposing volcano named Caldera del Sollipulli – absolutely breathtaking vistas!

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Cloudline vista looking down on Villarrica lake

Stopped at 1,800 metres for a quick rest then again at 2,300 metres for lunch and a chat about whether to push further or not. The guides discuss your options at the lunch stop, which 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. If it’s later, then they are not too interested in taking slow climbers to the top, which is mainly due to failing light on the descent.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Still climbing…

From our group, only eight climbed the last 500 metres to the crater, which included faster experienced climbers and younger-aged climbers.

Some like me, are just too slow at ascending. Some could go no further: physically, mentally, or both. One young climber just sat in a heap and cried, as she had got this far but was advised not to go any further as the descent was still to come.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Rest stop – the only hut like this one

The guides want you up and turned back from the crater by 14:30 hrs as in the winter, the sun starts to set round 17:00 hrs. So understandably, it’s not wise to descend in the dark, regardless of whether this is by sliding down or climbing down the volcano.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Much higher – you can just see below at left-side

Usually, you use your plastic slide to slide all the way down the volcano, which would be excellent and exhilarating. Today, as the snow is too thick and powdery from last night’s fall, a climb back down is the only option for our group. Climbing down is also difficult, especially after the tiring ascent. Your legs turn to jelly by the time you reach the base of the volcano and all you want to do is sit.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Rest before the ascent

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Snowboarders hiking up

As we waited at the base of the volcano for the rest of our group’s climbers to join us, a beautiful sunset danced wonderful colours over the snow.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Back down at the base

The climbers finally arrived on dusk and were happy to have completed the 500 metres left to the crater, but very disappointed as only ten minutes was spent at the crater. Apart from a lot of smoke at the top, they were forced to cut the stay short for the climb back down the volcano in the failing light.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Local’s snow games as the sun goes down

Returning to Pucón after an incredible day

On the return trip to Pucón, through sheer exhaustion, our little adventurous group of climbers fell silent, although satisfied with the unforgettable day and brilliant scenery.

Arriving back at our hostel, a hot shower and wonderful hot chocolate was 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!

Leaving Pucón

Following the long wait in Pucón for the ascent and the incredible day at the volcano, decided a little quiet time is required with some rest, and relaxation, away from the maddening tourists and daredevil activities.

Time to rest the weary body.

The next stop on Chile’s map is further north to rural Chillán, for more exploring. I hear this is not a tourist destination at all, but we’ll see…

Visit my Nilla’s Photography Chile Gallery for more images. More posts on Chile at Image Earth Travel.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Villarrica sunset

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking

Snowboarders, close up…

Happy after decent, still in 6 layers of clothing (Photo credit: Neil Lintern)

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