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) – opted for Aguaventura.

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Base of Vulcán Villarrica

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!

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

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Still climbing

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Snowboarders hiking up

Quite surreal catching glimpses of the lakes and parts of the opposing Caldera del Sollipulli volcano deep beneath us – absolutely breathtaking.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Cloud-line vista looking down on Villarrica lake

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Snowboarders, close up…

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Still climbing…

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.

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 at around 17:00 Hrs.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Rest before the ascent

So understandably, it’s not wise to descend in the dark regardless of whether this is by sliding or climbing down the volcano.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Much higher – you can just see below at left-side

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Back down at the base

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.

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Villarrica sunset

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.

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 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…

Leaving Pucón

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…

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

Vulcán Villarrica, chile, South America, trekking
Happy after descending – still in 6 layers of clothing (Photo credit: Neil Lintern)
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24 thoughts on “The ascent of Vulcán Villarrica, Chile

Add yours

    1. Ha, ha I’m still updating all of my Matador posts I wrote years’ ago, which I never got around to updating.
      Currently in Sicily then back to Calabria. In Italy until mid-October 2018, then not sure where next… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    2. From your posts, it looks as if you really enjoyed Turkey. Cosenza had those temps last month but I still didn’t manage to catch up, only updated my older 16 posts, which I’ve republished.

      On that note, I’m told by WP that it’s better to reblog than republish as this could be seen as duplicate info by SEO. I think that as I first published those posts over 2 years’ ago, then I should be OK…let’s hope as SEO is an ever-changing science!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, ha it’s called sheer stubbornness on my part, must be my Calabrese heritage!
      I only wish we had more time that day so I could do the last 500 metres to the summit, as I know I could have completed the climb. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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