Published: April 30th 2008April 29th 2008
Sitting in a hostel common room in Bariloche, Argentina, I'm debating where to go next, south? into the increasing chill, north? a wine tour in Mendoza, east? to the coast where soon the whales will return, or west? into Chile across the Andes and to the small town of Pucón where an active Volcano can be climbed.
So many options and unfortunately my time in South America is in it's final few weeks. I form a vague plan, head west, then north then east; Bariloche to Pucon, to Santiago, to Mendoza. Patagonia, Glaciers and Antarctica will have to wait - another trip - I've said this before. Part of the decision was down to one of those coincidences, speaking to people who'd just arrived from Pucon, not being sure what to do and then looking at travelblog's front page on the 27th and spotting this entry: Volcano climbing and star-gazing in Chile
Dominating the views from the town of Pucón it's pure white steep cone rises up from the flat valleys to 2,800m. Guided climbs of the volcano depart most days, when the weather is bad or the volcano is more active the tours are cancelled. I got relatively
lucky and was able to go with only one day waiting for the weather to clear.
An early rise, 6am; stuffing breakfast down, fighting for use of the kitchen space with other hostel guests, rushing to be ready for the 7am meet-up. In the small hostel nearly all of the guests hope to climb the volcano.
07:00: into the mini-van and dressed up in fetching florescent yellow weather proof overalls.
07:45: the climb begins - a brief hike to the ski-lift - some might say cheating - I say - who cares? - it's a 5 hour hike without the ski-lift a 4 hour hike with.
08:15: the hike begins - the views of Villarrica are stunning the closer we get the more it looms large above us, growing in stature with every step.
09:15: trudging, more trudging, there are a lot of other climbers - most of the time is spent looking at where we're placing out feet. Stop - climbing the volcano involves a lot of starting and stopping - going at the speed of the slower climbers. This does leave me with time to take photos while climbing and not lose the
group. We reach a strange looking structure - nicknamed "The Chapel" - it's the pre 1971 ski-lift - mostly destroyed in the last major eruption - many died, mainly in avalanches caused by the lava flow.
10:15: Half-way - two of the group of eight have dropped out, guides taking them back to the lower levels. People underestimate the difficulty of the climb regularly, it's steep, you need to use crampons, the wind picks up to howling levels, then drops - alternately leaving you chilled and sweating.
12:30: Our group has really slowed - a couple of the members cycled and then drank heavily in the evening before... I'd rested and not drank at all - it's a little frustrating but the volcano isn't going any where and weather looks crystal clear. I take the time to look at the formations on the rocks. The rocks are all volcanic, sharp, black to red, boulders that rolled or been shot out from the crater. Ice clutches the southern side blown into horizontal icicles by the fierce winds, some rocks have ice geode crystal structures, others small snowy tusks.
13:15: We reach the crater rim, billowing clouds of noxious
gas, eye watering, tasting like bile in the nose and throat. The bowl of the crater is several hundred meters in diameter, in the centre a chimney descends deep into blackness - at more active periods lava can bubble from this - I've yet to see lava despite climbing several volcanoes. I try to traverse the crater rim, the path is narrow and the wind picks up - I decide to head back about half-way around and head the other way. The views are stunning and the sense of achievement is worth all the climbing and hiking.
14:15: An unexpected descent - in the backpacks provided by the tour group are "nappies" - a padded section designed to strap around your backside. Down? - slide! using the ice pick as a brake. Some of the best fun I've had - we dub it "ass-boarding" - a lot of similarities to learning to snowboard - a sore backside being the main one.
16:00: Back at the hostel shedding sweat soaked clothes, warming up and sharing beers and stories. Great day.
The photos in this entry are in chronological order, the panorama is of the crater rim - taken
when I first got to the top. Unfortunately no one had the wherewithal to get a group photo! oh well - yet another conquered natural wonder with no photo to prove it
I stayed at the aptly named "Hostel Donde German" currently the main building is being rebuilt and I couldn't find the smaller out of town hostel on the first night - I stayed the first night - after getting drenched searching for "German" at the new Pucón Hostel - a beautifully equipped and set up hostel - but due to being open only three months - very quiet - if you're travelling in a small group - consider that hostel - you have your own company. Both are good hostels - "German"'s place as a few too many rules - they could be reworded or rethought and give the place a friendlier feel - but it was nice. Tips for the Volcano Climb
• Thermal undies
• At least 2 liters of water per person
• Get some nice high energy food - chocolate, sandwiches for the climb.
• Take some money - if the ski-lift is operating it costs 5,000 pesos.
• Make sure the equipment
fits and is good before the climb, I don't think the guides carry spares.
• Rest the day before - don't stay up drinking - even if the wine is good and cheap.
There are more photos below