Vamos a Volcan!

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January 24th 2008
Published: January 27th 2008
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We are sailing......We are sailing......We are sailing......

Evening of the last night on the boat
Puerto Natales - Puerto Montt

Following my trekking in Torres Del Paine, i thought it was time to put my feet up and take it easy for a few days. Luckily, there is a very convenient way to do this from Puerto Natales travelling North, by spending 4 days on a ferry. A company called Navimag run the route and it travels through the Fjordes of Western Chile, on its way gradually towards Puerto Montt, 1,460km to the North. The boat is essentially a converted freight ferry, which now takes up to 200, mostly backpackers, on the route each week. In order to make the trip a little more exciting, they arrange talks and show movies through the trip to try and keep peoples interest alive.

I have to admit it was the first time this trip i have really forced myself to just take it easy and chill out, and it was a welcome break from the usual organising i have to do (Are you feeling sorry for me back in the office?). Its also a really good chance to meet lots of other travellers, exchange stories of places visited, learn new card games, eat loads and drink lots of red wine. It turns out to be a really nice way to see some of Chile from the water too, rather than on a couple of overnight buses. Although i think by the end of 4 days i was pretty much ready to get off the boat and do something active again.

So, after docking in Puerto Montt first thing on Monday morning, i was straight on a bus for the 6 hour journey North to Pucon in the Chilean Lake District.


Pucon was the next stop North for a few reasons. Firstly it was where Helen was going to be for 5 days on her time off between trips so it was a good chance for us to meet up and spend some time together. Its also where a couple of tour leader friends of her´s, Cristian and Sarah, have just opened a new hostel so we really wanted to go along and check the place out. The hostel is called the Tree House hostel (Complete with tree house in an apple tree in the garden, built by Christian) and its looking great just now. After all the work setting it up, it only opened 3 weeks ago, but things seem to be going well for them so far.
Tree House Hostel

It was also really nice for us to stay with a few friends for a change, rather than staying more strange places and moving on every couple of days. So we had meals with Cristian (Sarah was away trip leading for the week) and Amy from Scotland who is working there this summer, including a great, meat-tastic barbeque, Chile style.

Moving North to Pucon was also the first time the weather has heated up significantly for me in the last few weeks. After the cold temperatures and winds of Patagonia, it was nice to be back in the shorts again. So with the great weather, time to get out and about and enjoy it a bit.

The other big attraction with Pucon and other reason we wanted to visit is what is located very near to it. The town sits on the edge of a lake (funnily enough being in the Lake district), but sandwiching it in to the South is the 2,840 m high active Volcano Villarica. As you can imagine, as soon as I heard this was located
On the edgeOn the edgeOn the edge

Continuous sulphur coming from the volcano, just reminding us its only resting. Lets hope it doesn't wake up today!
right next to the town, it was a definite on the list to visit.

Despite reading up on the town before my arrival, i wasn´t quite prepared for the amazing sight on getting off the bus in Pucon. When you look up from the town, there is the most perfectly cone shaped volcano, complete with snow covered top and smoke continually billowing from the crater on top, just as a gentle reminder that you are in a town beside a very active pool of molten magma. Its a little eerie at first to think of this, but i was assured its well monitored and we would have at least a few hours notice before it went off, if it did happen (How far can you actually run away from a volcano in a few hours? All that marathon training might finally become useful!)

The volcano is visible everywhere from town and it really is the most spectacular sight. So when in a town with an active volcano, whats the first thing you think of doing?.... Well of course, you climb to the top and look inside the crater!

"Vamos a Volcan!"

There Helen and i were
Down there is lavaDown there is lavaDown there is lava

Thats a mighty big hole in the ground!
then, at 7am on the clearest day all week, waiting for our pick up to climb an active volcano. After getting briefed by Mauricio, our guide, and given gaitors, waterproof leggings, crampons, 2 sets of gloves, balaclava and waterproof seat thing, we were kind of wondering what we had let ourselves in for. And then its Vamos a Volcan for us.

The walk itself was a bit of a slog really, climbing 1,400 m ascent in total. Initially its along scree for the first hour or so, before then moving on to snow and ice for the remaining 3 hours of the climb. Its a pretty steep climb too, pushing up through the tracks in the snow, coming ever nearer to the smoke that was billowing out high above us. The last part towards the summit was particularly steep as well.

On the way up, the view is fantastic, with Mauricio pointing out other volcanoes off in the distance. These include the Llaima volcano which erupted on 2nd January this year (3 weeks ago!). One side of it is completely back and without snow where the newly erupted lava flowed.
Volcano Llaima Eruption

Eventually, after 4.5 hours of uphill, Helen and I reached the crater and were rewarded with the most spectacular view. Literally at the top, it is standing on the edge of the crater, watching the sulphorous smoke billowing out of a huge hole in the ground. Its so surreal up there, nothing is living, there is only black volcanic rock and air that burns the back of the throat if you breathe in too much. But it is just a totally awesome thing to stand above a chamber of molten rock at 1,250 deg C! Looking down into the crater, we weren´t able to see any lava this time as the level was too low (Which i was pretty happy about, less likely to erupt!) We stayed for about 40 mins to take in the view. The pictures try and capture some of this.

Then came the fun part. The easiest way to descend a snow covered volcano is on your bum, sliding down the steep sides over the snow and glacier. It then became evident why we had carried most of the waterproof gear, including the seat thing. Loads of fun sliding down the mountain, and much quicker than the way up too!

So that was it, my first active volcano successfully conquered! A really great climb too, really memorable.

The rest of our time in Pucon was spent on bikes, doing a canopy zip lining thing through the forest and also a bit of recovering too from the volcano climb.

On Friday we both travelled up to Santiago, where we are spending a few days, and Helen is picking up her next group.

Hopefully all is good at home. More soon.


Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Still able to manage a smileStill able to manage a smile
Still able to manage a smile

Despite the near vertical climb ahead, and the fact i was standing on an active volcano that could go off at any moment!
Its a long way to go yet!Its a long way to go yet!
Its a long way to go yet!

On one of our many breaks
On the edge of the craterOn the edge of the crater
On the edge of the crater

Fall one way, its 2,847m down, the other way its lava at 1,250 deg C, take your pick!
Pretty nice view from the topPretty nice view from the top
Pretty nice view from the top

To prove we both did actually make it up there. 2,847m up and still standing!
She'll be coming down the Mountain when she comesShe'll be coming down the Mountain when she comes
She'll be coming down the Mountain when she comes

Helen on the quick way down the volcano
The quick way downThe quick way down
The quick way down

Its definitely more fun on the way down!
Nearby Volcan LlaimaNearby Volcan Llaima
Nearby Volcan Llaima

It erupted on 2nd Jan 2008. See there is no snow on one side where the newly spewed out lava has fallen.
Navimag ferry mark oneNavimag ferry mark one
Navimag ferry mark one

After the ship bingo party got a little out of hand!

31st January 2008

re: nice glaciers
Mike No. Joel p.s. I even thought of sending you some Dake to keep your grey cells ticking over

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