Taken from the start of the main ascent
After a quick stop in a city called Puerto Montt (a seedy port town) it was onwards and upwards through Chile to reach the town of Pucon. Pucon is famous because it lies in the shadow of a huge active volcano called Volcan Villarica. It is also an outdoor centre and attracts all sorts of adrenalin seeking types. Though after our recent exertions we were not sure how much adrenalin seeking we were actually up for!
In the end the decision was made for us. It had been raining for a few days now and we were told that it had been raining for even longer here in the middle of the Chilian lake district. During our journey we could see flooded fields and roads and some bridges we went over looked like they were about to be enveloped by the ever deepening rivers below. In short, middle Chile was being flooded by torrential rain. This didn't really inspire us to venture out all that much. Luckily we found a lovely, comfy hostel with an even more lovely vegetarian restaurant attached to it which ranks as one of Chile's best in the guide books. After all the greasy food in
Argentina it was such a pleasure to have some much needed fresh fruit and veg. It was a real delight for our taste buds to have something different on the menu from meat, meat and more meat. Instead we had spicy veggie curries and mexican treats - Karen was licking her plate clean as usual! To increase the comfort factor further there was a nice sitting room area with a roaring log burner and much to our delight there was even a resident kitten to cuddle. So being rained in for a few days actually turned out OK. We managed to rest up and recuperate in very comfortable surroundings.
But even in such a warm and cosy environment there is only so much reading, internet surfing, drinking and kitten cuddling that one can do! So we did eventually start to get a bit restless. Thankfully after a couple of days of incessant heavy rain there came one or two short dry periods which allowed us to explore the town for the first time, the sun even popped out for a brief period, but was soon replaced by dark clouds and yet more rain. To be perfectly honest there is
Looking down into the volcano!
not a lot to do when it is raining so heavily. We therefore decided to cut our losses and sadly say cheerio to Pucon without ever really experiencing what it had to offer. So we jumped on a bus to Santiago hoping to make our way to the far north and to the desert, pah, no more rain for us! Unfortunately having spent so much time enjoying Argentina we have decided that our time in Chile must be cut short and several places we wanted to visit must now be missed, hence the big jump up north. We are sure that the extra time in other countries will be worth it though.
However, we only managed to get halfway to Santiago, the main bridge over which the only highway travels had been destroyed by the rain... well we did say it was bad didn't we. So, NO traffic was getting across in either direction and it was not due to change for another 3 days at the earliest until the army could errect some form of temporary structure. So back in wet drizzly Pucon we found ourselves! We were stranded and our tight time schedule was becoming ever more
At the end of a crevasse
tight by the day. However, there is an oft used proverb that every cloud has a silver lining and so it proved for us...
It just so happened that during our stranded period a hot, sunny and more importantly DRY day was forecasted. It was rather sureal actually as the rain was forecast to keep on coming for weeks to come with only one dry day in amidst it all. We wasted no time in heading into the town to book some form of activity to enjoy the good weather in. So what should we do we pondered? Well, how about we climb that huge volcano that we had only seen glimpses of through the rain... and we did just that, booking ourselves on a summit attempt the very next morning.
We also managed to book ourselves on a trip to one of the nearby thermal pools called Puzones for that evening. The termas are a series of pools increasing in temperature with thundering river rapids flowing right past them. As it was a night time visit it was a rather eerie experience, it was a tad too dark for our liking, not enough lighting and we wished
we had brought torches. Despite this, it was extremely relaxing and one pond in particular was absoutely scorching. The whole experience was worth a try but though enjoyable, we found that total emersion in such hot water (38C) didn't quite agree with us and we felt a bit dizzy afterwards!
We awoke the next day ready to climb the volcano. We arrived at the tour agency to collect our gear at 7am and then took a mini bus up to the base of the Volcano with a group of fellow adventurers. The volcano amazingly houses a ski resort, which was closed, but it is from here that we set off. We were fully decked out in mountaineering gear, ice axe and crampons included. Funnily enough when you looked up at the volcano dominating the landscape above, it really didn't look all that hard a climb, but we were assured it could take 6 hours to reach the 2,800m sumit and that all our gear was needed.
The first portion of the climb takes you up steep slopes under the closed ski lifts and through what must be the ski runs. The earth was distincly volcanic and very dark,
there were all sorts of ignious stones which varied in colour from bright red to jet black. After what seemed like an age we reached the snow line and passed the eerie spectre of a destroyed ski lift house. It had been completely wrecked during the last eruption in 1983. The eruption had melted the permanant glacier around the summit and this had mixed with earth causing a massive avalanche.
Onward we crept through the ever deepening snow becoming more breathless with each step. After some time we reached a point below a formidable looking glacier and here we paused to don our crampons and helmets. We also broke out those all important ice axes and took a crash course in how to use them, of particular importance is how to stop yourself when falling, as we were soon to be traversing the slippery glacier above.
The next few hours were spent winding our way over the increasingly steep glacier. It was solid ice for the most part and the crampons were the only thing which kept you upright. Here we began to feel the effects of the altitude and every step was an effort as we became
really breathless. But the views were greatly rewarding. We could see for miles and miles and felt like giants as we looked down on the lakes and mountains below us. Once again we found ourselves under a huge mass of ice and here we thankfully rested before the final push.
This next section was extremely hard and very steep. Neither of us had expected this climb to be so technical, after all, how could it be, the only requirement they asked for was that you were reasonably fit. But it seems that here in winter conditions can be a bit more tricky. Over icy mounds we climbed and around sheer cliffs we meandered our way upwards, until finally, exhausted we reached the top and off to our right the unmistakable chasm of the volcano presented itself. It is difficult to describe reaching the top of something so huge. We found it hard to take in after the tiring struggle we had endured to get there, it was actually a tad emotional and hugs and congratulations were had all round.
Up here the temperature had dropped a considerable amount and the wind had picked up to a howl. We
didn't linger long, just enough time to munch our lunch and take some snaps. Over by the volcano crater the smoke stung your eyes and the acrid smell caught in your throat and made our sandwiches taste yucky. Looking down into the abyss was a sobering experience, you suddenly feel very small and insignificant.
The journey down was vastly faster than the ascent, however the initial descent was a bit hair raising, we had to use several ropes to get down a few hundred metres because it was so steep and icy it would have been dangerous without them. We were not the only group on the volcano and it was nice to see the team work of the various guides come into play here, there was no "you and us" mentality, it was all for one and every guide was helping out. Once below this section though it was mainly plain sailing all the way to the bottom, the sun had melted the surface ice of the glacier making it far easier to walk on, not to mention less tiring.
There was one incident of note on our decent, Karen had a wee fall! Over she went
in an instant slipping and sliding for several meters down the steep slope with a yelp! Unfortunately it happened all too quickly for her to keep a hold of her ice-axe, therefore it was really difficult to stop herself sliding. Eventually she managed to dig her knee and fingers into the snow to come to a stop. No damage was done, Karen quite enjoyed her tumble and thought it was just like a big snowy slide but the people around her who watched it happen got a bit scared as it reminded them of how dangerous this 'trek' was. We were all thankful this happened on some snow, and not ice.
Once we reached the bottom we were very happy and proud of oursleves for achieving something so grand. We could never have imagined undertaking something like this only 3 months or so ago back in bonnie Scotland. We feel very lucky to be experiencing so many enjoyable once in a life time activities.
The next time we tried to leave Pucon we were successful, next stop, Santiago where we waited 8 hours for our next bus to San Pedro de Atacama - the desert! We whiled away
the hours in the cinema watching the new Indiana Jones film, inspiring!
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