Pam climbs Active Volcano Villarrica, Pucon, Chile, 21 May 2011

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May 24th 2011
Published: May 24th 2011
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Have any of you climbed a snow-covered active volcano??? I haven't so its on the bucket list!!!!!

The snowcapped Volcano Villarrica looms majestically over Pucón at 2,840 meters above sea level. Climbing to the top is non-technical and, on clear days, easy. However, we had a couple of extra challenges. We only had 1 full day in Pucon and the weather forecast was rain (which meant snow up on the volcano) and there had already been heavy snow falls during previous days. Thousands of people make the climb each year, most of them in January and February, taking in the spectacular views of Volcans Llaima, Choshuenco, Quetrupillán, Lanin, and Lonquimay in the horizon. However, this was May and heading towards winter!! The plan was that the Hotel owner would wake us up at 6.00am if the day was suitable to climb the volcano.

At 6.30am I heard the knock on the door. We were ON!! Fantastic. The 3 of us had a quick, eggs and bacon breakfast and I made an egg, bacon and cheese roll for lunch. I also packed a block of chocolate (I knew that wouldn’t last with me!!!), and some fruit and plenty of water. We were provided with crampons, ice axe and warm windproof clothing which we quickly found out were essential equipment year round. We were also provided with snow boots, hat and gloves. We left the hotel at 7.30am after meeting our 2 guides, Oscar and Alierto. The Hotel owner took us all to the cable car terminal which was not working. Half way there, he stopped and put snow chains on as the 3 days before, they had had over 1 metre of snow.

We had to decide when we arrived if we were going to take the chance and climb the mountain because there was a 50:50 chance of the weather changing while we were on the mountain. We decided to give it a go and even if we didn’t get up to the volcano crater, we would have experienced something new. The cost of this guided trek was 40,000 pesos ($80 AUST).

Off we set. I could hardly move with all the cloths I had on!!! It didn’t take long before we got the 1st taste of what the climb was going to be like. In some places we could walk where others had already walked through 1 metre fresh snow and other times we were making our own track. Wow, was this the most difficult thing I had done? The constant energy needed to climb through snow and climb over volcanic rock and hoist all the stuff we were carrying was a challenge. Initially my hip was starting to twinge but we got into a rhythm and all was well. We were watching the sky to see what the weather was doing. Our guide was in constant contact with people in Pucon so we were well looked after.

Tom was in Puno walking around the town watching towards the volcano. He could see the weather changing (see photos) but I assured him the guides would not take any risks and on the mountain, we felt very confident in them as they had walked up this volcano for a number of years...and were locals. Tom in fact, didn’t want me to climb the volcano but it was on my bucket list to climb an active volcano.

After about 1 ½ hours of climbing, the sun came out. We were excited and hopeful. A ½ hour later, we could see snow clouds approaching. We then saw another group of hikers who had left before us, coming down the mountain. They had decided to turn around and descend, as did we. We were only 6-700 metres from the top. Very disappointing but I will have to investigate another active volcano in the world to climb. But this was an experience never to be forgotten...and we hadn’t finished. We then did a most amazing fun thing – we slid down on our butts, in snow down the volcano. Wow, what an exhilarating experience. This had to top the experiences of this trip to South America so far. We had to dodge the volcanic bolder etc but this was pretty easy. We of course descended in more than ½ the time it took us to climb up to where we turned around.

It then started snowing. We got back to the car park of the start of the car lift at about 1.00pm feeling very, very pleased with ourselves. Other than the snow shoes rubbing the front of my shins (again I wish I had my waterproof hiking boots) it was a wonderful experience.

The scenery was absolutely AMAZING. We saw the other volcanos, 3 of the lakes and the Andean Ranges, all covered in snow. I hope the photos will tell you some of the story...and what I saw.

When we got back to the hotel, Tom met us, took our photos and then made us some tomato soup and coffee. He was so wonderful. That night I slept very well!!

Additional photos below
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