Pucon - Today we climbed an active volcano

Published: May 20th 2009
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We went to Pucon with the express intention of climbing to the top of the towns volcano. However as our bus neared Pucon, the snow capped summit of Volcano Villarrica came into view and it became clear that getting to the top would not be easy.

Tracy spent much of our first day in Pucon procrastinating over whether to attempt to climb Villarrica Volcano. However once she saw pictures of people who had succeeded she decided to go for it. Tracy would come to regret that decision in less than 24 hours.

That evening we tried on our mountaineering boots, jackets and trousers and made a load of ham and cheese sandwiches to eat on the climb the next day.

Waking up at 6am I cooked us both omelettes and by 7:30am we were waiting at the bottom of the ski lift that would take us up the first 400m of the climb. This may seem like cheating a little but the first 400m were just a sandy slope and would not provide much of a challenge. Oh no, the real challenge lay further up at the snow line.

Once off the ski lift we began our accent for real, slowly and steadily making our way up. The ground was rocky, with the occasional patch of snow and ice already appearing. Soon the low lying clouds that covered the areas lakes were well below us.

It wasn't long before the ground was covered with snow and ice, so we stopped to put on our crampons and took out our ice picks. Stopping in a small crevasse for a photo opportunity was one of the few rests we had as we continued up the side of the volcano for the next five hours.

The slope became ever steeper. At points we were climbing at 60 degrees with only our crampons preventing us from slipping back down. Thankfully the weather was perfect with warm sunshine and only a gentle breeze which blew the volcano's poisonous fumes out of our path.

As we neared the summit Tracy and I were getting very tried but our Swiss mountain guide kept us going and finally we crested the top and had a chance to rest and enjoy our ham and cheese sandwiches.

There had been no lava visible in the volcano's crater for a few years but a constant plume of noxious gases reminded us that it was still active. Whist we were walking around the crater the wind changed direction and we were engulfed in the chocking mist that made our eyes water and throats burn.

Having rested and taken plenty of photos we began our descent. Going down was much quicker than going up because we no longer had to zig-zag. This time we walked straight down the Volcano, digging in the crampons to stop us from slipping. Facing forward, away from the slope gave us amazing views which we hadn't been able to appreciate on the climb.

Below the snow line we removed our crampons and made our way to the end of the ski lift. This time the ski lift was not working so we had to walk down the sandy slope to the end (Tracy said she would pay a million pounds to have the ski lift fixed!). Once at the bottom I was overwhelmed with a great sense of accomplishment and relief. Tracy wasn't quite so happy and made it clear that it she was already aching and “was exhausted to a cellular level.”

Back at our hostel we removed our boots for the first time in eight hours, it was pure bliss. While Tracy had a nice hot bath I enjoyed an ice cold beer. Tracy then climbed into bed, where she proclaimed she would never do anything as stupid as climb a volcano again, then slept for fourteen hours. I had another beer.

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