Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chile: Volcan Villarica

In retrospect the funnest and most exciting part of our trip was the day we climbed Volcan Villarica. The beautiful white topped volcan, pictured above, looks huge from town and it felt tall as we were climbing it too. The climb started in the wee hours of the morning where we met our guides and fellow climbers at the Aguaventura Office in downtown Pucon (just a few blocks from Ecole). Everything was up in the air at this point. It has poured rain two days previously and climbing the volcan is contingent on the weather being good.
Even when we got out to the base camp the guides reassess and conferred with the other climbing groups. The weather was clear and sunny so we were off! the first hour was on gravel and followed the ski lift path, which sometimes is operating and can shave an hour off the hike. Around the second hour we had to put on crampons and learned how to use an ice axe to stop us from slipping if we fell. From this point on we were climbing on a small glacier, i.e. ice, hence the crampons.
We continued upwards and crossed a terribly windy ridge where I almost got blown away. It was after this treacherous climb that I expressed my desire to proclaim this point my "top." My "too windy" excuse was immediately determined to be not-a-good-excuse by our french/chilean guide. The rest of the ascent I was right behind him so that I could grab his backpack if it got too windy. He was right, it never got that windy again though looking down would take your breath away.

Just 30 minutes from the top we were able to take our crampons off and leave our backpacks so that we could quickly reach the top and come back down. Volcan Villarica is still an active volcano so it spews smoke and ash continuously. Obviously, ash is not good for your lungs so we covered our mouths with bananas and continued on.
Climbing without crampons made me really nervous but I just focused on putting one foot after the next, not looking ahead, and not looking back down. Just like the whole journey of earning a PhD this trip had its ups and downs, its challenges, and points when I just wanted to quit.

When we reached the top, I was thankful that I was forced to continue on. The air was calm, the view was impressive as we could see the lakes and other volcanos in the area.
Reaching the top was just half the battle.
I was surprised to find out that we were going to SLIDE down the volcano on small plastic saucers. TERROR!! I managed to brake with my ice axe all the way down. Unfortunately, since we were trying to not fly off the side of the volcan we have no pictures of the descent. If a hiking challenge is your type of thing, don't miss the opportunity to climb Volcan Villarica in Pucon, Chile.

{recap: I traveled to Chile during the month of February. I was distracted these past few months and am only now getting to post about my experience in South America. Click here to see all my posts about this fantastic Ph.D. Trip}

photo credit: Cayenne and LMD 02.06.09

1 comment:

gotomakan said...

Sounds terrifying.