And then we climbed a volcano...

Trip Start Oct 06, 2010
Trip End Jul 30, 2011

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Flag of Chile  , Lake District,
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

After Valparaiso we were pretty stoked to get out of city life and back into small town life, so we headed south to the Lake District on an overnight bus. Arriving in the morning after a lovely bus journey (a lot of it spent sleeping) we were thrilled to be passing huge lakes, going through lovely forests and seeing massive snow capped mountains and volcanoes in the distance. We dropped off our bags at a lovely little hostel and set out to explore the town!

Our first impressions of Pucon were that it's like Whistler married the Okanagan Lake (sans Ogopogo). Quite developed with a definite ski town vibe, buildings were stone and wood, outdoor shops and luxury stores lined the main streets, and there were entire blocks devoted to restaurants far above our backpackers budget. The views, however, made this entirely believable. The first day we arrived was cloudy and we didn't see much, but when the skies parted the next day you could see mountains in every direction, including the very close, and very active Volcan Villarrica.

We chose to climb Villarrica our last day in Pucon as the weather was meant to be the clearest that day. Initially we were surprised at the cost of the adventure, which worked out to about $70 CAD each for the pleasure, but when we went to get suited up we quickly saw why. Arriving at 7:30 in the morning we were fitted with heavy duty trekking boots and given a backpack loaded with ski pants, a jacket, gloves, crampons and a helmet. By the time our crew of 18 actually got on the road it was almost 9, and arriving at the base of the Volcano after heading through the national park we were handed an ice axe and given the choice: pay another 5000 pesos to take a ski lift up the first 400 m of walk it up. We had heard from others that the $10 CAD investment was indeed worthwhile, so headed up the lift with all of our gear. I should also mention here that the Villarrica itself is a ski resort in the winter, one of many in the area. With the views from the top I'd say they're lucky there are no trees, otherwise they'd have many concussions from people looking out instead of in front of them!

Of our entire group, only one guy, a Chilean/German who was actually our roommate, chose to walk it. When we got up to the top the helmets went on, we had a summary 2 minute demonstration on using the ice pick, then off we set. I felt almost like a lemming following a zig zagging route up the volcano, trailing behind our guide. After a few weeks of taking it pretty easy and remembering our last attempt at summiting a volcano I was a bit nervous looking up, but Josh assured us all that 1000+ m in 4 hours isn't that bad. I really can't describe the scenery, so on this post alone (don't get used to it) I will actually post pictures at the same time (internet speed permitting). The sheer height, the slope of the climb, the true need for an ice axe, and the incredible rush of looking down to see just how high you really are is incredible.

When we finally reached the top, we were stunned. From town you can see the smoke billowing out of the crater but to be standing face to face with it is something else entirely. We walked around about half of the crater; we couldn't walk where the wind was pushing the steam, as the gasses are both nauseating and toxic... we know because we accidentally got a face full. The colors were incredible, a mossy green lining the crater, and the ash and lava that we walked on glistened with gold and silver as it blanketed layers of snow and ice. Apparently in 2003 the lava lake was so high that you could see it and even risked being sprayed by splashing lava, but we weren't able to see lava and it's been several years since you could. All the same, we were not disappointed. The view from the top gave us a 360 look at the area. Lakes in every direction, more than 6 volcanoes, some active, a look at surrounding towns. It was incredible.

The way down was definitely a reward... and a rush. After donning our ski pants (not waterproof, barely water resistant), our jackets, our gloves, and a nylon diaper like wrap, we secured our helmets and set out for a bit more fun: sliding down the volcano on our rumps. The first slide was terrifyingly fast and steep, and there were 4 or 5 others, some short, some long. By the end we were all exhausted, bruised from having bumped into one another, and a little bit high on all of the adrenaline. After our last slide we took off a few layers for the last 45 minute walk down to where the vans were waiting to take us home.

Exhausted we dropped our gear and went in search of money and bus tickets for the next morning. After a very romantic Valentine's Day dinner of enchiladas (the only cheap food in town and our first time eating out) we curled up to watch a half hour tv show on the computer before we passed out, snug in our beds and dreaming of our next adventure.


Josh- The trip up the volcano is thanks to a very generous Christmas gift from "all my aunts and uncles." It was fun, out of the ordinary and a little more than we usually would have spent, but totally worth it. (Thank you Celeste!)
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JoshMom on

It is so wonderful to see your faces. It has been a while since we have seen even a picture of you. What an incredible adventure, and what fantastic pictures! Josh, I will pass this link on to Celeste - I am sure that she will be thrilled.

Josh Dad on

Wow what a view. Sounds like a great day and high fashion dud to boot!! Love the Zoolander face

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