Mom Don´t Read This: Part III
Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
147Trip End Apr 28, 2010
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We arrived in the small town of Pucon with the intention of climbing up a volcano. See, it´s been a while since we climbed a volcano (way back in Guatemala!), and this one was supposed to be pretty unique, so we thought we´d check it out. Like many of the places we´ve visited lately, Pucon is another nice, small mountain town, touristy, cute, clean, and set on a lake. We settled in to a cute little hostel, bumped into a few people from our Venezuela tour group, booked our volcano climb, and started hoping the weather forecast stayed good -- bad weather cancels the climb, and some people in our hostel had been there a week waiting for a chance to climb!
Luckily, when we woke up on Friday, it was... really really foggy. Almost misting, the fog was that heavy. To us, this seemed like a very bad omen, but nobody else seemed particularly concerned, so we climbed into the van, and headed out of town. As we climbed up the road out of town, the fog was occasionally heavy enough that I (from the second row) couldn´t see the road out the front windshield. Slowly, though, as we got higher and higher, the fog cleared, and a sunny blue sky emerged by the time we hit the ski resort at the base of the mountain (1400 and some meters elevation). We opted to skip the chair lift option (which would cut an hour off the climb), and instead started working our way up the slightly slippery volcanic rock. Within an hour, we had lost the first member of our group to a bout of altitude sickness -- he waited at the top of the chairlift as the rest of us continued on.
After approximately two hours, we reached the top of the rock, and stopped for a slightly longer break. Here, the guides explained how to use the ice pick, and proper stopping technique in the event that you fell and started to slide down the glacier. Yep, the glacier -- the remainder of the climb would be on snow and ice! (Ok, just snow -- there was no ice cover at the moment, so the crampons that we brought remained in the bottom of our packs for another day). The first part of the snow was very steep, and we zig-zagged up through a series of small foot steps dug into the side of the mountain. After a bit, it flattened out (slightly) and we slowly progressed to the top of the volcano, at 2845 meters (or so).
At the top, the snow switched back to rock for the final 50 or 100 meters, and you knew the end was near
There´s something very cool about standing at the rim of the crater of an active volcano, watching the smoke billow up towards you! After a moment, our guide took off running to the left (is running at the edge of a volcano a good idea????). From the spot several meters to the left, if you looked in at the right time, sure enough, you could see the lava bubbling up as the volcano produced little hiccup sized mini erruptions -- noise, lava (well within the crater) and extra smoke made for some nice special effects!
All of this was nice, but you can only stay at the summit for so long -- the fumes are toxic, after all, so we quickly headed back down to the top of the snow. Here, we stopped again, and got ourselves ready
So I joined the line, and started down, using my ice ax as instructed to try and keep my speed under control. For the first bit, this was a bit frightening (you´re sliding on ice down a volcano, after all) and rather fun. As the hill got steeper and steeper, I started braking harder and harder to prevent myself from going too fast. Unfortunately, the person behind me wasn´t as... conservative, perhaps... as I am with speed, and crashed into me at full force with lots of momentum. This, in turn, sent me flying down the ice at crazy uncontrollable speeds, which were further elevated when two MORE people crashed into the back, leading to a freakishly fast sledding experience.
Luckily, this track only went partway down the mountain, and we eventually stopped. After that, there were about a half dozen more sledding "hills" (mostly a bit less steep than the first) until we eventually reached the bottom of the mountain. The volcano that had taken nearly five hours to get up took less than an hour to get back down. Fun stuff!