James and the Volcano!

Trip Start Sep 18, 2004
Trip End Apr 27, 2005

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Arriving in Pucon with my new friends, Kane and Gemma I quickly discovered that Pucon was not quite the party town that the Lonely Planet discribed it as! After checking into the hostel we headed straight out for a beer and some food but discovered that all but one of the bars discribed in the book had closed down! Still, the book had been correct about there being a live volcano nearby. And after my failed climb of Potasi I was keen to retest myself and, as the volcanoes peak was at only 2,880 metres, I would be able see whether it was really just the altitude that had defeated me last time.

I booked into a 1 day (8 hour trek) with Tom and Raquel, 2 friends from Brazil that happened to be in town too. As we booked it we learnt that it had been unusually active and that the town was on Green alert. This meant that we were only supposed to climb within 300 metres of the summit but by signing a waifer we could go all the way to the top with our guide. With the tour booked for the following day it was a quiet night with a 7am start the next day...or so it should have been! Without an alarm clock I was still fast asleep when Kane came to tell me I should be at the agency. The rush down there turned out to be a waste as it started to rain, making the climb on ice technically too dangerous and put off until the next day.

After a relaxing evening in the nearby hotsprings, we were once again all up bright and early (thanks once again to a wake up call, thanks this time go to Gemma!) and this time it was brilliant sunshine. After an hour in a minibus we arrived at the base camp of Volcano Villarica, at 1000 metres. Normally there is a chair lift all the way up to the ice but this was closed for servicing when we arrived (apparently the high levels of activity from the previous week had rendered it unsafe) so we had to instead trek for 3 hours to reach the ice. In this time, the volcano claimed 4 amigos and the group was reduced to Tom, Raquel and myself. Onto the ice and it was another couple of hours or so of trekking. During this time I felt tired but nowhere near as bad as I had on Potasi and the nearer I got to the summit the more energy I could feel building up inside me! When I got to the top I think I was more high about making it after Potasi than about the fact that I was standing on the edge of a crater of a highly active volcano! Unfortunately we missed a spurt of lava by a couple of minutes but we still got to look down into the crater and breathe in the (highly toxic) sulphur! For safety reasons you cannot stay at the edge for more than 5 minutes so all too soon we were scaling back down the volcano.

Still the one of the higlights of the trip was still to come - sledging down the side on my arse! We managed to cut down the time of the descent by sledging most of the way down - check out the attached video clip (to be added asap!). Using this method to travel we were back at the base camp in no time. By the time we got back to town there was just enough time for a celebratory burger before Tom and Raquel headed off to Mendoza and I to bed!
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