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Crampons, ice axes and an active volcano!

Pucon, Chile

After an overnight bus from Santiago we arrived early morning into Pucon, in the Chilean lakes district. An area consisting of numerous glacial fed lakes and the most exciting - volcanoes!! The time had arrived for us to try and tackle climbing the active Volcan Villarica, 2800m. We spent our first day checking out Pucon itself. It reminded us very much of the little towns in the Austrian Alps where the buildings are cedar clad. We went for a leisurely walk along the lake shore. We were convinced that the people we saw most definately must come from a very, very cold climate. As we were wrapped up in our puffer jackets they were in the freezing cold water - yes that´s right - going for a swim!! As you do apparently!! We decided not to - at least today anyway...... After a carb loaded dinner we headed off for an early night in preparation for our climb.

The alarm sounded at the ungodly hour of 4am and we dragged ourselves out of bed and put on all our gear for our 430 pick up. We headed out into the dark and the cold to see that no-one else was waiting. Eventually people surfaced out of their rooms and let us know that we weren´t actually leaving till 5am!! How come no-one told us??

After a half an hour drive we arrived at the base of the volcano. We were given sliding pants, more on that later, ice axes and crampons. We loaded this all into our back packs and headed off up the volcano in single file. The climb started in a valley at 1300m with a gradual ascent. However, walking in the snow is no easy task and by the time we got to our first break an hour and half later, we were all very much feeling it! At this point we put on our crampons and continued on uphill for another 40 mins. The terrain was starting to get rather steep and icy. At the second break we were taught how to stop ourselves from falling off the volcano if we fell!! What?? Did we hear that right? Basically what you have to do is roll yourself very quickly over onto your stomach, lift your feet up so the crampons don´t dig into the ice and consequently flip you over in a backward sommersault, jam the ice axe in and pray!! After we all practiced this a few times we were allowed to continue. Yeah, we think!

The climb started to get very steep from this point and very, very windy. It was rather disconcerting being almost knocked over by the wind and having to lean into the volcano to rebalance yourself. The guides made us all pause for a moment as they reassessed our path as the smoke from the volcano was blowing straight into it. Consequently we had to divert and go up a steeper section - this is when it got very scary. I kept telling myself I can do it and to not look down. So what did I do? Yep, I looked down, but only the once. After about 5 minutes I turnt around to Chris and said ´Í am really scared now´, to which Chris replied ´fear is probably a good thing honey´. I thought that is so sweet but also thought he is crapping himself too!! We both battled on past the really steep part and made it to our next stop, which was 400m from the top. The guides reassessed our situation and made the decision this was as far as we were to go as the wind was too strong and blowing the smoke dangerously towards us.

We were both dissapointed that we wern´t able to see the molten lava inside the crater but were very happy at the same time not to go any further as it did look dangerous and we could smell the sulphur. The views were amazing with a number of lakes and volcanoes in the distance.

Now the fun part! Coming down! We took off our crampons and strapped on our sliding pants. A quick demo on how to stop ourselves using the ice axe and we were off. What took us over 4 hours to climb up only took 45 minutes to slide down. We thought it was a great experience but have decided that snow is there not to climb up but to ski down!

Next stop San Martin de los Andes. Back into Argentina for more steak and red wine.

permalink written by  chrishoorweg on November 6, 2007 from Pucon, Chile
from the travel blog: and one last trip before we come home.........?
tagged Pucon

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