Really Breathtaking – the ascent to the top of the Villarrica Volcano

Unfortunately the Villarrica volcano is closed for ascents since February 6, 2015. And at least since March 3 2015 we know why: The activity of the volcano increased and increased and increased … until it finally erupted in the beginning of March. But nevertheless, I would like to tell you how I experienced the ascent to the apparently most active volcano in South America.

Right at the beginning of my time in Pucón I was given the possibility to join this once in a lifetime experience and climb the Villarrica Volcano.

The days before the activity I had some doubts. After all, this volcano has an altitude of 2,847m and already by the beginning of the year it was considered to be one of the most active volcanos in South America. And I just came back from a three-week holiday in Cuba during which I did no exercise let alone climb a mountain. But okay, let’s try. And I can say, it was completely worth it!

The preparation for this adventure starts one day before. In the agency you are fitted with pants and jackets and special hiking boots. All this is stored together with the other equipment in your personal box, so that on the day of the volcano ascent there will be no needless stress. “All the other equipment” means in this case a backpack, gaiters, two pairs of gloves, ice axe, helmet, crampons, a personal sled and butt protector and of course the jacket, pants and boots. Furthermore, Suzi gave me a reminder sheet of what I had to bring the next day, told me that I’m not allowed to have a Pisco Sour the night before (and no other kind of alcohol) and that the best dinner would be pasta to get a lot of energy for the next day. Okay, this part of the preparation was easy.

The next morning I left my house very early at 6:15 a.m. as the meeting time at the agency was 6:30 a.m. There we had enough time to put the gaiters and the boots on and to pack all the things we needed in the backpack. In addition to the equipment provided I had sandwiches, water, chocolate, fruit, sunscreen (apart from the chocolate this was the most important thing on that day!), a buff and a hat. And off we go!

We drove approx. 30 minutes in the Summit Chile van to the Villarrica Volcano ski center. After some brief safety instructions we took a Chilean style chairlift (very interesting when you, like me, only know the high-tech ski lifts in Austria) 400m up to the snow line. “We” means a group of 12 people accompanied by 4 very experienced und energetic guides. At a height of 1,800m we started the ascent of the Villarrica Volcano.

Before going up, the guides helped us to put on crampons and we received instructions on how to walk and follow the guide properly, had a last banana and put on some sunscreen again. The first steps in the snow with the crampons on our feet and ice axes in our hands were a little bit difficult because I had never before climbed a mountain or used crampons, but after some steps I got used to it. After approx. 30 minutes we had our first stop where we had some water, a little bit of food and –of course- put on the sunscreen again. This was the routine at every break. From this point I already could see something that seemed to be the summit. But this was a fallacy. What I thought would be the “summit” was only a plateau and the place for our next rest break. From here we had a great view over the region with the Villarrica lake and its’ volcanoes and Claudio explained everything to us.

After the same routine eating, drinking, sunscreen, we continued the volcano ascent. My breath already went faster and I recognized that I was starting to get tired. But not our guides. They ran up the volcano, down again, were singing and making jokes. Unbelievable!! This energy and good mood helped everybody to keep going! After the third break I couldn’t think of singing anymore. I felt so exhausted that only the chocolate kept me alive. I was glad that I didn’t have to do anything other than following the guide’s steps in the same pace without thinking about anything; it was a little bit like meditation. This part, between pause 3 and 4, was the most difficult for me, because it seemed like we walked for an eternity and still hadn’t reached the target. But then, after the last break, my ambition came back. I wanted to reach the summit!! Here, in the last part of the volcano ascent, it all belonged to your head and your thoughts.

And then, after 4 hours of endless climbing, we reached the summit. It was such a great feeling standing there next to the crater of an active volcano and walking all the way up alone (yes, I know, I was not alone and I didn’t walk all the way, but in this moment this details weren’t important). We even tried to have a look inside the crater, but because of all the sulfuric steam it was hardly possible to breath. Indeed, it was not possible to see the lava but we had a great view over a unique and beautiful landscape! This was a great place to have a huge break, have some food, relax and enjoy this splendid view.

After a little photo shooting we prepared ourselves for the way down. We put on a different pair of gloves and the butt protector and then walked some meters down. Now the funnest part of this activity began – the slide down! We only had to sit down on our butt – and the fun started. This was really the biggest slide I had ever done and due to the screaming, shouting and laughing of the other group members I was sure that we all felt the same: this is great!

Once the snow ended we had to walk a little bit until we came back to the van, exhausted but happy.

Back in the agency we had some juice and fruit and now I’m sure: this was the perfect start for my time here in Pucón. Despite my sore muscles the next day, I can only recommend to join this once in a lifetime experience with Summit Chile!

Through forest and over hills to the top of Quetrupillan Volcano

The sun is rising above the surrounding hills, some rays are just starting to reach the tips of the bamboo forest and the morning dew is sparkling. I’m standing there in silence, looking around and enjoying the beauty of nature…
This is not the beginning of one of countless novels, no, this is the beginning of my ascent to the Quetrupillan Volcano.
This beautiful and scenic place is about a one hour drive away from Pucón and after meeting at 6:30am at the Summit Chile agency, we arrived to the starting point of the trek around 8 a.m. In contrast to the Villarrica Volcano only a few groups have come today ascend this volcano. Why? I really don’t know. Maybe because at the first glance this sleeping volcano seems to be less spectacular than his active brother. And it’s true, the ascent is completely different – but wonderful!
As I mentioned in the beginning, the path led us through native bamboo and Coihue forest. Similar to the tour to the top of the Villarrica, we used gaiters – this time to protect our pants from getting snagged by some of the bushes or from collecting burs. One of our first challenges was to get over a huge tree trunk lying directly in our path. So we had to find a way through the bushes and tree branches, find a good place to climb and with a helping hand from our guide to get over this massive tree and only a few meters of balancing and then jumping down the other side – we did it!
We walked more or less three hours through this beautiful forest; hiking up, walking straight ahead, hiking up again… The sun was becoming stronger by the minute so we made a few stops to take off some layers. Three or four layers of clothing – this is really the best outfit for a hiking trip starting in the early morning!
Around 11.30 and after one last hill, we stepped out of the shadows of the woods into the blazing sun. From this point we had a spectacular view of the surrounding hills and the Quetrupillan Volcano. With this panorama in sight we took our first long break. Everybody could have lots of water, eat something light and of course put on some sunscreen. Okay, ready to continue the hike!
The path was now the complete opposite of the former one. We didn’t walk over small branches and soft ground any longer but over stones and rocks in the blazing sun. Easily one could underestimate the distances. The summit seemed to be so close, but when you had a closer look you could see some small ants climbing to the top. These small ants were members of another group that was in front of us. And when they seemed to be that small….. the summit must be very far away! The pace from our group slowed down with each meter we hiked up as everyone was getting tired. But our guides insisted to keep walking in the same pace – that should be easier than walking one part slow and another one fast again. And they were right. After some time we reached the first ice field. Because we walked with our own hiking boots and without crampons, everybody walked very slowly and conscientiously, trying to walk in the same footprints as the person in front. After crossing the last ice field we made another break before reaching the summit to recover and gather our last energy reserves.
At this point the ascent ended for me: one German group member was too tired to continue the hike. And because Summit Chile has a policy that nobody stays alone on the mountain, I was predestined as a German student to stay there with her. Of course it was a little sad because we were so close to the summit… But at the same time I had to admit that I was very exhausted too and so it was no problem for me to stay there. We searched for a nice place next to a big rock which was protected from the wind, put on all our clothes, sat down on the backpacks and enjoyed the great view. This panorama was really amazing, we could see the Villarrica Volcano with its grey side because of the smoke and all the other surrounding mountains. Until now I hadn’t realized how beautiful it was! So we sat there, talked about our lives in Chile, had some lunch and relaxed. What a nice break.
After the rest of the group finished their pause at the summit they started to descend and fetched us on the way down. Now I could see that everybody was really exhausted. The rocky underground was a little bit slippery and despite the fact that we had hiking poles some of the group members fell down on their butts – me included. Upon reaching the forest, we were once again protected from the sun by the trees and the going was a bit easier. While descending I asked myself “and where is this trunk we have to climb over?” Because I couldn’t remember that we had walked that far! The moment we reached it the next problem appeared: from this side it was more difficult to climb and our muscles were tired. In conclusion, the elegant and spirited jump from 8 hours earlier was now a graceless scramble … but everyone did it. Everyone except one person: One of our guides was curious about what is behind the trunk in the bushes so he went to investigate … and came out the other side. Ha! We hadn’t have to overcome this obstacle! But anyway, we are in an ancient forest and a toppled down trunk belongs there.
After approx. 10 hours we came back to our car and everybody was eager for the fresh and cold water coming out of a tap close to the parking lot.
At the end of the day an application on my phone told me that I had walked about 33,000 steps and 20 km. Reason enough for me to have a big serving of pasta for dinner!