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!