Stroll up Volcán Villarrica
It seems that everyone else around here is doing it, so I thought I might as well give it a shot too. Today I set off with a little group — two English girls, Helen and Amy, and our guide Victor (from Sierra Nevada, the same tour company that I went cycling with yesterday) — to go and climb Volcán Villarrica, the enormous snow-covered volcano that looms over Pucón. At a mere 2,847m asl — and with such a good path, and such good snow-cover, that we didn't even need to use crampons — today's climb was really a walk in the park for me, compared to last week's Cotopaxi climb. Especially since we had a much more fun way of getting down than plain old walking.
After a quick breakfast of cereal (yay!) early this morning, we met at the office of Sierra Nevada at 7am. The agency guys gave each of us a backpack, which they'd already kindly packed with some of the stuff we'd need to carry for the day (crampons, "nappy" aka toboggan, outer gloves, etc). So I put a bit more of my stuff into this bag, and was able to leave my own backpack in the office for the day. Along with my shoes, since they also provided us with climbing boots. Then, it was into a minibus, round the corner to collect a few other groups (from various tour companies — they all share transport in the low season), and we were off.
We made it to the base of the volcano, caught a chairlift through a large flat section that leads up to the snow, and were all geared up and ready to start the climb by about 8:30am. I didn't realise before I got here, but they actually have a proper downhill ski resort, which is set up on the slopes of the volcano! Hence the chairlift up to the ski slopes — and plenty more chairlifts leading up along the slopes themselves. Doesn't look like the most amazing place to do downhill skiing / boarding — not that many runs on the map, and half of them were closed anyway — but it's OK for beginners. And you'd get a great view while you were skiing.
So we set off up the volcano, along with the 10,000 other people that climb it every day (all year round, as well). We were blessed with perfect weather: clear blue sky, not-too-icy snow cover on the ground, and very little wind. And this only made us appreciate the absolutely dazzling view even more. Great scenery the entire way up: the smoking top of the volcano ahead of us; the snow-covered slopes of the mountain beneath our feet; the full expanse of Lake Villarrica, and the towns and countryside around it, spread out below; and the various other volcanoes, lakes, and mountains that form the Andean chain for this region, marching to each horizon on our eastern flank.
View of the volcano from where we started.
Lago Villarrica in the valley behind us (see, they don't call it "The Lake District" for nothing).
Lago Caburgua (where I cycled to yesterday) and El Cordillera de los Andes, in an endless chain to our east.
It took about 5 hours to climb to the top of the volcano, including several stops to rest, eat, drink, and add/remove layers. There were plenty of other groups doing the climb today: we seemed to get ahead of the majority of them, and to reach the summit before the huge crowds (even though we weren't going that fast). We made the top by about 1:30pm. Being on the top was really quite amazing: we were literally standing on the edge of the volcano's mouth! In the enormous hole in front of us, we could see the thick and constant plume of smoke coming out. Didn't see any lava: but I have no doubt that there was plenty of it down there, seething inside the hole.
Looking into the crater.
Myself with Helen and Amy, on the edge of the crater.
Let's get a closer look: open up and say aaaaahhhhh!
Victor advised us not to: but of course, we wanted to go as close as we safely could to the edge of the crater, to get a good look inside the volcano. Helen, Amy and myself did just this, and it turned out to be a pretty stupid decision. Not because we were in danger of falling in (we didn't go that close); but because we almost died from breathing in the toxic, sulphurous fumes that were pouring out of it. Ugh — the stench was horrible! I think that the 10 years of my life that I would have gained from being a non-smoker, I've now forfeited due to my experience of "passive volcano smoking". Anyway, as you can see above, I did get a fairly good shot, and I did manage to crawl back to life and to oxygen thereafter.
Anyway, once we were done looking inside the volcano, we rested and had a lunch break on the summit. Then, it was time for a very, very fun ride back down.