Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Parque Nacional Villarrica

So there she stood in all her smokey, snow covered and ice encrusted glory, Volcan Villarrica. She was mockingly calling out to me, "come on give it a shot, its a beautiful day"...yes volcanos can talk!
The day could not be better for the climb. It was sunny and warm and not a cloud in the sky.  There was 6 in our group plus 2 guides. We met at 6:30 at the Politour offices and geared up. Gaitors, crampons, Jacket and pant shells, gloves, helmet and sliding gear. Jammed that into a pack with 2 litres of water, a gatorade, large hersheys, and apple and a good hiking sandwich of avocado, onion, egg and salami.

The first rise was easy enough as it gave me time to get used to the crampons and pic axe. The views back into Chile were gorgeous with the low hanging clouds. I got my first taste of the wind and it was cold, but a good cold. I had my windproof fleece, windproof jacket and now the shell provided by the company. No wind was getting through. As we started to prepare for the next leg of the journey it happened. Everyone else showed up for the climb. Our guide estimated there were 200 people. Its a big mountain so no worries but our harmony was shattered. We did notice that the masses were traversing along a ridgeline away from us. Our guide smiled and casually said, "we will go this way, its a bit steeper but no tourists'. Bit steeper my butt. Double Black Diamond steep is what it was. It was crazy intimidating. However as we started our ascent we switch backed up the scary steep face and with the crampons the climb was easy enough. Then we stopped to catch our breath and that allowed me to look out to the horizon and then down the slope of where we just came from. It was painfully beautiful.

LUNCH! We all just stood there dumbfounded. We were on a wide open slope that had to be 50 degrees and the wind was blowing strong enough and our guide yells lunch? There is actually a skill to get this done (without sliding 2000 meters into the valley below). You use your trusted crampons and dig out a flat space to sit. Then you dig your feet into the snow downhill and put your pack between you legs. Then dig in. Even though we were all going along fine and lunch was being devoured there was still a general "what the hell" look on everyones face. Our guide just smiled.
** I forgot to mention that after the first rise we lost one person. She got pretty scared and it was impossible for her to go any further so the second guide took her down to the transportation. When it was over she was cool and gave everyone a big congratulatory hug.**

This is the view UP from the safety of our lunch perch. Those are not clouds. That is smoke from the volcano. This is one of the most active volcanos in the world (I keep reading that about every volcano down here) but its not a lava spewing monster. It took us 2 more hours to get to the top from this spot. You can see the people on the left walking up diagonally to the left. They would walk for a bit then "switch back" to the right. That was how it was done on this route. The large crew in the middle of the picture are about 500 metres ahead of us or about an hour.

Five hours and a couple of butt clenching slips later we reached the top. The last 50 metres was actually the hardest, not because of the altitude or slope but because the snow was so soft and trampled. Added was the excitement of reaching the top and people started getting a little sloppy. Not dangerous, just sloppy.
The top was underwhelming to say the least. The acidic smoke from the volcano was blowing in our faces and and choking us a bit...well alot. Our guide just said "follow me". We walked across the crater through the smoke in what can only be described as blind faith. We coughed and hacked our way to the south side of the volcano away from the wind and smoke and there is was, the view we wanted. It was photo time!

With Argentina in the distance (I forget the name of the volcano) photos ops were everywhere. There was time for lunch, about a litre of water and another chocolate bar.
It was the usual "enjoy the moment" moment when our glorious guide yelled our new instructions. Take off the crampon and put on the rubber butt pouch thats in your backpack". Like lemmings we obeyed, no questions asked. We knew what was coming...kind of.
Ready to go our guide said just wait and got very quiet for about 45 seconds. I am pretty sure he was praying for a safe trip down. Pachamana you are the queen!

With some basic instruction on controlling our speed over the top we went, on our butts. There were chutes that looked like butt sized luge runs and we just jumped over. It was a bit hairy to realize you were butt surfing from the top of an active volcano and you got past that when you realized how freaking fast you were going. We used our pic axes as breaks along with our feet to control our speed. Like all good fun things, once you got the hang of it all was good. Now came the plastic butt tobogans that were for one reason only - INCREASED SPEED. Remember we are sliding down 2800 metres.
Of all the things I have done on this or any other trip, trekking Villarrica and then sliding back down goes right to the top of the list. It was challanging, a bit hairy at times and then crazy childlike fun. My only recommendation is make sure you go with a reputable company here in Pucon. There are 28 tour operators in town. I went with Poiltour who has been here longer than most.


TruckGuysTV said...

So no comment about how sore your butt was the next day(s)?

Ken Weiss said...

Oddly enough my butt was pain free. The rubber diaper and soft snow helped