Pucón – Villerica Volcano

6am bright and early I am up and ready to go, and head to Aguaventura to get myself ready. I am wearing long trousers as recommended, a T-shirt and fleece and a waterproof jacket. Its pretty chilly this morning so the layers are good. I was expecting us to have to put on the other waterproof layers they provide you but that is not necessary. I get the boots on, and they provide some waterproof gators to put on to protect my trousers from the ice. Everything else goes in the bag they give you. I have to say its very well organised and the bags are not too heavy. All you bring is water, money for the chair lift 10,000 CLP and a packed lunch & snacks.

Once kitted out they drive you for about an hour to the national park, you start the climb at about 1000m. There we are introduced to our guides for the day, Ruben and Nacho and a couple of other assistant guides. We take a walk to the first point, which is basically the starting point. From here option 1 is to walk up to the 1800m mark or to get the chair lift!! The walk is tough as its in gravel and a real uphill slog, and to be honest I prefer to save my energy as does 90% of the group so we head up in the chair lift.
At the chair lift we are given the run through on using our ice axe, firstly as a walking aid and then how you use it should you fall and start to slide down the ice. Thats the important bit, apparently we don’t want to be like Sylvester Stallone!! To be honest, I am thinking lets not slip and have to use the axe in that way as it looks a lot like you could mess up and hurt yourself badly!!

At this point the volcano is looking a little bit intimidating, we are given the guidelines on following the guides up the trail, walking on ice and so get started to the next point which is the chapel. We probably kick off around 10.30am for the first part of the walk, where the incline is quite steep probably between 60-45 degrees and a mixture of ice and volcanic rock, its hard work going up an staying steady on your feet but basically its follow in the footsteps in front of you. We zip zag our way up to the chapel, which is a man made dome, here we stop and grab our first snack and take in the breathtaking view.

We don’t stop long because we don’t want to cool down too much with the long trek ahead of us, but the sun is shining and its already go to the point where I am down to a T-shirt now. So we continue walking up, it is a tough climb and the incline in the end gets to about 38 degrees at its steepest point. That is where a 300m climb takes nearly an hour towards the end as we near the top. Along the way we are split up, those going faster push on ahead, I am happy to take it slow and steady to be honest as its icy in parts and some area’s are hard to find your footing.

So the slow and steady crew are basically me and Ros, another lady on the trip. As a result we basically get our own private tour guide Ruben! I have to say Ruben was brilliant, a really great guide and always seemed to know when to offer his hand to help you up, and then as we got steeper he gave me his extra walking stick for balance and finally he just stopped me in my tracks and then unbuckled my bag and took the bag off me and carried it for the last few hundred metres of climbing. I felt a little bad for Ros behind me who was still slogging away with her rucksack on.

We stop just before the last stage heading up to the crater, here we put the gas masks on “just in case” and are told we basically don’t have too long up there. Ruben is also concerned at the clouds forming in the distance and whether they might be a problem so he is keen we get up there and down as soon as possible, so we start the tricky ascent to the top. This takes about another 20 minutes but we have to be careful as its very lose rock, so we need to make sure we have a solid footing or hand hold and also that we don’t displace any rocks that might then roll down on people below us!! So much to think about!

It is well worth it through, the view is spectacular and the crater itself is really interesting. We get out obligatory selfies and photo’s and the clouds start to move in and we are given the sign that we need to get down asap. The next bit is the best part, getting back down the volcano. We climb back down to where we left our bags and there we have a final snack, I give Ruben a bit of my Kit Kat as a thank you for carrying my bag and helping me up, I took the hint earlier when they all talked about the snacks we should have brought for them!!

So now the descent, and this is where the salopettes and jacket come in so we put them on, with gators on top of trousers again and gloves (only mine are missing so Ruben gives he his spare pair). Then there is an extra ass cover to put on and strap around you, and there is a piece of plastic that you tie around this at the front. All this on and we are ready to go, Ruben now demonstrates how we control getting down the volcano. He takes us through using the ice axe as a break and using the plastic when we need to.

From the top of the volcano you can see what are like toboggan runs going down the ice, this is what we are going in. First we do a trial run, no plastic just sit down feet first and together and shove off, an away we go sliding down the mountain. Ros is in front going a little conservatively but also as I am heavier I am naturally going faster….. and loving it!! I can soon see that this will be the best part of the whole experience. I give Ruben my camera and he goes ahead taking photos and videos.

We make it down in no time at all, with a combination of on plastic and not on plastic. I am amazed at how much lose snow there is, I was truly expecting ice, but as we ride down the volcano we displace so much snow that every now and then we just naturally stop because there is too much snow under our bums. A couple of hilarious moments where I end up going down backwards, a few comments of… btw there is a cliff over there!! We get to near the chair lift and I am exhilarated, exhausted, so happy I did the climb and just had an amazing day and its only 1.30pm. Sadly the ice sliding is finished and the day nearly done, we have to walk the rest of the way to get back to the van to take us back to town.

By this point I can barely move, Ruben is laughing seeing me walking Axe dragging, feet dragging, he says “you are walking and looking like my grand mother” I laugh and reply “is she pretty and well coordinated”, straight after which my legs buckle and twist underneath me and I fall on my ass with my legs twisted around each other. Obviously too busy laughing at this point, but manage to get back up and to the last stop before the van. Here we can take all the wet gear off finally! I am struggling so badly that Ruben ends up telling me to simply sit down and then he helps me off with everything and packs it back in the bag.

We get back to the van and drive back to town, hand over all the gear, pay the rest of the money and enjoy a quick drink with the guides to say thank you while overlooking the volcano we just climbed! It was an amazing sense of achievement and an unforgettable experience that I am so glad I did. A great first adventure in Patagonia, lets hope its all as good as this!

To round off the day Res and I find a nice restaurant and grab a steak dinner with veg, a nice bottle of red wine, and a lovely dessert of crepe and ice cream. By 9pm we are both shattered, the sun is down and tomorrow we are off at 7am heading to Argentina and across the border. So early night and early start but I should sleep well I hope after the brilliant day I have had.

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