“There’s a volcano in my home town that erupted back in March and has just opened back up again. You can walk to the top and look in the crater at the lava. You guys should definitely go if you’re into hiking.”
Our decision to go to Pucon to hike the smoking Volcan Villarrica was based on a simple recommendation by a local we met on Easter Island. His enthusiasm towards his little town next to a lava-spewing volcano was infectious and had us scraping for a decent wifi connection to look it up in seconds. Snow, ice, glaciers, lava – Volcan Villarirca had it all.
We didn’t need any more persuasion.
Our first stop in Pucon was a flying overnight visit with a quick stroll around the town. We arrived at night, but were quickly shown to the roof of our hostel to see the glowing, smoking tip of Volcan Villarica in the very near distance. We were heading south the next morning, but we knew right then that we had to change our route to make time to climb this live volcano.
We ended up taking some serious downtime in Pucon for a week over Christmas, and after some hardcore hiking down in Patagonia, some natural hot springs and sitting was exactly what the doctor ordered.
We were on the list to climb Villarica Volcano from the first day we arrived, but due to bad weather, we waited five days until it was possible.
At 5am on Christmas Eve morning, we pulled ourselves out of our tent to fill our boots with breakfast, load up on snacks and pull ourselves together for what we had been warned was a pretty hairy hike. We had our brief, filled our bags with crampons and ice-picks and loaded into a mini bus to the foot of the volcano.
From where the hike begins, all hikers are offered the chance to take the chairlift up the first stretch, making the hike a whole lot easier. Nobody in our group opted for this, so all 12 of us trudged up the cold slope, with Volcan Villarrica getting steadily steeper and higher as we went.
As soon as we reached the chair-lift station we all stopped and strapped on our crampons; we were about to start walking on the ice, and would soon be on the glacier that covers the upper part of the volcano. From here, we slowly zig-zagged across the blinding white. Trudging and stopping for snacks before the sun got too high and started to melt the ground beneath our feet.
Soon after strapping in, our guides stopped us and gathered us round, “There is a high chance we won’t summit today. The wind is causing the ice to be really hard, meaning that if you slip you will not be able to save yourself with your ice-pick and will slide off the side of the volcano. We are going to carry on for a short while up a different side of the mountain to where we usually hike and will make a decision further up.
“Please, if anyone above you falls. Do not try and save them.”
If that wasn’t going to put the fear of God in you, nothing will.
We carried on, slowly making swtich-backs up the ice with the girls up front setting the pace. The incline got steeper, so much that the views both up and down the mountain were vertical. Clinging to the edge of the hill, it slowly began to dawn on all of us that soon we had to descend this beast – I’m not sure I’d ever been so intimidated by a mountain before!
Our guides did not again pause and we soon came over the crest of Villarrica and congregated on the edge of the crater where sulphur gasses billowed out of the hole below us.
We had ten minutes at the top before we were moved on our way back down to where we could sit away from the awful gasses to have our lunch. As were sat munching on sandwiches and chocolate, our guides told us to take our crampons off.
“But an hour ago if we slid on this ice we would die, now you’re telling us to take them off!?” was the general theme of conversation over food.
Now, to get down this volcano is unlike any other I have ever walked on or snowboarded down. Armed with a hardy pair of trousers, a nappy-like pair of pants of these trousers, a plastic tray and your ice-pick, you slide down this steep mountain through the melting snow on your bum.
It looked a bit like this video by Fitzmcmuffin:
I think we managed to reach the bottom in twenty minutes, after the hike up took 5 hours!
I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a day; the views from the top were unrivalled, the hike tough and rewarding, the descent hilarious. You can only climb Villarica with a guide, unless you can prove to the guys at the National Park office that you’re an accomplished hiker and have experience in such conditions. We booked our hike through our hostel, Chili Kiwi, but there are many different companies in the town to choose from. Average cost for this hike, including kit and guides, came in at around £70 when we were there in December 2015.