Thursday, 1 February 2007

Climbing Volcan Villarrica

Today we climbed Volcan Villarrica, which was a great experience. You have to do the ascent through a tour agency, unless you have mountaineering experience. As we don't, we just made the easy/lazy choice, and went with Volcan Activo, which is run by the same people as our hostel. It turned out really well though - our guide for the day (Rodrigo) had one of his mates (Mathew) from Italy in town, so our group was just those two, us two, and Paul, an English guy we'd actually met in Chiloe. Some of the other groups we saw had more than 20 people in them - no thanks!

The actual climb was surprisingly easy - while we had ice picks and crampons in our bags, we never needed them, and the ascent wasn't particularly steep or difficult at any point. There are so many people doing it (up to 300 a day!) that the path through the snow is very well trodden and strightforward. It was more like a day off for Rodrigo with Mathew in town - he spent most of the day messing around making a video for another mate from Italy who'd bailed on coming to Chile at the last minute, starting snow ball fights and drinking the bottle of fine Argentine wine they took up to the summit. Definitely more cowboy than some of the other operations, but also a lot more fun :)

The view from the top was spectacular - a full 360 degree view for a long, long way. We had great views to Lanin (an even bigger Volcano on the Argentian border), as well as all over the national park and nearby lakes. We also got to see some (small) bits of lava flying about in the crater, and a lot of sulphuric gas - the noise and heat alone coming out of the crater was impressive.

The best part of the day - rather than walking back down the volcano, you take the much more enjoyable option of sliding down on your butt. After an hour or so at the summit for lunch, we put on all the full snow gear, along with a reinforced 'nappy' over the top. Then straight down the mountain! There are several 'chutes' in the snow specifically built for this, so it's kinda like a colder mud-slide. We managed to get down in about 30 minutes through 5 different slides - apparently November is the time to come, when you can slide all the way straight through from the top to the bottom of the mountain. Great fun, though snow gets everywhere! We then walked out to a very welcome beer in the car park, provided by Herman.

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