Climbing South Americas most active Volcano

Pucón is a well-known active holiday destination in the south of Chile: Rafting, hiking, biking, canoeing, you name it.

The volcano Villarica (2.860 m), which is the most active volcano of South America – at least that’s what we were told – is also situated in Pucón. Its last eruption was in 2015 and almost 4.000 persons had to be evacuated. Driven by our desire for adventure my friend Caro and I decided to climb it together with a guide.

We were informed in advance that the trek can only be done if the weather is good and the seismic activity of the volcano is low. They explained us a lot about safety precautions because it’s not an ordinary hike but rather mountain climbing over a glacier. In the end we had to sign a declaration of consent stating that the agency is not responsible if anything happens to us. That didn’t give us a very reassuring feeling but we signed it anyways.

When the day had come we were lucky with the weather and the activity of the volcano. We were in a small group and drove up to the base station where we were supposed to start the hike.

Then our guide told us the bad news: the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. The gas of the volcano was blown towards the side of the mountain that we were going to climb. This made it impossible to go there because that gas is toxic.

He gave us two options: either we go back and get part of our money back or we start hiking and hope that the wind changes. All of us were dedicated to at least try to go up since we were already there.

Volcano Villarica and the toxic gas being blown directly at the trekking path

At the beginning we got a short safety training. Equipped with a helmet, an ice axe and a crampon we started the ascend. We had the possibility to take a chairlift for the first part but we decided to climb it all by walk.

After approximately half an hour the wind changed and luckily we could continue the trek.

Fortunately the wind changed: The toxic gas is blown to the other side of the volcano

Due to the extreme steepness we had to walk zigzag uphill. Also, we had to pay a lot of attention to every single step because we were walking on ice. If you slip there’s nothing to hold on to and nothing to stop you.

At some point I asked our guide if anyone had ever died doing this tour. He said that once a tourist fell, slid down the glacier and died. However, considering how many people climb up the volcano, it didn’t shock me too much.

View from our break spot; the guy in green was our guide

The trek was really challenging. It took us more than four hours to get to a spot where we sat down and had a short break to eat something. All the other groups stopped at the same point so it was a bit crowded up there. The view was incredible and the weather was perfect. From that point it was only 15 more minutes to the peak. We were so happy that we had almost made it but we were also pretty exhausted.

View from the peak of the volcano Villarica

The last few minutes of climbing to the top were not too bad anymore. At the peak we had an amazing view over Pucón and the snow-covered mountains.

You could go really close to the crater and with some luck you could see the lava inside. Unfortunately we were only allowed to stay 15 minutes at the peak because of the toxic gas.

But that wasn’t yet it, the fun part was just about to come.

We slid down the whole mountain on a snow disc.

Sliding down the volcano was awesome. I went so fast that sometimes I was afraid of not being able to stop anymore. One girl of my group even hit her nose with the ice axe. She was bleeding a bit but fortunately nothing severe happened. It’s incredible that we descended the mountain within half an hour while it took us almost five hours to climb it. Even days after the trek my bottom still hurt from sliding down the slope.

This was probably the best adventure of all in Chile. The trek was hard but the views and the down-sliding definitely made up for it. And it was an amazing experience to trek over a glacier with a crampon, as I’ve never done that before.

Recommendations:

  1. Make sure you have enough time in Pucón in case the trip gets cancelled due to the weather or seismic activity. We were really lucky but for a friend of mine it was cancelled three times so he ended up not going.
  2. Check various agencies before booking as the prices vary.
  3. Bring enough water and food.
  4. Bring sun protection and sun glasses.
  5. Taking the chairlift makes the trek one hour shorter but it costs around 10€.
  6. Shoes and other equipment are provided by the agency.

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