Pucon is known as the adventure town in Chile where people come for their summer holidays and tourists visit to tick boxes. There are usually 20,000 inhabitants in the town, though this number doubles during December, January and February. The big draw here is Chile’s most active volcano, Villerica and the possibility to climb it. It last erupted almost a year ago and had been closed by the authorities until 2015.
Chile had more than 2000 volcanoes across the country of which 91 are active. Villerica is the most active having erupted 5 times in the past 70 years – I really should have checked that my travel insurance covered the trek up it! Villerica is 2847m high and the crater is 200m wide. It is the perfect conical shape that one expects and when the sky is clear it dominates the skyline.
For our first day in Pucon we were unable to go climbing Villerica due to inclement weather. If the weather is had in the morning you can not go up as the authorities want everyone away from the volcano crater by 2pm.
So day one we joined the free walking tour around the town just to keep ourselves moving and perhaps learn where we could find the best coffee in town. Following the two hour wander we went in search off somewhere to watch the Six Nations Ire vs Eng rugby match. Unbelievably there was no Irish pub to be found in town and after a couple of different enquiries we eventually found ourselves in the Joker sports bar in the Grand Pucon Hotel, 25 minutes into the match. First half Ireland were leading after s scrappy match England won the game.
Out watching the match
Looking down the town to the volcano
Rather than drowning our sorrows in the empty bar we decided that we should get moving again and hire out bikes and head out to Plato Rio. The guide that morning had suggested it as a place to go and would only take an hour to get there. What he forgot to mention was how bad the road was. Even with our hardy mountain bikes (with dodgy brakes and gears) the road was a a real bumpy dirt gravel track. And at the end of this track there was a lake and not too much else going on. Of course, as soon as we headed back it started to rain. The kind of rain that is misty, comes in from the side, you can’t really see it, but you can tell you’re getting soaked from the water that is running down the front of the helmet. By the time we got back to Pucón we were saturated. There was no way I was going to any outdoor concert now (it wad the town’s anniversary and they were throwing a fiesta, even if it was free and Chile’s top band were playing; we had to be up at dawn again.
We were playing a waiting game the next morning to see what the weather would be like. If it was dry, we head down to the excursion office to drive out to the volcano. However, If was raining we could go back to bed or aim to get on the 830 bus to the national park and go hiking. The first sounds most appealing yet the second should be the one to and get the heart rate going.
We were in luck. The skies were clear. We were off to climb Villerica Volcano Down to the excursion office to collect our rucksack containing crampons, gallets, waterproofs, hiking boots, ice pick, gas mask and then add in your lunch, water, extra clothing layers before jumping into a van to drive up to the first chair lift. It would take us up 400m (you could hike this if you were keen!) and then you had to zigzag across the volcano’s ash and ice to get to the top.
Just out of the van at 7am
Looking towards our chairlift to bring us part of the way up
Some decided not to get the chairlift and walk in ash
It was tough going. I didn’t make it. The combination of the extra rucksack weight and the altitude had me out off breath (I’m just not good at altitude). I completed a short section on the ice – small steps, digging the crampons into the ice and traversing across it single file – when we got up to the first ledge you could see how far we actually had to hike to get to the top and I knew I that there was no way I could to do it. Instead one of the guides took me back down to the ash section where i could lie back, take on the changing sky line, have a snooze; all the while topping up the sunblock as the sun was just glaring down.
Time to go down
Up with the clouds
Peace and quiet looking down on the valley
After a while we headed back down the volcano, taking a couple of falls along the way on the ice and ash. The others were going to have it a bit easier coming down as a luge had been created in the ice section which would bring them sliding back down towards the ski lift. However there was no ski lift back down. It was down hill all the way through the deep ash. Just slipping your way down’m. Every step you would just go down deep and slide forward.
Heading back down
Slipping down the ash
I know I was happy to get to where I got to on the volcano and that I attempted it but the others came down absolutely elated. They had all made it and with gas masks on they had watched small eruptions within the crater before getting out their sliding plates to fly down the side on the volcano in the ice luge especially created to get down. All in all, a super day was had by all. Flour the others who didn’t go climbing, they had gone white water rafting, hanging out on the black volcanic sand beach by the lake, kayaking, canyoning, fishing, zip lining, horse riding, parachuting… Like I said, a place for thrill seekers during the summer months. The other 9 months, it just rains!