Climbing Villarrica volcano

Last time I tried to climb a volcano, I swore I would never again climb so much as a flight of stairs.

My reaction to the altitude was unexpected at best. I couldn’t walk 20 steps without stopping. My calves stopped working and I couldn’t breathe. When I eventually made it to the edge of the glacier, I was broken and desperate to get down again.

That was Cotopaxi in Ecuador, almost two years ago. It does stand at an impressive 5,897m – in fact, it’s one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.

In comparison, it makes the 2,847m high Villarrica – just outside Pucon – look like a dwarf volcano but still, I was understandably nervous the night before. I had my snow boots fitted and organised to borrow an ice axe and a snow sliding pan, for the descent.

But travelling Patagonia in summer does make life a dream. It was a beautiful day and, although the ascent was tough in places, we made it without disaster (we cheated the first part by taking a ski-lift, this sort of thing doesn’t trouble me – the path below was dull and gravelly anyway)

Typically, I needed a bit of help fitting my crampons but I soon mastered the ice axe and even preferred scrambling over the ice and snow to negotiating the ring of rocks near the crater.

And – finally – I’ve made it to a crater! This is what volcanoes are supposed to look like – billowing smoke and foul mouthfuls of sulphur when the wind is blowing the wrong way. The view across several volcanoes all the way to Argentina wasn’t bad either.

If there is anyone else out there with an altitude problem, you need not have too much fear here. I won’t say too much about the descent – sliding down a volcano on a plastic pan, using an ice axe as a brake, was a little too swift for my liking.

See if you can spot the difference…

Volcano 1: Cotopaxi, Ecuador (2010)
Volcano 2: Villarrica, Chile (2012)

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