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Behind the Scenes – Villarrica Volcano Ascent, Pucón Chile

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You have seen conical style volcanoes on Discovery Channel, and even though it might be on your bucket list, you may be thinking it will probably never happen. However, here and now is your chance. You will have questions: Will I be able to do it? Will there really be lava? What do I need to take? Here is the low down on what you need to know about this unique opportunity to summit Villarrica Volcano in our very own Pucón.

For anyone who loves hiking and adventure, and the thought of peering into a lava filled crater with amazing views all around, this ascent is simply not to be missed. But what does it entail?


Here goes. First you need to reserve the date and make sure you will be available the day before to head down to the agency to try on equipment and be told, well, all of this!

The hike starts at 7am at the Sol y Nieve office in downtown Pucón. It takes 4-5 hours to ascend, part of which can be saved by taking the ski lift which has an additional cost to the cost of the activity. This is simply because the wind can sometimes mean that the lift does not run so you will have to hike that first part. However, if the lift is running, the extra cost (approx. $ 10.000 Chilean pesos), is definitely worth the while. You get to chill out, enjoy the views, contemplate the day, and you will be in a better state of mind and body to reach the crater when you do actually start to hike.

The descent takes between 3-4 hours depending on the weather and the time of year. When there is more snow you can get further down the volcano sliding on freshly made toboggan runs. When there is less snow, it inevitably runs out so you have to hike the final part down through the scree.

How fit do you need to be to attempt the ascent? You do need a certain level of fitness. The hike is definitely not a walk in the park. However, it is definitely mind over matter, and if you pace yourself and think in 10 minute sections your chances of summiting are greatly improved.

Will you see lava? Maybe and maybe not. This is not guaranteed I am afraid but if you don't get up there to the crater you will not even have the chance to find out!

The day before the hike itself, you will head down to Sol y Nieve to check out their first rate gear. Included in the cost of the excursion are the following items:

Return shuttle service to the base
Park entrance

Hiking boots - Crampons - Ice axe - Helmet - Gaiters - Backpack - Windbreaker - Over-pants

equipment for sol y nieve blog hiking boots gaiters ice axe helmet crampons backpack

 

Believe me, even if you did spend a good couple of hundred dollars on your shiny new waterproof over-pants, wear the ones that you are given as they are reinforced on the butt to avoid scrapes and tears from the rocks below the snow as you descend sliding with a great big "juhhiiooooo!".

The reason why Sol y Nieve offers hiking boots is simply because they have to fit crampons, and not all makes do. You will carry the crampons in your backpack and may or may not need to use them depending on the conditions on the day. Your guide will indicate if and when you need to attach them to your boots.

The ice axe is for support on the way up, and for braking when you slide down. There are glaciers and crevasses on the volcano but you are not going to be using the ice axe to summit 10 meter long walls like you may also have seen Bear Grills do!

You will wear the gaiters from the start to protect your own pants, which should be sweat style and not jeans; and the windbreaker is an optional layer there for you to use if you choose. You can also use your own.

Wear comfortable clothes, ideally in layers as the temperatures can vary according to the day.

So, what else do you need to take? Sunglasses and sun protection are a definite must. As is high energy food (see our box lunch blog for ideas), a minimum of 2 liters of water, cash for the optional chairlift and tip for the guide, and please do not forget your camera!

Stopping for photos provides the perfect opportunity to take stock, enjoy the views and most of all to rest and breathe. The pace will be kept by your guide which he/she will measure once your group is already climbing. There is a minimum of two people per guide and a maximum of six, plus an assistant guide. If someone needs to descend due to exhaustion or for any other reason, the assistant guide will take care of that person while the rest plug on to the crater.

The only other thing you need to know is that the ascent is dependent on weather conditions. Even if you get up and get to the office for 7am and the operations manager says the wind is too strong or it is raining at the crater, the ascent will not take place and you will not be charged. If you reach the base and begin to climb, but are obliged to return due to weather conditions that have changed during the day, the full cost will be charged to you.

So, for all of you energy junkies out there, get reserving in advance here for what is guaranteed to be the ascent of a lifetime!

 

©Sarah White 2014      Author’s rights reserved

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