Reopening the Villarica volcano ascent!

Wednesday 11th November 2015

With Helene, Aurelie and Laetitia, we woke up at 6am, got ready and had some brekky, eating apple, tangerine, some cereal bars. Then we were at 6.45am at Summit Chile, 100 meters away from the hostel. There, we were given a backpack. We unpacked our small bag and started organising the bigger backpack given and dressing up. On me, leggins and hiking pant only, base liner socks and hiking socks. I put on the super awesome snow shoes they gave us and put in the box my hiking shoes. Upper layer, I had a short sleeves merino shirt, a long sleeves merino shirt but you could have had just one of those two that warm sunny day, and then I had my merino fleece but soon during the walk I took it off in the backpack. It was handy later on to have it though. And above that the snow jacket they gave me. I had brought my down jacket in the backpack but again it was a beautiful day so didn´t have to use it. Would the day have been cloudy, who knows, maybe a fifth layer could have been useful. I had their gloves and had brought my silk gloves and winter type gloves too in my backpack in case. They also gave us a snowpant and an additional snow thing for our butt that we would use above the snowpant when sliding down on plastic snow shovels. Also crampons we put in our bags but didn´t use actually. An ice axe and a helmet. They checked 3 times that we had good sunglasses. If I had a second pair, I would have also brought it just in case. I was wearing also my Cusco thermal hat. I had stupidly put my new buff in the laundry the night before so didn´t have any but the day was sunny enough that I could do without. In other weather conditions, it could have been handy. They also gave us gaiters, the same ones as we had been given for Huayna Potosi. Lesson about gaiters, take them one or two extra size wider so that you could fit a snowpant under them and still close them. My own one would not have closed again above the snowpant they gave us. That´s it for the clothes I think. We also brought sun cream, absolutely needed that day, and sun protection lipstick.

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Off we went in a minivan. We picked up one of the guides at the Conaf point. Here is the sign of Conaf. Conaf means Corporación Nacional Forestal. It was founded in 1970. It is a Chilean private, non-profit organisation, through which the Chilean state contributes to the development and sustainable management of the country’s forest resources. It is also the governing body of all the national parks of Chile.

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Off we continued in the mini-van.

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7.45am The Villarica was in view. The weather was awesome! We were all getting really excited and there was a really good vibe in the car, everyone chatting and laughing.

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8am. We arrived there and started getting ready. I went for a quick toilet the front of the cars, after telling everyone to NOT come this way until I was back ahah. Nowhere to hide there lol.

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Here is Claudio, the Chilean owner of Summit Chile who has 20 years experience and we can feel that! With his Canadian wife Suzi, they offer an incredible time to anyone who wants to go with them on excursions in the mountains.

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Claudio gave us a briefing before we started walking, explaining how to walk with the snow shoes on ice, how to use the ice axe and how to use crampons if we were later to put them on.

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8.20am Off we started walking with the snow shoes up! The weather was not too cold, the sun was shining, there were no clouds, no wind, and everyone was in a cheerful mood. What a perfect awesome day. We were the first group to do the Villarica volcano ascent again! We were 7 French girls, an Italian guy who happened to be a vulcanologist which was super cool, and a Canadian couple in their fifties. Walking with us was a guide and two assistant, to-be guides and on skis was Claudio with an English guide on skis too willing to learn more about ski touring. The magical thing was that there was no other group that day from any other agency. The Conaf reopened the volcano ascent that day but gave a licence to very few companies this time. There used to be sometimes 300 people climbing the volcano at once in the past. Apparently, rumors say that from now on, only 50 people maximum would be allowed but maybe that could change. For now, that day, we were 11 tourists and 4 guides. How incredible and symbolic to do the reopening! We can see the summit in the distance.

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Turning back, the footprints we just made. There was no route yet as no one had walked to the summit for 9 months. The guide was creating the path and we were following each one after one into his steps.

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Walking into the steps of the person in front of me.

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The skilift, closed since 9 months too.

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9am. First break. Drinking a bit of water. Eating another cereal bar. Swallowing a pear compote. Having some chocolate and some sultanas. Sugar, sugar, sugar. Drinking a bit of Gatorade. Eating a clementine. Laetitia and me discovered the day before we had the same type of body. We need lots of food, and our body consumes a lot. If we run out of energy, we go totally flat out. While for example Helene needs few food and can go on for a long time. Lucky her! We had bought a lot of snacks the night before. Each of us was carrying an entire chocolate bar, 6 cereal bars, and then various fruits, apple, banana, clementines, and then cookies, chips, easy to drink compotes, nuts, sultanas. We also had made 3 sandwiches each of square bread with inside brie or roquefort with chorizo or salami slices. I have to say, that constant eating was awesome for me as I kept my energy really high for the entire day. I actually liked that Summit Chile tells you to take care of your lunch yourself and just gives suggestions. Each of us have different needs and different preferences. It is much better like this as we can each buy exactly the food we want to eat.

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View of the surroundings. Forgot the name of this volcano we see in the distance.

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To our left when having the Villarica summit in our back, we could see the Villarica Lake and a bit of Pucon.

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Starting to walk up again. Sometimes a bit in the mud, most of the times in the snow.

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Our shadows in the morning were still really long.

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Up and up and up.

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9.55am already. Having another break. More fruit, cereal bar, chocolate. More sun cream also!

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And off again! The shadows are getting shorter.

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Claudio showing the English guy how to move the skis when turning.

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We passed this. It used to be the arrival shelter of a ski lift until the volcano eruption of 1971 which swallowed the ski lift!

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We did a short break around 10.40am during which Claudio told us about the night in March 2015 during which the volcano erupted and how it felt. I let you discover it yourself in this little video.

Shortly after, this is another video of us walking up. Claudio was joking that it was really pretty, like if we were doing some ballet dancing! 🙂

We started to walk on the ridge. I love this picture, when the contrast between the blue sky and the snow is so big.

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Looking behind. Later, Claudio explained to us that if there was an eruption, this crest would be the safest point where to run to, because the lava would flow left and right of it but would not go to it. Good to know…

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We are getting closer!

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The higher we went, the most incredible the view became.

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11.45am One more break.

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Almost there. And yes, sometimes my photos got over-exposed. I was shooting sometimes while continuing to walk, and definitely through sunglasses as the light on the snow was really harsh for the eyes. So not always seeing either what I was exactly shooting or how it was turning out!

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Antonio and the two Canadians behind me. Wait a minute. Did I say “behind me”? Well..Yeah. For once, I lost my cherished title of “the slowest in the world”. That little stroll up the volcano that day was actually total piece of cake for me. Didn´t suffer once or feel tired or waiting for it to finish once. I was walking it like a little walk, enjoying it with no effort. How come? Me, the slowest of the world? I suspect having tried out Huayna Potosi until 5,600 meters only 3 weeks before probably gave me lots of red cells. Huayna Potosi was really hard. Waking up at 11.30pm in the middle of the night, climbing in the cold, after no sleep, not being able to eat much because at this altitude your body simply doesn´t want to eat, and being freezing like crazy and having problems breathing was making the conditions even harsher. So going up the Villarica volcano after that was honestly a true piece of cake. But I was expecting to be the slowest and had said so to the guides in the morning, I had even asked: “Hey, but, do we have enough guides so that when I am too slow to make it, one can go down with me?” I had believed from the start that it would be super hard and that honestly, I would not make it to the top. And I was totally fine with that, because I just know I am slow so I was not planning to go to the top of that volcano at all!! So what a wonderful surprise to not only manage, but to be not even tired, and not the slowest. Yeah! Big Smile. 😀

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12.50pm Last break! At that moment, I ate 2 of my sandwiches. Two sandwiches turned out to be enough actually although in the evening when we came back, I was happy to eat the third one as a snack before to go for dinner.

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What a view!

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Going up next to the glacier.

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Some snow fight going on here. It tells you how exhausted we were hey. We still had energy for that, even when we were almost at the top.

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Almost there, almost there!

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Dropping the bags and getting a briefing from Claudio. About to ascend to the top. The new rules were that we were only allowed 5 minutes at the top as it remains one of the most active volcano of Chile. We were actually given some mask to breathe through if needed as the smoke could be toxic if there was a lot but it wasn´t needed that day.

Eating a bit and getting ready.

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Walking up to the crater.

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2pm. We made it! We walked from 1,400 meters to 2,847 meters. It was really nice to not be in altitude, to not be out of breath, and to still be able to go to the summit of something. That one suited me best, ahah. Here we were! Youhou!! The inside of the crater. Sadly we couldn´t see much inside. We could hear the activity going on inside. It was doing something like this: “BBrrr…ggggrrrr…brrrrr…ggggrrrr”. You can imagine it now, right? 😀

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To the right, some of the smoke too.

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Contemplating the inside of the volcano with a big smile on my face. And looking left and thinking…”Hey guys, what about we walk all around it to go check out how the inside of the crater looks from the other side?? Maybe we can see inside!! Could be soooo beautiful!! No?? We are not allowed?! Ah. Ok then. Could have been a nice walk.”

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Back a bit down where we had dropped the bags. Getting ready to sliiiide down on our plastic snow shovels.

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Did you notice how the clouds slowly totally invaded the area and are covering everything? So much nicer to have spent the day below the clouds than under them for once!

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Between 2.30pm and 4pm, we had fun sliding down on the plastic snow shovels. I had not used that type of sledge for years!! It was soooo fun. It brought back lots of fond memories of winters doing that as a kid. Where I lived as a kid, I remember using these plastic shovels on any occasion there was snow by going with my neighbour Aurelie to the highest slope of the village where we lived and going down with other kids of the village. Then we would walk back up and do that again. We could stay there for hours. Snow was not coming that often so the days when it was there, we would enjoy it the most we could!

Here is a video where Laetitia is preparing herself and starting sliding on the snow shovel. Copyright Helene´s camera!! Mine at that stage was burried down inside my backpack!

Here is a picture of the group walking at 4pm down to the car, with the snow shovel clipped outside of their bag. As it was pretty wet, no one wanted to put it back inside the bag.

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Zooming on the group.

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Turning back. The Villarica summit was disappearing in the clouds. As in a dream, as if it had existed only temporarily that day, just for us. They were announcing a snow storm for the next two days, which meant the real reopening would be the Saturday. We felt privileged, as if we had just been to the preview showing of a movie being released 3 days later!

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Back in the minivan.

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Back at Summit Chile, unpacking the bags, picking up our small bags, repacking them.

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I discovered those gloves this day. I really really liked them. I asked if I could buy them from Summit Chile but they were not keen as they had just bought them. I will have to find them at some point! Warm, wind-proof, water-proof too. Solid. Exactly what I would need for Patagonia!
Let´s see if I run into them at some point!

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Walking in the city, heading to a bar to have some pizzas and beers.  Can you see the Villarica volcano? I can´t either. Maybe it was just a dream. The guide told us while walking that a friend of him had come once to Pucon and stayed with him and for 2 weeks it poured rain every day and he never saw the volcano to the point he thought that the guide had made a joke to him and that there was none! Ahahahaha.

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While walking the streets, I passed in front of a shop selling the picture of the eruption of the Villarica volcano which occured in March 2015. It must have been really impressive to see!

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In the backyard of the place where we had pizzas and beers were these climbing walls. Little wink to all the climbers of Brisbane and climbers met on this trip!

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Tomorrow, off to San Martin de Los Andes while Helene, Aurelie and Laetitia will go to the Geotermical thermal baths in Pucon to relax and then will be off to Puerto Varas and fly from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, take a bus to Puerto Natales and be off to Torres del Paine the day after!