Thursday, March 5, 2015

Volcán Villarica in happier days

The images and videos I saw this week of the eruption of the Villarica volcano, with flames shooting into the air and red-hot lava pouring down the slopes, brought back memories of our family's hike to the crater of the then-dormant volcano during a vacation to Chile over the school winter holidays period in 2005-2006.  It was one of the great outdoors experiences we have had together, hiking from about 6000 feet to near the 9350 foot summit, then coming down partly on foot, partly sliding on our butts.

We came to the area by an overnight bus from Santiago, where we were staying with family members who were teaching in a local school, to the village of Villarica.  There we signed on with a guiding company that would help us get to the top of the mountain.  The guides supplied us with snowsuits, in which we posed together before setting off for our adventure
We were given the option of walking from the bottom of the ski-lift, but we opted to take the ski-lift for about the first thousand feet of elevation gain, then started walking up the rocky slope.  Within less than half an hour, we reached the bottom of the snow line
Although the party started out all together, the younger ones quickly got out ahead, while us older folks labored upwards in the company of the more patient guides.  There were fine views along the way up, and I was glad to take the chance to pause to take photos.  Below is our guide, with Lago Villarica on the left, the village of Pucon in the center foreground, and several other snow-capped volcanoes in the distance

And here is a view of other hikers above us (there were several different groups on the mountain), and the puffing from the crater above them.

The snowy path was really pretty icy, and sometimes it seemed I would slide back almost as far as I had stepped forward.  Occasionally I would give voice to my frustration and alarm, and the guide finally told me to get a grip or he was going to head to the bottom with me.  But I calmed down a bit and we kept trudging toward the top.

Sometimes, instead of gentle white smoke/steam coming from the top, we would see a more ominous brown puff. 
We were told that this reflected the dust coming up from a landslide within the crater.  And at one point we could see some rocks, including a very large boulder, bounding down mountain.  The guides were all in touch with each other and the hikers were shepherded along paths toward the other side of the slope up the mountain side.  Excitement!

Here is Nancy pausing to look up just before we did the last couple hundred feet of elevation game to the summit -- or, at least, the part of the summit that we would be reaching, at the lip of the crater.
Finally, we were at the top; we could look down into the crater, and across the crater to the summit ridges.

In the crater, we could see a bright red hole containing lava, and sometimes there would be flickers of flaming lava being tossed into the air

When it was time to head down, the trip went much more quickly than coming up -- to some extent it was almost like cross-country skiing along the paths.  But the best part were the chutes that connected some of the paths.  And on this mountain, it is not only OK, but downright expected to cut the switchbacks, coming down the shoots on our rear ends.  This is why we needed those snow suits.

We got back to Villarica town by late afternoon, whence we could look over the rooftops to the mountain looming on the other side of the lake.
Even though Villarica is on the other side of the lake from the volcano, I understand that the town has also been evacuated.

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