When in Pucón in Chile, you have to do the Villarrica Volcano Trek. There is just no way around it. You can literally see this active volcano from pretty much everywhere in town and the surrounding area. And you cannot visit this place without doing the most exciting and dangerous activity it has to offer. And you know - FOMO. Oh, and YOLO.
So there we were in Pucón, seeing this majestic active volcano that last erupted in 2015. Tour companies advertised day hikes for every day, and the weather was looking good.
So we decided to get a few quotes from the agencies and ask a few questions about safety and difficulty and so on. TIP: it is pointless to ask if beginners can do this trek because you don't have to be a mountaineer, or have any climbing experience to do this. They give you all the equipment (notes about this later) and guide you along the way. What you do need however are quads, glutes, and hamstrings of steel! Not steel wool-like mine. Or be very fit and used to uphill hikes.
Anyway, after getting a few quotes, we went back to Monica's House where we stayed - it was awesome by the way - to discuss this matter further. You see, this hike is a 4 - 5 hour uphill climb over rocks, gravel, and glaziers. And from experience, we both knew that I am not good with uphills. In Bolivia, we brushed it off as the influence of altitude, but honestly, I was suffering with uphill climbs in general. I consulted a few blog posts on the matter, reports were contradictory, but many said it was hard!
I was worried, I truly doubted that I could actually do this. And what do I do if I am halfway up and I cannot continue etc, etc.
Anyway, FOMO kicked in, personal motivation and determination kicked in I mean, you can do anything you set your mind to right? So it was decided. Many blogs suggested going with Chile Expeditions. We didn't get a quote from them but everyone says they are good, so off we went. They were more expensive than most tour operators, but they were professionals. 95 000 pesos per person. You have to fit mountain climbing shoes, water- and windproof jackets and pants and sign your life away. You also get a backpack with all your gear in it. You have to take your own water and food. Done! The owner's wife said you have to prepare yourself for a difficult climb, 50% physical, 50% mental preparation and determination.
We left 06:30 am in a small bus to the base of the Volcano. We were 5 people and two guides - the owner and an assistant.
Everyone suggested you take the ski-lift up if it is working for an extra 20 000 pesos as it saves you about an hour's walk. So we did it. Many people didn't, but whatever. I was happy with that. There are hundreds of tourists with different tour companies doing these hikes on the same day. So you're not alone.
So, you start the hike about a 1/4 up the volcano. A steep uphill climb. We were informed that we will climb for about 45 minutes before we rest, then starts the glacial walking with crampons. Po kept up with the professional guide and the other 3 climbers. I was already suffering, and by the time we reached the resting point, the old ski lodge that was almost completely melted by the eruption in 2015, I was done. I was ready to give up. My legs were already aching and the icy cold air was hurting my lungs. For the first time in my life, I already decided to quit not even half way up.
But after a 5-minute break, I felt better and I thought, no man, I can do this. Crampons on, ice axes out, and off we went. Zigzagging through the ice and snow. You use your ice axe always on the side of the mountain for support and in case of slipping. You have to lift your feet and dig into the ice with the crampons. It is not difficult though, you quickly get the hang of it. My legs still aching, I was slowing down considerably. The assistant guide asked if I want to take off the heavy and hot jacket. Yes! I get hot really quickly and it makes me more miserable. Slowly, slowly ascending this wonder of nature. I have to admit, the views are amazing if you actually take the time to look...
I stopped every few steps, slowing down more and more. I was using my ice axe more and more to lean on than for support only. The others kept going at a very fast pace, while I was dragging behind with an assistant guide trying to keep up (or down?). Eventually he offered to carry my backpack as well (so embarrassing!) , maybe hoping that I would be faster. But alas, still slow. By this time, my leg muscles were starting to cramp. We're not even half-way up. An hour later we stop again. Relief! The views of the lakes below are amazing and energizing.
Note that we went in summer and most of the snow on the volcano was melted. If the mountain is covered in snow and ice, you will use the crampons and ice axe for most of the way. Down will also be much quicker and easier.
It took me extra long to do this climb. The others were climbing so fast, it felt like they were running and then waiting for me to catch up. I felt so bad, lagging behind and slowing them down.I was grateful for the assistant guide that kept walking really slowly with me and making sure I was OK. In the end the others actually rested much more between each leg than I did because of this reason, but anyway. I felt slightly better when I saw that a few other tourists were also having a hard time. Some didn't even have crampons and that ice is slippery. That must have been much harder to climb (Tip: make sure you get crampons!).
Not impressed ! This photo says it all. So tired.
We eventually made it to the base of the crater at just after 1 pm. Here you rest for quite some time. I was grateful because with every step my leg muscles would spasm and cramp. You take off all the unnecessary clothing, crampons and have lunch before you put on your gas mask and go and see the crater. This is an active volcano that emits heavy gasses. They are not sure if it is really toxic, but the gas mask is a must. The fumes make you cough instantly.
I was relieved that the climb was over. Standing on top of this volcano that truly kicked my ass, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I really had to dig deep and find my happy place. I learned so much about personal mental strength and motivation on this climb.
The views were amazing from the top.
And so, what goes up, must come down.
Down is much more fun though. You don your waterproof pants and jacket and strap a butt board to your waist - a plastic board the size of your butt that you push to the back between your legs. You then sit on it and slide down the volcano on the ice. You use your ice axe to control your speed. This was so much fun and gave our legs a break. Because there was only ice until about 3/4 of the way down, you still need to walk down in some places. My legs were jello and without crampons, I was slipping and sliding on some isolated icy patches. O my word, I fell on my ass, my left side, my right side and once on my face (I think I also tore a ligament in my thumb because it is still sore 3 months after this climb). I just had enough of this f**king volcano! I was done, I was exhausted and just needed to get off.
It is obviously much faster down than up but it still took a couple of hours. We got home at around 7. I was a zombie. Po was also tired. He also said it was hard and challenging, but what an accomplishment and adventure. Maybe he is just more fit than I am. We slept for like 12 hours that night.
Note: I am convinced that I got sick because of this climb a week later. Not sure how, but the mix of icy cold air, pure exhaustion, and toxic gasses wasn't very good for my lungs.
How to choose a tour company
We went with Chile Expeditions because other blogs suggested it. They were more expensive than the other quotes we got at 95 000 Pesos versus 80 000 Pesos.
The owner and guide is a professional mountaineer however he kept complaining that the group (as a whole) was too slow even though they kept up with him which pissed off a couple of girls in the group.
The second guide was really sweet in waiting for me and motivating me to get to the top.
We got free craft beer and strawberry's when we got back to the offices.
They provided the following gear:
Waterproof pants and jacket
Mountain Hiking boots
A backpack to carry it all.
Most companies have professional experienced climbers leading the ascend, so it doesn't really matter who you go with.
Tour Company Questions
Make sure you get crampons for this hike if there is ice, as some companies don't provide them, and it is really slippery without them
Make sure you get a guide for every 4 tourists in a group. Most companies offer this, but make sure. You don't want to climb by yourself if you have a problem (or walk really slow).
The ski-lift is optional (if it works) but saves you an hour's hike. If you are fit and used to hiking uphill, it's not necessary.
What to take
Food and snacks
Bandana for protection against ice-cold air.
Extra 10 000 pesos for the ski lift.
How to prepare for the Villarrica Volcano hike
If you are not an avid hiker or used to uphill climbs, I strongly recommend you do some training beforehand.
A lot of cardio, obviously. You need strong quads and a strong "posterior chain" - glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Great exercises to do are burpees (the most hated of them all), squats, and deadlifts. Do some uphill runs and stairs as well.
Mental preparation is key. Prepare yourself for a difficult hike and you should be fine.
Eat a carb-heavy meal the night before to store up on some energy, you are definitely going to need it.
Get enough sleep.
We recommend this hike, it is actually quite amazing, so if you have the opportunity, you should do it.
If you have any comments on questions, feel free to do so in the comment box below, share it with your friends on social media.
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