My eyelids were heavy and the air I breathed in was cold. Like sardines in tin, we were squished into a rickety old mini van. The van clunked up the mountain and we bounced around inside. The day had not yet dawned but as I forced my eyes open, I caught glimpses of the snow covered terrain outside.
For the second day in a row we had stumbled out of bed at 4.30am, pulled on our mountain gear and made the trip the base of Volcano Villarrica. The day before we set out with the peak in site. After hiking for an hour in freezing conditions the bad news was broken. Wind was high and it was likely we would not summit. The two options were to return now and try again tomorrow or continue on and hoped the wind would die down. We choose the first, as we wanted to give ourselves the best chance to reach the summit.
Villairrca stands at 2847m high and is one of Chile's most active Volcanoes. Located by the town of Pucon, adventures flock to the region, many trekking the famous volcano. Our second day to the mountain didn’t look as promising. Cloud covered the peak but we decided to set out, in hope that the conditions would clear.
The first stages were easy and relatively flat. Our toes became numb quickly from the snow underfoot. The sun gave us light but the cloud lingered, we pushed on. As we climbed higher our group thinned out. Sticking to the front we stopped every hour for snacks, water and to take in the view. The clouds were lifting and we towered above the country below.
After three hours of solid trekking the incline began to steepen. The surface underfoot became more difficult to navigate and we grew colder. Tunes blared through my headphones and helped me concentrate as the volcano steepened. Soon every step became important. Losing your focus meant losing your rhythm, placing any foot wrong would send you sliding down the mountain.
Another two hours at this pace and we were now in the clouds. The surface changed every ten meters as we zig zagged out way up. There was no choice but to navigate the slippery, constantly changing snow underfoot. Now we could see only meters ahead and struggled to see all seven of our team in the chain line. Our ice pics became crucial for balance as the volcano continued to steepen.
At the next break we were half way. Unfortunately there was bad news. The conditions were making it impossible for us to continue. The guides would be putting us in danger if we went any higher. Perched on the mountain side we ate our frozen sandwiches disappointed that we could not continue.
When we came to terms with the news and shifted our focus to the descent. The fun part was about to begin. We pulled on our snow nappies and attached the plastic sliding disc to our harness. Sitting on our bums, we were instructed to lift our legs and lean back. The ice pic was the break, driving it hard into the snow and ice to slow down. At first the steepness made me nervous but there was no other way down. Squatting above the snow my fellow hikers left one by one. I was off too, racing at the speed of light almost out of control. Speeding down the face, which had taken us hours to hike. The view was amazing and the ride was epic!
Returning to the hostel, there were mixed emotions about Villarrica. Disappointed that we had not been able to summit, we felt defeated. Villarrica had thrown us tough conditions but an amazing experience, one not to be forgotten.
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