Chubby Don Carlos Carrillo had not thought for decades to walk beyond the streets of the town, let alone get involved in radical climbs.
Even so, the local correspondent of the national radio station BioBio assures us with all his Latin American propagandist energy that, since we had come so far, we could not avoid the challenge: “chiquillos, you are a unique opportunity but it has to be ya mañana. You won't regret it, I promise! I'm going to call to los chicos that go up and I say they go ! "
We needed to recover from the exhausting navigation between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt aboard the Navimag freighter cruise. Furthermore, it had included a stormy crossing of the Gulf of Peñas. And of the road ordeal that we undergo later to go from the port of destination to faraway Pucón.
Self-respecting travelers are used to punishing their bodies in exchange for conquests. The towering ice and lava summit of the imposing Villarrica justified any and all new sacrifices.
To the conquest of the Villarrica Volcano
The 7 am awakening is slow and painful. Only upon arrival at the meeting point does the frigid air of the Chilean continental autumn rescue us once and for all from torpor, right on top of the beginning of the ascent.
We meet the group at the base of the cable car system that ensures the ascent to the mountain's snowy area. After the introductions and the first mechanical climb, on sharp and uncomfortable crampons, we followed the leaders and began to struggle with the icy slope.
A few hours later, we reached 2500 meters of altitude. The increasingly colder and thinner air demands slow, deep breaths, like the steps we force under the weight of our bodies and backpacks.
There are 347 meters to the top, a final effort for the guides to prepare the group. We don't see a cloud in the sky.
We spend the last breathless break enjoying and photographing the limpid views of Pucón, Lake Villarrica that keeps you company and the Araucaria forest that surround them and the mountain on which we find ourselves.
One of the guides, Xavi, takes the opportunity to give us information and instructions about the crater. She enthusiastically assures us that we were about to sniff her.
Villarrica: A Mighty But Merciful Volcano
Despite the apparent contradiction, Villarrica is, at the same time, one of the more active volcanoes and most climbed in South America, one of only five in the world that hides a lake of lava in the interior. It generates strombolian eruptions that project pyroclastic materials and normally contained lava flows.
Over the years, the people of Pucón and surrounding areas have become accustomed to relying on the activity estimates of Chilean scientists and on the volcano. So much so that they installed a ski center with 20 slopes on its softer slope, operational from July to September, during the austral winter.
But Villarrica did not always tolerate insults. In separate eruptions of 1971 and 1972, lava flow and rain melted the snow and gave rise to lahars. These lahars, caused significant destruction in several villages and, together with toxic gases, caused at least 30 deaths.
Since then, the mountain has produced several other volcanic events worth noting. Almost all forced the ban on ascents and even the evacuation of the ski center and surrounding areas.
Even so, Villarrica did not claim victims again. As we ascended, we had faith that, even on that glorious day, he would remain merciful.
About the Sulfurous Crater of Villarrica
We won another half-hour of climbing. As Xavi had promised, we smell the sulfur. The snow disappears again. Shortly thereafter, we conquered the smoking top of the cone.
Fear urgent need to catch your breath but, as we were warned, the toxic breath released by the volcano cuts our breath and generates a compulsive dry cough that even the wet handkerchiefs we have to cover our mouths and nose prevent.
We decided to postpone the relief of the burning legs and skirt the crater until we escaped the sulfuric wind. Only when we reach an unpolluted point on the shore can we sit and watch its curious multicolored edges, the strange galleries of resistant ice and the, luckily, tiny ebbs of lava.
And between the two, at the foot of the southern slope, the huge Pichillancahue-Turbio glacier, full of cracks and dotted with small blue lagoons formed by the melting of the surface.
This panorama, in particular, caresses our soul. We feel like admiring it for time without end.
Almost Night Return to Pucón
But it had been nine hours since early morning. Worried about the prospect of a lightless return, Xavi summons the group to the descent. It didn't take us long to realize why visibility was, in that case, even more important.
Instead of the conventional walk down the slope, we are supposed to slide like a slide through channels already opened in the snow and ice.
From fun to start, the adventure becomes frightening as the slope of the ducts brushes the verticality.
"Force with the martillo!!" Grab the martillo against the wall! Another guide shouts again as he descends at high speed, to encourage us to use the ice hammer as a brake. In certain parts, the ice channels widened more than expected. They demanded an experience in that unusual sport that we didn't have.
As a result, the descent captivates us with some not-so-smooth landings and a decorating collection of bruises.
We return to the thawed zone of the slope. We covered it no longer by cable car but with long strides over an inconsistent earthy surface.
We got stuck halfway through our shins and filled ourselves with volcanic dust, which, several baths later, we continued to struggle to remove. With the suffering over, we surrender to the rewards of local cuisine.
We had conquered the volcano.
The discovery of the most affordable good followed Pucón.