Villarrica Volcano, Pucon, Chile
My heart thumps. It feels like it’s trying to break out of my ribcage. My lungs heave. How can there be enough room for them to move in there with my overactive heart?
We haven’t been going for even an hour yet and my legs ache as well. There’s a burn in my thighs, a cramping in my calves and a general indescribable pain in my feet.
I’m on my way up the Villarrica Volcano near Pucon in Chile. Helmet affixed, warm clothes on and icepick in hand, this is going to be a challenge. It’s a steep climb for anyone and I’ve already realised I’m going to suffer particularly. It’s been a long time since I’ve done much exercise and many months of travelling have taken their toll on my general fitness. Oh why did I have that extra bottle of beer last night?
Thankfully the views of the surrounding area are distracting in their beauty. Not quite distracting enough to forget the burn creeping through my body. But it’ll do for now. The trek up the stones seems endless. One step after another, Michael. But with heavy boots on my feet and an even heavier pack on my back, each of those steps seems slightly harder than the last.
Then we hit the snow.
We’re at least 2,000 metres above sea level now and the floor of slippery rocks and tufts of durable plants has been replaced by a carpet of snow and ice. The trekking becomes slower as I struggle to keep my balance. It’s slippery at times, precarious at others and just downright wet and mushy at occasionally. The icepick is coming in handy now for support. I hope I don’t need to use it for its intended purpose, which is to stop myself from sliding all the way down the volcano if I fall over.
Climbing to the top of Villarrica Volcano
“Oi aya eh!”, someone ahead shouts as another person whistles. All of us climbing stop and look up to see some rocks hurtling their way down from above. One narrowly missed a couple of trekkers who have to jump aside just in time. This is a good time to rest for a few minutes.
The occasional breaks my group of trekkers have are a welcome relief from the constant pain in my legs. Unfortunately it also gives the bitter cold its chance to strike. Although the sun is out and it’s a beautiful day, as soon as we stop I start to feel the freezing temperatures. I’ve forgotten to bring gloves and my hands start to lose feeling. I have to put them in my pockets until we start moving again. However begrudging I am about climbing the volcano again, at least it will bring warmth.
The views have become even more striking since we’ve been on the snow. But there’s no need to turn around and look down to the valley because the real splendour is now the mountain itself. The snow undulates ahead of us, casting light shadows on the white expanse. Large outcrops of volcanic rock poke out occasionally from underneath the ice, giving everything a slightly mottled look.
At the very top of the climb there is only volcanic rock for the last hundred metres or so of altitude. The group and I have made it to this point and you can feel the excitement over how close we are. Of course, I can still also feel my heart, my lungs, my legs and now my back. But the ache is forgotten in the rush to conquer this last bit and reach the summit.
Scramble. Some loose rocks give way at my feet and I slip slightly. I take a wrong turn and need to use my hands to pull myself up and back onto the rough path. Another scramble. But it’s enough, enough to get me the last few steps and on to the very top of the Villarrica Volcano. All 2,847 metres of it.
The sense of satisfaction washes over me, replacing the soreness completely. The smoke coming out of the crater is obscuring the view of the land below but I know how high I am. I know what I have achieved.
It had been a five hour climb in total. Not the hardest thing I’ve ever done but, with my aforementioned lack of fitness, definitely a struggle. But it had all been worth it for this moment and the amazing sights I had seen along the way. This is what adventure travel is all about.
“What was going down like?”, I hear you ask. Well, that’s a story I can hopefully tell you in person someday. Let’s just say it was much more fun and involved a lot of sliding!
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