Pucon (June 30- July 4, 2016)

Pucon is another town with gorgeous nature. Agencies offer all sorts of adventure activities. We set our minds on tackling their most famous attraction, the most active volcano in Chile. Volcano Villarrica.

This beauty erupted last year and we were about to trek it. Excluding breaks, 4 hours is the usual time to reach the top. A great first trek option for beginners, which we are. Of course one should be semi fit if one doesn’t want to stop midway. According to our guide, most people arrive at the top, except for many Brazilians/warm climate residents since they seem to have the wrong mind set, being new to snow.

The mountain is covered by snow year around, except that the altitude of where the snow starts alters by the season. At the highest point, successful trekkers can look down into the crater and potentially see lava! Unfortunately, no such luck for us. Right before descending I did get a whiff of poisonous sulfur. The agency did provide a gas mask, but the guide ensured we didn’t need the mask due to the light wind initially to the opposite direction of us. Actually, we were going to conquer this mountain the day before, but the wind strength would have made the upper mountain too dangerous to trek, sure to force us to quit midway. So we chose to hope for better weather the following day.

At the beginning of our challenge. Faint sulfur smoke visible at the top.

At the beginning of our challenge. Faint sulfur smoke visible at the top.

The beginning to the trek was freezing. Even though I wore extra layers, I was cold, especially my toes. The group had special gear provided by the agency, shoes included. The guides warned us to be careful when setting down our items if we don’t want to permanently part from them. The snow’s surface had frozen over and became slick. That didn’t stop a Tasmanian guy from carelessly putting down his agency-provided helmet immediately after the statement. The helmet started sliding. He should have bowed down to me in gratitude for rescuing the helmet before it was too late. I’m just kidding. He was an interesting guy, whom we exchanged fun cultural and political notes with later.

There was an English speaking couple though whom I could have done without. First they were 30 minutes late, forcing the entire group to wait. The guy lost his helmet and didn’t seem to care about the loss at all. One of the three guides had to climb down to retrieve it. Poor guy. The girl had a hard time keeping pace and started falling behind. Eventually separating the couple from the group. They never made it to the top. Although a Brazilian guy in the group made the climb against the odds of the agency unscientific pool.

View from midway break point.

View from midway break point.

The government has regulated how many people can be at the top at once, as well as set the time limit of 1pm. If the group doesn’t reach the top by 1pm, they can’t continue. Our guides did a great job setting the pace that was manageable to keep up with and got us there on time. I’m glad I’ve been walking for days. Helped me a lot. I was releaved when we would get our resting periods. On our way up, my favorite part was the end. The icy part. Yes, I had to watch my step carefully not to slip into oblivion, but there I didn’t have to deal with sinking into the snow (which takes much more energy). The pickax was definitely needed throughout the climb.

Throughout the climb I would look around taking in the glorious views. Bunch of mountains and even lakes. On regular hikes my reward for my effort is the view. But this trek rewarded me with views and something else. Sledding! Yes, I didn’t need to struggle on my way down. I can shred down.

Everybody slipped into their waterproof pants and jacket worn over the regular clothing at the top and we headed down on a piece of plastic as our sled. Little intimidating for some, who constantly used their pickax to break as instructed, but I only wanted to go faster. The more snow that is on the mountain, the further down you can sled. We didn’t have abundance in snow. Therefore, we had to sled down in single file to avoid the rocks peeping out of the white.

Geared up to sled.

Geared up to sled.

This excursion wasn’t the easiest for me, but definitely rewarding. My first trek and first time being on a volcano. Back in town I had a random dog follow me for 30 minutes for the first time as well. When we exited the grocery store, this strange dog walked next to us to the hostel, camped outside until we came back out, trotted with us to the lake, hung around us there, and then back to the hostel, where I’m uncertain how long he waited before he left.

I’m ok with dogs, but I liked this one. He was a bigger sized dog that never barked, even when other dogs were barking at him. I named the dog Vince. Vince ran the risk of being sent home to my parents until my return, but that wouldn’t be fair towards the dog, nor economically friendly to my wallet. Vince, you shall remain in my memory forever.

Cost breakdown of Pucon in USD:

  • Hostel: $42 (4 nights)
  • Transportation: $18.92 (initial busses to the city)
  • Food: $17.30 (groceries)
  • Activity: $101.89 (Volcano trekking)
  • Miscellaneous: $18.92
    • $11.64 (gloves)
    • $7.28 (sunglasses)

Total: $199.03. Daily Average Cost: $49.76.