When I first saw Volcano Villarrica, I felt drawn to know it. I will remember standing a little over half way from the top and looking back to see valleys below trailed in snow. I imagine the center of the volcano an immense beating heart with each snow covered valley acting as a vein reaching out to the towns below, inviting villagers and travelers alike to experience and understand the natural wonder that it is.
As much as I would like to believe I made the decision myself to hike the volcano, I looked at those snowy valleys below and felt the volcano had equally been calling me, inviting me to explore. One of the guides, Uber, told the group ‘Dios hizo las montañas, así que podíamos subir y ver su creación’, meaning ‘God made the mountains so that we could climb them and see His creation’. Until you start climbing, your reasoning for doing so is simple: ‘the volcano is immense and I want to get to the top’, because from below you can only see two things: the summit and the unobtrusive rocks scattered on the mountain. Of course as you continue up, these details become bold and you realize the little rock you had called your checkpoint could very well be it’s own mountain.
When the trek began, we were a group of six with our two guides. By the fourth hour, only my friend Jordan and I and our two guides were left. I have to give some credit to the Brazilian couple and the Australian who tried to climb the volcano because they had little to no experience walking on snow. It was a tough hike but it’s doable and by doable I mean if you can get through switchbacks in the fifth and sixth hour, then you can get through the switchbacks during the seventh hour, which will end at the top. For me, the end of the fourth hour through the fifth hour was the hardest part of the hike. It’s at the fifth hour when your walking on an ice sheet rather than snow. [I would like to pause and praise God for my crampons and my pickaxe because without them I would have been too afraid and unable to climb the volcano.] About half way through the sixth hour, the switchbacks continued and we climbed over a small part of the glacier to meet the strongest wind I have ever felt. Experiencing such strong winds made me feel so alive. In that moment, the summit seemed to be so close I could have run to the top, yet I had to maintain impeccable footing and balance or the wind would most likely have pushed me back down the mountain. I’m not sure why, but unlike the others I talked to, the wind really encouraged me to continue to the top.
After forty-five more minutes of zigzagging through the ice, we made it to the summit. It smelled of sulfur and every few minutes the volcano would release volcanic gas. It was overwhelming thinking that beneath my feet the earth was alive and could erupt at any given moment. As amazing as exploring the actual crater was, what left me breathless was the 360-degree view surrounding the volcano that allowed my eyes to see out in a radius of 200 kilometers. From where I stood, I could see seven other volcanoes, multiple lakes, and the Andes, which have yet to leave my side in Chile. We took fifteen minutes to explore, take pictures and relax before we started descending the volcano.
When we got down past the glacier and ice sheet, our guides told us to take our crampons off, and instructed us to put on the waterproof pants and this pant-bib thing. We then hooked a little plastic sled onto the pant bib thing and our guides told us to sled down the volcano. I was so confused and somewhat frightened by this, but then I thought to myself: when am I going to be able to extreme sled like this again? Truthfully, it was the best sledding I have ever done in my life, and it cut about four hours of walking off of our trek and again, it was awesome.