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|Mailed to WacList||12/23/2005|
What else to do on the first day of summer in Chile other than go ski a mountain?|
Originally my kids' grandpa Jaime had suggested this as a climb for me, Jamie, and Jonathan. But looking at the mountain and being an observant fellow I noticed it was covered with snow. So on the afternoon of the 20th we booked a trip up Volcan Villarrica (2847 m) with our able guide Alvaro, who was willing to ski down with me. I rounded up skiing equipment with the assistance of Eva (una mujer Chilena preciosa) and we were set. (The Chilean park service requires that you use guides if you aren't a trained mountaineer, which applies to my kids.)
The next morning at the crack of 9 am (the Chileans being civilized people) we started up. Following our theme of being civilized we first rode the charilift up to about 1600 meters, thus dispensing with a lot of walking. We ended up in a group with three guides (Alvaro, Nicholas, and Juanito), me and my sons Jamie and Jonathan, and four Chilean clients. The weather was decent: Partly cloudy with a little wind, and above freezing.
The climb itself is straightforward, sort of like Mount Adams although not as high. I climbed in tennis shoes with ski poles, although most people used boots and ice axes. The snow conditions were good corn snow with a steeper section of granulated icy snow at the top. You could slide into rocks or small crevasses but basically it's pretty safe. The ascent took us about four hours (1250 meters from the top of the chairlift), although we could have climbed considerably faster without the rest of our group.
Now I have to point out this is an active volcano. As we approached the crater rim we heard a booming sound... and discovered that basically this thing is erupting! When we looked down into the crater we could see glowing lava and blasts of steam and ash. We soon discovered that every few minutes small eruptions would throw pyroclasts several hundred meters into the air - higher than us! This seems a little, well, dangerous. I guess the Chileans monitor the volcano pretty closely and think they can predict the major eruptions. One hopes... Note that Volcan Villarrica is an andesitic volcano above a major subduction zone, not a tame Hawaiian-type volcano. Whatever. We had fun, Jamie and Jonathan were impressed, and we obviously lived to tell the tale.
Of course the main point of this climb for me was to ski down. I had talked Alvaro into skiing from the crater rim. So I recovered my ski boots from Juanito (who had absolutely insisted on carrying them - I fed him cookies) and Alvaro and I geared up. Nicholas and Juanito started down with the poor non-skiers while Alvaro and I skied the icy top 100 meters. We squeaked down it and waited for the others at the top of the good snow.
Here 1300 vertical meters of moderate to steep corn beckoned... At first Alvaro was a good head guide and waited periodically for his other clients, but with two other guides the clients were obviously pretty safe. So basically we cut loose. And this was really great skiing! Right up there with Mount Adams on the Fourth of July. Endless turns and lots of choices. We took a few breaks (Alvaro really is a good guide and mostly kept the others in sight) but we still got down in about an hour. By sking a steep ravine I was able to ski almost to the bottom of the chairlift, very happy with this mountain. Then we sat in the sun, drank cold drinks, and waited for the others. Very fun, and over too soon.
If you ever are in Chile I highly recommend this trip. The guide service we used was "Enjoy", they are competent and helpful (and even if you don't need guides using them is a good source of equipment and transportation). A very interesting volcano and a truly great ski descent!