The day I climbed an active volcano in Pucon
Pucon is a mecca for travelers looking for adventure. If you’re an active person but you don’t particularly climb mountains or do white water rafting, you might be a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of activities you can do here. Or in my case, completely confused if I’m fit enough for any of them. Kayaking, hydrospeeding, volcano climbing, hiking in a national park, chilling in the hot springs (that I can do haha), horseback riding, checking out a hidden waterfall and so much more, there’s literally dozens of things to do. Hint: I totally am, haha.
I’m an active person, I run regularly, hit the gym when I’m at home on a regular basis, do yoga and eat healthy. I once ran a semi-marathon and I’ll do 20 km a day in a new city without batting an eye. I’ve done plenty of hikes in the last month and feel I’m up for most challenges. But climbing a volcano? I had no idea what to expect.
So when I saw this beauty in my first day in Pucon, I had serious doubts I could pull it off. Surely that’s something for professional climbers and incredibly fit people with an 8-pack, right? Wrong, babies, you can do it too!
I’m not going to lie, it’s a hard climb and if you do it in the low season there’s gonna be loads of snow through most of the climb. It will burn your legs and you’re going to regularly gasp for air. But it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, worth every drop of sweat and had loads of fun while pushing through it.
Here’s how to climb up Volcano Villarica, the Mada Version:
I stayed at the Chili Kiwi Hostel which was fun, laid back and spacious but they also have their own tours. They actually put together a completely new tour agency with tour guides from the city which enables them to give you the best price in town (75 000 Chileno pesos, around 100 euros).
Once I signed up and paid, they do a meeting the night before which is very reassuring and they give you a few papers to fill in as well. That’s where they also explain all the gear they’ll provide. The start is the early, meeting up at 6:30 am.
Now, any normal human being who only got 4 hours the sleep the night before, would have simply crashed hard and slept 12 hours before attempting to do anything physical. Through a combination of looking for food, a bank card not working anywhere (not mine), wine and me being my regular self, I ended up sleeping around 4-5 hours, woke up a few times and was definitely not ready to hike up volcano Villarica when I woke up.
The morning was a bit surreal but the guides showed up, geared us up (snow boots, wind jacket, waterproof pants, gloves, helmet, gas mask and a bunch of other stuff you will use when you slide down the volcano). Yes, you slide down a volcano, that’s a thing.
The team will drive you to the national park where volcano Villarica is, also known as Rucapillan, a Mapuche word for “Pillan’s house”. In our case, we had to wait for a bit as the guides weren’t sure we can do the climb with the weather conditions. We eventually got an ok and so we started some very exciting 8 hours.
The first 30-45 min were tough for me, it’s a steep ascend to the first break point and since we were a little late, we went a bit faster than normal. I didn’t doubt I’ll make it to the top but I hate being the one who’s the slowest. Big shout-out to our guides, Picky-picky, el Carretero, Charlie and Panchito who made me laugh and got me back to a good rhythm. Soon after, we started a zig-zag ascent where we used the ice pick.
The next hour or so was my absolute favorite, the views are absolutely breathtaking, the rhythm was slow and steady, the group was picking up nicely and the sun was finally showing up. Yes, your quads will be on fire, that’s one thing. Unless you’re one of those super fit people who can do this without breaking a sweat, in which case there’s big chances we can’t be friends.
Every hour we would stop to rest a little and have some snacks to fuel up. Cereal bars, sandwiches, cheese, chocolate, whatever works for you to pump yourself up, make sure you get enough food. Also think about where your food is in your backpack and don’t squash it when you sit on it. But you know what, squashed banana tastes good anyways.
The last part is just unbelievable, you’re just sitting there sipping water and having this fabulous view in front of you. It’s so beautiful I can’t even believe it when I look at photos now. That’s when you drop your backpacks for the last 15 min ascend which is quite steep, it feels so freeing to just carry yourself up there, no other weight on your shoulders. If you’re lucky, you will see the lava down the crater when you’re up there.
Once your 10 minutes on the crater are up (official regulations), you’re going down a bit to pick up your backpacks and prepare for what was my biggest challenge – sliding down the freaking volcano!
Now, my biggest focus point was staying on track and following the same path as the others. The secret, so you don’t roll over and keep on creating your own way is to keep the ice pick close to your hip and your legs close to each other. The guides are going to explain everything, but if it helps you not feel silly, there you go. After I got the hang of it, I absolutely loved it! It’s fun and it feels like being a kid again. In case it wasn’t clear, this means I rolled down a volcano with no control until I was finally able to stop my fall with my ice pick because badass. Or silly, depending on how you look at it.
There’s a bit of walking included at the end, but overall you should be back to your hostel at 5 pm. There’s a huge amount of agencies in Pucon so you can also shop around and get a vibe of them. I can’t recommend enough the guides from the hostel I stayed with.
So yes, if you don’t have a health conditions and consider yourself an active person, you can totally get up to 2847 on your own two feet and ice pick.
Did you ever climb something like this? Tell me all about it!