Volcan Villarrica / by Strain

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The weather came through today and we were able to make an attempt at climbing Volcan Villarrica, near Pucon, Chile. I don´t have enough time for a full post right now, but I wanted to throw up a summit photo before I jump on a night bus for Santiago. Me with a bottle of Chilean Carmenère for the top of a Chilean volcano: (Photo credit: Reid Irwin)

**Full trip report with photos now up in the full post**

------- Well, I didn't have much time in Santiago so I'm finishing this one off back home in Vancouver. Climbing Villarrica was definitely one of the highlights of my trip, but it almost didn't happen - a high ceiling and no rain are requirements of travel on the volcano, and we had anything but for the first couple days of our stay in Pucon. It felt like I was back home in Vancouver during the October/November pineapple express season... constant downpour. The weather report for our last day in town was looking bleak as well, calling for overcast skies and a reasonable chance of rain. I went to bed expecting wake up to the sound of pouring rain.

I dragged myself out of bed at 6am the next morning, heard nothing, and poked my head out the window to a view of wood-stove smoke plumes rising lazily above Pucon, basked in the glow from the early morning light cast by the full moon. Shit, that was poetic. Game on.

I knew it hadn't exactly been warm over the past few days, but I was slightly surprised when we encountered the first fresh snow on the drive up to our start point, the base of Ski Pucon. There was a good 5cm in the parking lot, which had me wondering what the conditions would be like near the summit, 1400m above. Our guides were unconcerned by the snow, so we began the trek to the top.

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The ascent was slow and steady, with the group soon separating into 2 packs as those not accustomed to alpine hiking began to tire. Personally, I felt it was a pretty relaxing pace, which was a pleasant change from the sweat-soaked deathmarch uphills that I usually subject myself to. It had been a few years since I'd hiked above 2300 metres, anyways, and I wasn't sure how I'd feel at the 2847m summit. The slow climb made it a non issue for me, and I reached the top remarkably dry (those who know me, know I'm a sweaty beast) and breathing easy.

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I have to admit, I was a little disappointed upon reaching the top; there was no lava too be seen, and the fumes from the crater were so strong that we couldn't walk around the rim of the crater to catch a better view into the throat of the volcano. Just had time for a few photos and a victory swill from the bottle of caramere I lugged to the top before retreating down to an area of lower SO2 concentration for lunch.

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A summit pano:

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Volcanic gasses:

Our path up had been mainly crampon climbing over windblasted glacial ice, but the descent took us through a fairly sizeable area of 50cm deep windslab, which had me substantially more concerned than the volcanic activity above. Stepping above the track had 2m long blocks, 50cm deep popping out from under me... Our guide assured me that the slope, being only about 40 degrees, wasn't really steep enough to slide (umm, what?). The slope had been traversed by 20 or so hikers already, so I quickly glissaded my way down to the relative safety of exposed ice, without incident (I almost ripped my knee off on a rock while demonstrating my graceful glissade skillz further down the mountain, but I didn't take any photos so as soon as the scab heals, it never happened).

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A view during the descent:

When we got back down to the ski area base, my stoke was doubled when we saw some local shreds busting out the boards for the first snowfall of the season:

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There's a bunch more photos (camera jpegs) from the trip on my flickr photostream, but I'm feeling a little reluctant to post them here now that I'm back home and working on the RAW files. I don't usually shoot RAW+jpeg, but it was handy for the trip to be able to quickly upload the jpgs for my blog, and its really interesting to be able to see a side-by-side comparison of the camera jpegs and my Lightroom edits.

Stay tuned for a trip summary with RAW edits, a RAW vs jpeg comparison, and a note on the gear I took with me.