Over the last 6 days Ryan and I have been staying with his uncle Tom, who we fondly call "Don Thomas". He has been really good to us, giving us a place to stay (without paying, bonus!), cooking us breakfast and dinner every day, and taking us around to all of the local spots. I guess we were getting a little antsy from all of the special treatment, and wanted something a little challenging. We decided, to climb Volcan Villarrica.
This imposing 9000+ foot behemoth towers above the town Pucon. Still an active Volcano, it last erupted sometime in the 60's and still can be seen with smoke coming out of it on almost a daily basis. We had read about guided treks up the Volcano, and decided that it was time to embark on the first real adventure of our Journey.
We met up with the guides around 7:30 in the morning, and we're paired up with two sisters from Orlando. When we got to the trail head we were at around 4,000 feet, and really excited to start. We we're outfitted with backpacks, boots, Ice axe, and some water proof clothes.
The hike started off steep as hell, and as I looked up at the beast which beckoned me, I knew I was in for a fight.
The hike started on loose volcanic rock, which as it got steeper, changed to snow. We were then instructed how to use our Ice axe to keep our balance and proceeded to hike a never ending snow staircase which switched back and forth for 5 hours.
It really never seemed to end, many times I looked up at the other tour groups ahead of us, and saw how much further we had to go. Several times we would look up and see the top, and as we rounded the horizon, we saw that it just kept going and going. The ever increasing staircase started to take its toll.
Now just before this trip, I started to walk 5 miles every day, trying to prepare myself for the walking /hiking that was in store for me. However this did little to prepare me for a Volcano of this magnitude. Around 4 hours into the hike, and probably 1000 feet below the summit, my left leg started to cramp. As I pushed on, keeping the pace, it became worse, and about 500 feet below the top, both of my legs cramped so bad I had to sit down from the pain. It was quite strange for I had been drinking plenty of water, and didn't feel exhausted. But my legs were not having fun from the almost vertical hike.
I was super pissed as I watched Ryan and the others in my group press on. There was no way I was going to come this far and not see the top of this volcano. As I tried to massage my legs, I remembered that sugar helped with cramping, and I just so happened to have several nectarines in my bag. I ate two quickly, waited a few more minutes, took in the view, and then stood up. Miraculously my legs felt much better, and though behind the others, I eventually made it to the top.
It was quite a magnificent site. As we rounded the crest of the Volcano, the snow gave way to a gaping pit which smelled of foul sulfur. One gust of wind brought a stench so bad that I gagged and Ryan's mouth and eyes watered. We meandered around the lip of the volcano for a bit, and then prepared for our decent.
As we put on our full snow suits, helmets and a weird kind of butt pad, we realized we weren't going to walk down this Volcano, we were going to slide down. There were well worn ruts shooting down the steep slopes for thousands of feet. After we were instructed how to break using our Ice axe, we flung ourselves down endless luge like slides. It was hard to tell but if felt like we were going at least 40 miles an hour on some of the steeper sections. I'm not sure how I didn't wipe out but I didn't, and what took us 5 hours to climb up, took us only 1 hour to slide down. It reminded me of my youth when I was sledding down the big hill in Lynwood, except this was exponentially faster, and higher. By far it was the most enjoyable part of the day.
By the time we got down, we were exhausted, and after a short bus ride back to Villarrica, we dreamt of hiking, sulfur, and sledding way into the night.