Friday, March 31, 2017

Falls and Flows of "Sur Chico"

Greetings Everyone,
We are back on the mainland exploring Chile's Lake District.  On March 13 after leaving Chiloé Island we headed to Puerto Varas, a touristy town on the shore of Lake Llanquihue northeast of Puerto Montt.

It was drizzling in the morning and we couldn't decide on the day's activities so we ended up driving to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. Created in 1926, it is the oldest park in the country. At the end of the road was Lago Todos los Santos and a short distance away were the Petrohué River Falls that cut through the basaltic lava created by past eruptions of Osorno Volcano.

Petrohué River Falls

To get a closer look at the volcano we drove up the road toward a ski area at its base.  The clouds had cleared and we had good views.

Osorno Volcano

When we reached the ski area the chair lifts were running.  We didn't have much time so we bought tickets to ride up.  I hadn't been on a chairlift in awhile so being so high off the ground was a bit scary.

On the Chairlift to Osorno Volcano

We rode one, got off and had to ride a second to the top.  We were still 3200 feet below the summit of 8701 feet.  We climbed about 200 feet to a final viewpoint.  A lenticular cloud formed over the summit, cool from this vantage point but the wind would be howling above.


Lenticular Cloud over Osorno Volcano

The clouds were building all around us so it was time to head back.  On the ride down, the volcano became completely obscured by clouds so our timing was good.


Clouds Building Below Us

The next stop on our "Sur Chico" Tour was the Hulio-Hulio Biological Reserve, a private natural reserve and ecotourism project in southern Chile. The reserve was created in 1999 and includes 600 square kilometers (232 sq mi) of native forest in Chile dedicated to wildlife conservation and tourism. The reserve is owned by the businessman Víctor Petermann who bought it in the 1990s. I was hoping to see more mammals here but they were elusive and rarely seen. We enjoyed a few short hikes to check out some of the impressive waterfalls along the Fuy River. The Hulio-Hulio Falls plunged 130-feet giving us a spectacular view.


Hulio-Hulio Falls

On to Pucón, the adventure capital of "Sur Chico" where Villarrica Volcano, one of Chile's most active, loomed over town. "Could I climb it?" I wondered so we checked in at Pucón Adventura to find out.  The young guy at the front counter replied "no problem" when I asked how hard it was to climb. He told me "if a 78-year Chinese man could do it so could I" and we signed up for Sunday's excursion.

The following day we drove to Huerquehue National Park to do a warm-up hike.  Our objective was San Sebastián Volcano but after climbing about 2000 feet we decided to save some energy for tomorrow.  We stopped in a high meadow for lunch where strange-looking trees grew.  They were evergreens with thick pointed leaves.  They looked like Joshua trees on steroids or maybe Morticia's pet plant, Cleopatra, on the Adams Family TV show.  We guessed that they might be Monkey Puzzle Trees.


San Sebastián Volcano

We were up at 5:00 the following morning for the big climb. We drove to Pucón Adventura and were among the first to arrive around 6:15.  We were sent upstairs to get our stuff.  In addition to boots, which were different than the ones we tried on yesterday, and gaiters we were given a pack with crampons, rain pants and jacket, a diaper (more on that later), plastic sheet for glissading, gloves, outer mitts and a gas mask!  So much stuff... I added my personal gear and my pack was heavier than I'd like.  We were introduced to the 4 guides for our group of 11 clients.  The other climbers came trickling in and we piled into a van for the drive to a ski area at the base of the volcano.  We unloaded and were given the choice to walk up from the parking lot or take the chairlift.  We opted for the lift along with 2 of the guides and 4 climbers.  There were lots of other groups starting out with us.  It would be crowded on the mountain.

Start of the Climb

The chairlift moved swiftly cutting off 1200 feet of climbing but we still had 3300 feet to go.  We unloaded and began the climb.  It was straightforward at first passing the ruins of a chairlift destroyed by an eruption in 1971.

Damaged Lift House

We were taken under the wing of the senior guide Elias.  Being by far the oldest in our group and maybe on the mountain I think he expected us to be slow and we were.  However we were steady and when the others stopped for a break we kept on going.  Elias liked this.  Two French guys joined us as their group was moving too slow behind us.  In about 1500 feet we reached the glacier.

At the Toe of the Glacier

Elias put on our crampons and we pulled out our ice axes.  The first pitch was on a side slope and steep.  I didn't like it.  Elias told me to relax.  It wasn't that hard but my anxiety was getting the better of me.  We kept climbing steadily and I began to get into the rhythm. The others stopped but we just took a short break for water.  There were a few more steep pitches but by now I had calmed down and convinced myself that I just might make it to the top.
  

1st Pitch Up the Glacier

We reached the end of the glacier where we took off our crampons and packs and left them with many others.  The last pitch was an easy climb on a path worn free of scree.  As we approached the summit we had to put on our gas masks, the sulfuric fumes were that strong.  We were the first of our group to reach the top around noon.  Elias was happy.  He kept saying our pace was good.  Yes, we know. 


Summit!

We walked to the rim and peered over.  We could see the glowing red magma crater about 1000 feet below.  Cool!  The volcano burped red lava and Marc got a photo.



Volcano's Burp

We left the rim to enjoy the view of the other volcanoes piercing the clouds but I wanted to see the lava again so went to the rim once more.  We were on the summit for about 15 minutes before heading down.  I had trouble finding my pack.  There were so many piled about since we had left them behind.  We had a sandwich before getting geared up for the glissade down.  I wanted to walk down but it wasn't an option.  We put on our rain pants and jacket, our diaper, hung the plastic sled from our waist belts and put on our overmits.  The diaper was a heavy nylon pad for keeping snow out of our pants as we glissaded down.

It was time to descend but I wasn't ready.  I couldn't quite figure out how to use the ice ax as a brake. Elias' instructions seemed simple enough - "Ok, sit down in the chute, keep your legs straight, keep your ice ax point out to the side so you don't impale yourself, use the tip of the ice ax to brake, hold it near the end, don't drop it, don't crash into the person in front of you, hope the person behind you doesn't crash into you and off you go!".  It wasn't that hard once I got the hang of it.  I remember doing it once before long ago.


Peggy's Glissade

We glissaded down 5 pitches of 400-500 feet of various steepness.  When it wasn't too steep, we used the plastic sled to make us go faster.  Mine didn't work and I stopped sliding so had to use my feet to crawl down like an inchworm.  We made it down 2000 feet in no time.  I must admit it was easier than walking down with crampons and much safer.  The routes up and down were different so you didn't having to worry about colliding with someone coming up.  The guides kept the glissaders out of trouble.  Once off the glacier we removed all of our glissade gear off and walked down in thick scree.  It broke your stride so was much easier on the knees. 


Down the Scree Slopes

We were first up in our group but among the last down. We reached the van around 3:30. Yea! We climbed Villarrica, one of the most active volcanoes in Chile!

Our Villarrica Volcano Hiking Route

We decided to drive to Temuco, the final stop in our Lake District Tour, by way of Conguillío National Park. We enjoyed views of the lava fields from past eruptions of Llaima Volcano, one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Chile.  At 10,253 feet it is about 900 feet higher than Villarrica.

 
Llaima Volcano

We stopped at Lago Verde where we had lunch.  A little further we stopped to view Lago Arciris, a lake that had been formed when the lava formed a dam and flooded the forest.  We then drove through a grove of Araucaria araucana (commonly called the Monkey Puzzle Tree). 


Araucaria araucana (commonly called the Monkey Puzzle Tree). 

It is an evergreen tree growing up to 100–130 ft in height. It is native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina.  Araucaria araucana is the hardiest species in the conifer genus Araucaria.  Because of the longevity of this species, it is described as a living fossil.  It is also the national tree of Chile. Its conservation status was changed to endangered by the IUCN in 2013 due to the dwindling population.  The leaves are thick, tough and triangular with sharp tips.  

Monkey Puzzle Tree Leaves

We arrived in Temuco around 5:00 and checked into our hotel for our final night in the Lake District. We enjoyed exploring this region of lush farmland, dense temperate rainforest, snowcapped volcanoes, plunging waterfalls and deep, clear lakes.  We highly recommend a road trip to this accessible area.  You won't be disappointed!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:


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