It is THE volcano in Pucón, the Villarrica. The cone-shaped mountain rises majestically into the sky, on some days with a small cloud of smoke. Many visitors travel here just to climb this peak. We are not here just for that, but of course don't want to miss this treat. The roads are lined with agencies, all tempting us with summit luck, but we want to try it on our own.
Technically, the mountain is not very demanding and therefore our knowledge should be sufficient. To climb the peak without a guide, you have to go to the local park authority of the Conaf and apply for a permit. This is only granted if one can prove one's alpine experience. Through our membership in the SAC (Swiss Alpine Club) we get this permission without any problems. A first step is taken.
Thanks to the local popularity, it is easy to find a shop to rent the missing gear. Indeed, without crampons, helmet, mountaineering boots and ice axe, one is not allowed into the national park where the volcano is located. As the volcano is spewing more smoke and ash at the time of our ascent, a breathing mask is also recommended.
After intensive preparation with moderately good maps and the right weather window, we set off early in the morning. The drive to the park entrance takes about 40min. No one is allowed into the park before 7am. At the entrance we have our equipment and permit checked and pay the park fees. Then we continue on a rough track to the foot of the mountain. We didn't find out until the end which of the two accesses is more suitable and finally decided on the one recommended by the park attendant at the reception. Unaware that we had chosen the longer route, we set off on the ascent in perfect conditions. Of course, we are not the only ones, various groups are also on the way. If you are looking for solitude on the mountain, you are definitely wrong here, but we were aware of that. The advantage of this is that we don't have to constantly do our own track work, which saves a lot of energy in the slushy snow. We started without snow, but after about 40 minutes we already reached the snow line. Step by step we climb up the mountain, overtaking a group every now and then, and when we have some breathing space left, we enjoy the view. The ascent drags on, the crater rim is always in front of our eyes, it seems so close and yet is so far away. After 3/4 of the way up, we mount the crampons, as the upper part is a bit icy. After 5.5 hours, we reach the summit with satisfaction and are rewarded with a perfect all-round view. But even better is the view into the bubbling crater. You can't see a lava lake, but due to the increased activity we are lucky enough to see spraying lava, something we can't take for granted, even the guides are thrilled by the spectacle. If the wind is blowing in our direction, the mask comes in handy, because the toxic fumes are no joy for our reliable breathing organ. We are delighted to reach the summit, but the secret highlight is the descent, which should rather be called the downhill ride. Typically, you go down the slope on a sort of plastic sledge. Since the conditions are still wintry, it's all the better, because you can practically slide on the bottom of your trousers right to the beginning. The guides of the groups kindly instruct us on how to use the sledge and the ice axe, so that we are well prepared for the descent. A great pleasure! The 5.5 h ascent is completed in 1.5 h downhill and it's great fun. Back to the time when we were still tobogganing down the slopes as children, we are now tobogganing for the grown-ups, which means sliding down an entire volcano.
The last few metres we have to do on foot again, as there is no snow there. Those who choose the other approach can sledge all the way to the car. After this fun, these few metres are no problem. Tired and happy, we reach the car park, load the equipment and travel back to Pucón.
The ascent of this Villaricca was for us, as for many others, a highlight of our time in Pucón. Financially, it was worthwhile to go up without a tour and we enjoyed the freedom to decide on our own pace and breaks. But it's a good thing that there are many reliable local providers, because for many local visitors the climb is their first contact with crampons and the like. A few weeks later, we are glad to have seized the opportunity. The approach is forbidden because the activity of the mountain is increasing. You are no longer allowed to reach the summit, and who knows how long this restriction will last - last time it was 6 months...