Pucon - after Ian told me about the volcano climb, it was in my top 5 destinations to visit in South America. It is THE tourist hotspot for Chileans during their summer holidays so it must have something going for it. However on arrival after a bad nights sleep on the semi cama bus from Santiago, the town didn´t look as attractive in drizzly rain as it did in any of the photos. However with a number of adventure activities in mind for Pucon, a little rain wasn´t going to put me off - at least you get wet white water rafting anyway ! Checked into 1st choice hostel and found a lovely coffee shop for breakfast which was an immediate hit with muesli and yoghurt on the menu.
After a little scouting around did a deal with one tourist company to do a duel activity of the more demanding white water rafting and the volcano climb for a slightly reduced price. By lunch time, weather was clearing up and had a cheap lunch from the supermarket and took it down to the lake waterfront to watch the world go by before getting to Aguaventura for my rafting. Just set off when there was a bang on the van and Joel was running down the street trying to get my attention. All the lads had also just arrived in Pucon for a few days so arranged to meet up later.
By the time we had arrived at the river and kitted out in my clowns waterproofs, the weather was great and really warm. Struggled a little with the Spanish safety instructions but guessed I would have time to practise before we hit the grade 4 rapids.
The group split into 2 and I was in the raft with just 4 others (raft normally fits 8), the guide and another Chilean and 2 Brazilians. Took 45 minutes to master the instructions to the satisfaction of the guide, especially as the 4 of us were really struggling to get the speed needed to make it through some of the rapids safely. However with practise time over and our time to enjoy the stunning scenery (with the river flanked by alpine trees, blue skies and a backdrop of the glacier capped Volcan Villarica behind us), we hit the serious rapids. All the fun of the Tully River, Cairns came back and the front of the raft nearly vertical as it went through the rapids. 3 more grade 4 rapids followed - not too technical with the guides instructions but a great rush and we got jolted every direction, hanging on to the rope to stay in the raft.
Our group just about stayed in, but one of the 2nd raft got thrown in at the top of one of the rapids and got bumped and bruised all the way down - got pulled back in a little shell shocked but laughed it off. Had to get out of the raft at 1 point as hit a major waterfall and too dangerous to raft - however got replaced with the traditional 15 foot jump off the rock into the fresh/freezing cold water. After a short stint of easy paddling, got the order to jump back in the water and float down through some minor rapids before it was all over far too quickly. Great fun and good value. Decided to splash out a little and get both the professional photos and video of the day. Complimentary pisco sour to finish off the trip went down well.
Met up with the Halifax lads for a couple of beers to catch up and agree how good Santiago was before ducking out for my early start on the volcano climb tomorrow.
Up at 6.20 for adventure day 2 - the much awaitied ascent of Volcan Villarica. As advised wrapped up well and then given specialised equipment of full overalls, helmet, crampons, ice axe and toboggan seat !! Weather slightly overcast but by the end of the 30 minute drive, we were above the clouds giving great views across to closeby volcanoes and a pure blue sky above us. Cable car up saved us the 1st hours walk before hitting the start of the glacier. Guides advised against using the crampons as glacier mainly snow, but I was really not comfortable walking up 6 inch path in just my walking boots, with a 200 metre slide down into craggy rocks below and just an ice axe as a break.
The group carried on for 30 minute stints making steady progress up the glacier. However at 1st stop, about to hit the steepest part of the climb and with views of several climbers falling over and sliding down the glacier, 3 of the 8 group wanted to turn back as not happy walking further - I wanted to continue so insisted on putting on the crampons. Continuing on, the crampons made such a difference and the walk became really easy and really good fun. Easily kept pace with the more experienced climbers and could take in the spectacular views up the mountain, down the mountain and across the top of the clouds. After another 45 minutes, we´d made the top of the glacier with just a further 150m to the summit. Unfortunately, our guide wouldn´t let us to the top as the volcano was spewing out toxic gases which were unfortunately blowing towards us preventing us from making the top to look down into the crater.
Had lunch waiting for the wind to change direction, watching other groups trekking up the glacier and enjoying the wonderful views. Eventually had to give up and start the descent. Gutted but still in awe of the spectacle got to see.
With the advice to put full waterproofs on and with our toboggan seats in hand, told to slide down pre-made toboggan runs cut into ice using the ice axe as your break to stop you from flying off the mountain. Tentatively gave the 1st run a go digging in my axe as hard as possible and cruising down - still went flying into the back of the person in front but never in danger of losing control. 2nd run, told to go down without seats making us slower on a much steeper slop - dug in the brake hard and enjoyed the ride.
By the 3rd, mountain getting less steep and tried to go down without break and several times nearly bounced out of run when hitting corners and needed to slam in ice axe hard to get control. Final run looking easy and having far too much fun caught me out as I 1st got launched out of the run and free fell down the glacier for 3 seconds before rolling onto front and braking with axe. Then over cooked a corner and went flying into a rock - fortunately for me (unfortunately for her) the previous person had done exactly the same and her ankle cushioned my impact - the guide came to the rescue but she hobbled down the rest of the mountain. Feeling a little guilty, but still not jading one of the funnest activities ever done, after being the most scared I´d been for a long time climbing up without crampons.
The views definitely some of the best experienced, with a blue sky looking down on the clouds. Amazing trip.
Back at the hostal, I had a new room mate - Frank from Germany, who was cycling the length of Chile - nutter. Really nice guy and joined me and the Halifax lads for food. Introduced us to Kunstman beer (German but strangely popular in Pucon) - very nice. The Halifax lads diappeared soon after dinner as they had the volcano climb tomorrow and left Frank and I to a little pub crawl. Good night until failed to talk our hostal out of a 1am curfew so called it a night before risking having to sleep on the beach.