HIKING VOLCAN VILLARRICA
At around 9am, we arrived at the base of the volcano. The sky still looked gorgeous.
We had congratulated ourselves about our good fortune with the weather but the guides told us the weather was going to turn bad soon. There was a forecast of rain and clouds.
Gosh, we would never have guessed.
Juan, one of the guides, explained that we would take the chairlift higher up and then, take about 3 to 4 hours to climb up to the crater. As this was a tourist group, we would go slow and stop every 30 or 45 minutes to drink some water, eat energy bars, apply sun-screen, take photos.
However, the first guide leading the way, Claudio, was marching up at an incredible speed and very soon, the group was split into two. I was at the end of the first group. We zigzagged up the snow without rest.
He explained to us that because of the coming foul weather, he would prefer to walk really fast. We would stop after one hour of hiking at a lava section, rest for 10 minutes and then, head off again. At this speed, he explained, we could summit in two hours.
Two hours??? Back in town, my hostel lady had said five hours. Then, Juan said three to four hours and now, Claudio expected us to get there in two hours. Those who were slow, he said, should drop back and join Juan's group.
I fought against the icy wind and coped with the slippery, unsteady snow as best as I could.
Uli, a German guy who walked with me (because 'Rule #1 in Mountaineering : NEVER WALK ALONE') and I were soon surrounded by clouds. Everything was white. I looked up and we had totally lost sight of the 'fast' group. Many times, I was not even sure which was the trail.
My hands had turned black. I had no idea what the first symptons of frostbite were and I did not wish to find out. It was only when we arrived at some exposed lava that I felt safe enough to stand on it (for, unlike snow, it would not give way easily), set my backpack down and hunt for my gloves.
It was very unnerving to stand unsteadily on a snowy slope, being whipped around by the wind, unsure if you could make it up to the top safely and see little dots of people heading back. And when you looked up, you could see nothing ahead for everything WAS white.
We cleared the rest of the steep slope slowly and soon, we detected the smell of sulphur.
Officially, I was the LAST person of that day to arrive at the crater.
A Scottish lady told us that yesterday's group had reached the crater at 1:15pm. Our group arrived at 11:10am. It had been a very punishing hike for us all. But the weather yesterday had been great.
Surrounded by clouds, we could see nothing. The crater looked a little smokey but it could just be the moving clouds.
The weather was really bad now. We headed down, me with a lot of difficulties. We arrived at one point and Claudio said, "OK, everyone hold the ice-axe this way and slide down the slope! GO!!"
We took turns and slid down. We alternated between sliding and walking. During the walking bit, I was literally dragged down the slope by Claudio.
Sliding down was really an incredible experience. Sometimes, it was steep, we flew down effortlessly but barely able to keep in line. The wall next to us at some sections were rather high. Other times, it was not very steep and with the accumulated snow in front of our butts, we could not slide further.
We all lived to tell. I, barely.