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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Dateline : January 03, 2006 - Volcano Villarrica

Once again sitting out on the veranda – thinking – there is a rain storm way at the end of the Vale Stucky with great white/gray/dark gray clouds rising above the rain storm. The colors reminded me of our trip to Pucon Chile in late 2005 – instead of rewriting about the trip I thought I could share with you a letter I sent to friends and family upon our arrival back in Rio. It should give you a feeling of being there with me.

Jan. 03, 2006

I have talked for the past 6 months – big talk – about climbing the Volcano Villarrica in Pucon Chile. I have mentioned to each of you how I was training really hard in Rio – long walks, weights, and some hiking with groups from the gym. I wanted to tell all of you at the same time the same story so I won’t have to relive this more than once.

To set this up properly you have to know the sequence of events:

Camillo and I were in Houston during the month of November (2005). We went to the SEG convention, eating and drinking every lunch and dinner for the 10 days. I tried to keep up my training for the volcano. I really did. After returning to Rio, we had one week in Friburgo to try to recover from the eating and drinking in Houston. I basically sat around that week in a coma.

The first leg of the VACATION was 3 days in Buenos Aires. Camillo wanted to (you will start to see a pattern) revisit some of his favorite places. The restaurant Los Chileans, the bar and restaurant Café Tortoni, The restaurant La Estancia, and dinner and tango show at the La Ventana. Both Argentina and Chile have very good red wines to try when you eat at his favorite places.  In BA, we ate, drank, and slept. After this marathon down memory lane, we flew to Santiago Chile and then went by car to Viña Del Mar on the Pacific coast of Chile.

There we walked on the beach and along the tree lined streets, visited a natural history museum and ate only two dinners in the two days we were there, no lunches but to be totally honest the hotel left a chocolate on the bed each night so we only had dinner but two deserts a day. The restaurant that we enjoyed the most was the La Dolce Vita. Italian owned and operated, Chilean wines and waiters that speak Italian. Camillo was in seventh heaven.  I was having trouble eating anything else.  On the last night, I had only Caprese, tomato slices with mozzarella cheese and capers and one glass of wine.  So much for my prior volcano climbing training.

Pucon: we were there for two days before I was able to sign up to join a group of eight others going up the volcano. It rained the first two days and no groups go up if raining. Our day dawned clear and bright. There were clouds lying across the top of Villarrica but the day held promise of sunshine.  I was picked up at the hotel at 7 am. We went to the tour office and dressed out in the special gear; calf high waterproof hiking boots, (I swear each weighed about 5 lbs.) a backpack with a meter long ICE PICK (iron), coveralls, some sort of leg wrap to make sure your waterproof boot stayed dry, and wind breaker over two sweaters, etc. (The windbreaker was also, “for keeping your cloths from ripping if you slid down coming back”.) In the backpack were three bottles of water, a jar of fruit juice, a sandwich, a snickers bar, etc. I, of course, had my big camera and just in case, the small one.  NOW, I was also carrying two weeks of eating good food and drinking at least several bottles of wine and, I estimate, about 20-30 lbs. in equipment.

The drive up to the base of the Volcano was fantastic. Dr. Nye you should see this. Lava flows as far as the eye can see, lush, rich vegetation, flowering brush along the edge and breaking through the old flows. My first glimpse of Villarrica was breathtaking. There was a healthy puff of smoke blowing across the top, sparkling snow and high white clouds. We arrived at the base of the ski lift, there must have been 50 people waiting. Let me insert here that I had decided to pay the four peso to go up the worst of the climb by ski lift. This saves about an hour of the 4-5 hour climb. The ski lift wasn’t operating – too much wind. Get this, SO we are told to lighten our load by putting some of our outer wear in the backpack. Instead of on our backs it is in the backpack???. My backpack was already full but I took off and wadded up a sweater and a jacket anyway and was ready to go.

I am embarrassed and saddened to tell you I made it only the first hour. My group moved on without me. I pooped out; sat down on one of the ski lift supports and the guides wouldn’t let me get back up. Apparently, you have to keep up a steady climb or you get cold and have too much problem later. One of the young (cute) guides walked me back down and the WENT UP AGAIN to join the group – taking my camera with him. Thanks to Philip I got pictures of the crater and the view from the top. [the photo album includes photos from both my big camera and the little one carried to the top by the guide]

Lessons learned:

1. don’t train for mountain climbing in the gym or on the beach,

2. don’t carry more fluid/camera than you really need cause it weighs more the higher you get,

3. train carrying at least 20 pounds of canned goods,

4. don’t party to much the week before - keep up the training instead,

5. and don’t tell anyone you are going to try something like this until you have succeeded.

Love you all, ginger


  1. I've heard of the volcano, but was unaware that you could climb to the top. After looking at the photos, don't think I will be making the trip. Too easy just to slide down into the carter and become fried gringo.

    Pat on the back for giving it a shot,


  2. Have never heard of any tourist being roasted... maybe just a trip to see it from the bottom would do. I still wish I could have made it to the top and MAYBE if the ski lift had taken me up past that first very steep and icy first hour, I could have made the rest of the way which is a rather winding trail around and up...

  3. You probably made it farther than I would have GingerV. The picture album shots are breathtaking. Thank you for sharing your world.

    I'm making my plan, lol.

  4. Wow! Congrats for even trying. One summer while in college, I worked at a Girl Scout camp. We hiked everywhere for 8 weeks, carrying ever-increasing amounts of sand in our knapsacks preparing for a climb up Tussy Mountain in PA ---not a very high or steep one.

    I almost passed out before arriving at the top. Part of that was due to the summer heat, but still I was 19, thin, and in good shape. Now I am 3 times as old, have bad knees, bad back, and am literally twice the woman I was then. I can walk pretty far on level ground, but if I can't go up a mountain in a motorized vehicle, I'm not going.

  5. This sounds like such an amazing adventure! Even if it didn't take you to the top of the volcano, what an amazing experience!

  6. Love the photos. They are great. Looking at your blog, I think you are deserving of my new award. You can pick it up at: http://breadandsalt.org/crabbyaward.htm

  7. Great story! And the photos especially from the top looking in are exceptional. I've been to the rim of Diamond Head on Oahu, and the view to the inside of the crater is always spectacular. Of course in Hawaii, no snow, and no molten lava. Just green grass and I believe there was an armory built on the floor of the crater. Thanks for inviting me here to read.