Trip Reports: Snowboarding Volcanoes In Chile - November 2011
In early November 2011 we were traveling in central Chile around Chillán and Pucón; this region of the Andes is full of stratovolcanoes (kind of like the Pacific Northwest). There had been a very snowy winter before our visit (November is spring down south), and the volcanoes were still smothered in snow. Though I hadn't planned on any snowboarding during this trip, I was stoked to be able to rent snowboards and score two fantastic volcano descents!
As you could probably guess from the photos in my last post from Valle de Aguas Calientes, all the snow in the mountains around Las Trancas had me practically salivating, wishing for a snowboard. Well, on the way down from Valle de Aguas Calientes, we met some skiers and a splitboarder who told me of a place in town where I could rent a splitboard! Well, I got the board that evening, and the next morning we woke up at the break of dawn and started the long walk to Volcán Nevado, a 3212m (10,538 ft.) glaciated volcano – the tallest one around here.
It took us over an hour just to walk from town to the end of the road, then another two hours scrambling through a frustrating lava flow full of jagged volcanic rock piles with soft snow in between. The photo above was taken after all that, more than one third of the way up the mountains already.
Crossing a crater, but still another 1,000 feet to the summit!
A blanket of high overcast clouds, along with a constant chilly wind, kept the snow frozen and hard – good for hiking, bad for a snowboard descent. I wasn’t expecting good turns for the ride down.
It took us nine hours to hike the 6,400 vertical feet from our cabaña in Las Trancas to the summit! Most of the locals would probably find that incredibly slow, but what can I say… it was a long slog.
Miraculously, soon after we reached the summit, the overcast cloud layer quickly moved away to the east, allowing the afternoon sun to quick-bake the snow. My hopes of a good descent were resurrected, and I waited atop the summit for another hour to give the snow time to soften up a bit and to give Claudia a head start since she had to walk back down.
Though the main glacier looked tempting, the enormous crevasses posed too much danger, so I rode the ridge line down about a thousand feet then did a quick climb up Piramide, the sharp sub peak visible on the left side of the top photo. From there I had a beautiful 2,500 ft. steep descent on perfectly soft spring corn snow! (Pardon my cheesy zoom crop above… I just had to show my line!)
There I am, super stoked to have had such an epic first ride of the season! All in all it was about a 4,000-foot total descent.
While we hiked back down the road through the lenga forest, the high clouds returned and we were treated to an incredible sunset show!
We relaxed in Las Trancas again the next day, while it was raining like crazy. (Just like I remember it when I was here in the winter 10 years ago with my buddy Mikel – raining buckets).
From Las Trancas we caught a bus south to Pucón, for more volcanoes and hot springs – and lakes too!
The town of Pucón is located at the northern end of the Lakes District of Chile. The beautiful Mt-Fuji-esque Volcán Villarrica rises behind the town, which is situated on the shore of Lago Villarica. Although totally different geographically, Pucón reminds us of San Pedro de Atamaca, in that it’s super touristy, yet has a great relaxed vibe, lots of delicious food, and heaps of activities to do in the surrounding area.
I visited this town in the winter 10 years ago, and am shocked at how much it has changed and grown since then – I can hardly recognize anything about it. I vaguely remember back then one main strip with a few main dusty dirt roads branching off; now it’s a bustling tourist town with a complete network of paved roads, and probably ten times the size. But it still has a great atmosphere, perhaps better than ever.
Of course once I saw the snow-smothered volcano, I knew that if we were going to climb it, I’d definitely have to snowboard down! So, I rented a board again and we figured out how to get up there without having to use guide services like most people are obligated to do (just a matter of showing our crampons and ice axes, along with a printed proof of membership in a mountain club – in my case an old email from the Colorado Mountain Club).
From the bottom of the little ski area to the 2840m (9317 ft) summit was about a 1500m (5000 ft) climb, all on snow. But this was a cakewalk compared to the grueling tour of Volcán Nevado last week! Another difference was that while we were all alone on the mountain last week, this time we were accompanied by about 100 or so other people, mostly in big guided groups.
Volcán Villarica is an active volcano, and from the summit we were able to peer down into the gaping smoking crater! Pretty amazing!
There’s me dropping down from the summit. (Photo by Claudia).
It had snowed several days earlier, and the cold nights and sunny days since had transformed the new snow into smooth fresh spring corn snow! Perfect for the long, mellow, cruisey descent. Claudia brought a plastic trash bag and had a blast sliding down the whole way.
We were stoked to have scored such a perfect day on the volcano! What better way to cap the day off than a dip in the nearby hot springs!