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Ascent of Volcán Villarrica on 2019-01-11

Climber: Connor McEntee

Date:Friday, January 11, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Volcán Villarrica
    Location:Chile
    Elevation:9383 ft / 2859 m

Ascent Trip Report

Villarrica is a beautifully symmetric volcano towering over the outdoor adventure town of Pucón. On every clear day that I was in the area, you could even see it smoking. Consequently, it’s a very popular mountain to climb, which has led to incidents. So, permission to climb it is tightly managed by CONAF. There are a number of companies offering guided climbs with permission from CONAF, and probably 99% of climbers go this route. In fact the ratio of guided to unguided climbers is so high that multiple people in town adamantly told me that it was impossible to go unguided when I asked about gas mask rentals. Rates at the time of my climb ranged from 75,000 - 95,000 CLP (not including the chairlift fee, which was down for maintenance). I very strongly didn’t want to pay and then have to join a guided group.

We went to the CONAF office in downtown Pucón to inquire about independent climbs of Villarrica. They were very friendly and explained the process. Basically, every group member needs to be a member of an accredited alpine club and demonstrate that they have both the necessary gear and experience to safely ascend. A VHF radio is technically one of the required pieces of gear, but because there is cell signal the entire way they will happily accept a cell phone as a substitute. The only other piece of gear I didn’t have was a gas mask. They were actually surprisingly lenient on that requirement and that a filter from a hardware store would be acceptable. But, I wasn’t keen on chancing it considering how active the volcano is. It was surprisingly difficult to rent a gas mask in town, because almost all of the companies just have them for their clients. I was eventually directed to Aguaventura, but even they would only rent me a mask if they didn’t have a full group of clients. So, I had to wait an extra day due to a fully booked climb and even then only was able to rent the mask late the night before my ascent in case someone signed up last minute. My American Alpine Club membership letter was a sufficient demonstration that I could climb solo, but I could not take anyone with me. So, my partner decided to go on a guided climb. CONAF said they needed a day to validate my membership, though I’m not sure that was really necessary. The park superintendent simply needed to look at it and sign off. Future climbers should note that this entire process may be challenging without having at least one person with conversational Spanish in the group. The superintendent is super friendly and really likes Americans, since he has spent some time in US national parks via various exchange programs. With great pride, he showed us a number of National Park patches he’s collected.

The day of the climb I dropped my partner off at the guide company’s office and then drove to the park an hour later. At the park entrance is a guard station where I was flagged down. There I was required to pay the entrance fee, present my permit, sign a liability waiver, and show them that I had all of the necessary gear. I was quickly on my way and made it to the ski resort parking lot 15 minutes later. It turns out that private vehicles are permitted to drive up higher on the access roads, but I didn’t know that at the time. It also would have only saved me 60m or so as the access roads get rough. As I left the parking lot I could see the mass of guided groups just reaching the end of the chairlift, which marked the beginning of the snow climb. The trail up that follows the chairlift is good and I reached the top, while most of the groups were still snacking and layering up.

Immediately as I arrived, CONAF personnel spotted me and came over. I was required to present my permit while they sized me up. It was mandatory that I wear a helmet from this point onward, crampons would be optional depending on my comfort level. But, I was now free to go to the summit. I found my partner, whose group was just about ready to get going, before I stashed my trail runners and put on mountaineering boots. Shortly, I set out after them and caught them just above an abandoned ski lift that was destroyed in a eruption decades ago.

The mountain was a complete zoo of various guided groups going at all different paces. I for the most part avoided the primary boot path to stay out of the guides way. Word did travel quickly among the guides (they all carry VHF radios) that there was an independent climber on the mountain. They were are quite friendly with me though, presumably because I wasn’t causing any problems for them. (Though, I was eventually told that I needed to pull my ice axe out and not to use trekking poles on the final climb up to the rim.) I took a break above some rocks where all the guided groups stop for lunch. I let my partner’s group get a good head start on me before setting off after them and following them all the way to the summit.

At the crater rim the volcanic fumes were immediately evident as my eyes teared up and I started coughing. I put on my mask, which helped a bit, but it wasn’t a place that I wanted to spend a lot time. All of the guided groups stop when the reach the rim, though technically the highest point on the volcano is a little bit south around the rim. The west side of the rim was heavily corniced, so I opted to play frogger with the gas. The climbing was light scrambling on mixed rock and ice with the only complication being the volcanic fumes.

I quickly left the rim and began the descent. The snow up top was still hard enough that the guided groups weren’t sledding down, so following my partners group down took some time. Eventually, we got some decent glissading in down to the ski left followed by an easy scree descent to ski resort where we enjoyed a few beers.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6099 ft / 1858 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.6 mi / 9 km
    Route:Ruta Normal
    Trailhead:Ski Resort  3284 ft / 1000 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Ski Poles
    Weather:Cold, Windy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 40 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 29 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Connor McEntee
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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