Ascent of Volcán Villarrica on 2014-01-03

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Adrian Rayner
Adam Helman -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Duane Gilliland
Date:Friday, January 3, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Ski Lift
Peak:Volcán Villarrica
    Elevation:9383 ft / 2859 m

Ascent Trip Report

Red tape There is a legal requirement to have a guide for this peak, or to be a holder of a Chilean Mountaineering Federation card, or to be a member of an appropriate mountaineering club and have the necessity skills and equipment (principally crampons, ice axe and helmet). In our case, Adam showed his American Alpine Club card and satisfied them that we had the necessary equipment and skills, and the Guardaparcia was happy to grant our permits. Having good Spanish obviously helped, although the staff at the checkpoint had some English.

The Conaf office is on the road approach, at S39.35024 W71.96948, just after the paved Camino el Volcan road ends. Note that there is also a ranger on the route above the top of the chair lift who checks for permits. The local authority takes a fairly strict line, apparently because of an incident some years ago involving a French and Italian group, or so we were told. The restrictions in force at the time of our visit seemed sensible and reasonable given the large number of people on the route (about 150 on the day of our ascent).

We arrived Wednesday after our Volcan Llaima ascent, hoping to climb Villarrica the next day when the weather had settled down. However, although Thursday was mostly clear, there were high winds and the wind chill was -11C and Conaf weren't permitting ascents even if we had wanted to. So we checked out the trailhead, found a campsite on the paved access road and spent some time in the very touristy Pucon (and spent a night in a rather noisy hostel).

To reach the trailhead, from Pucon turn west from the roundabout towards the town of Villarrica. Then take the first paved road L which climbs south towards the volcano. The Conaf office is at xxxx just after the paved road end. Fork R at S39.35322 W71.96803 then follow the dirt road (reasonable condition and ok for ordinary cars in Dec 2013) until it ends at the Pucon ski centre S39.39168 W71.95972, 1425m - the trailhead.

There is ample parking beside the buildings, and a signboard indicating the rules and equipment needed for climbing. Note that the ascent follows the chairlift starting approx 200m east of the parking lot, although it is possible to follow the shorter chair lift route. It is also possible to ride in the chairlift provided it is operating: we understand it runs on demand from 0730. The cost is a pricey $16 per person, saving 430m of ascent.

Fri 3 Dec Ascent we breakfast at the trailhead while other groups arrive. We take the traverse track left and queue for the chairlift, riding up at about 0800. At the top station is a geodesic dome tent with two Conaf rangers. They want to see we have ice axe and crampons, also Adam's American Alpine Club card, but show no interest in other listed items which include gas mask, as well as gaiters and normal mountain clothing. However, detailed requirements may vary with conditions so it would be as well to bring all listed items. There was no crevasse danger when we were there and this seems the normal situation - no-one was using a rope.

The trail starts left, across a snowfield, so we start in crampons (which stay on until the summit). We pass a concrete structure looking like an old chairlift station, then zigzag up snow at around a 25-30 degree angle. We reach the skyline at a small saddle just L of a small rocky sub peak. By this time we are in the lead having passed several guided parties. We find a more level area for a break, then continue. Still first in line we are unsure which route to take. We keep right of the rock rib, which is wrong: one should keep left here, with a wide zigzag higher up to ascend a steep slope of good snow. Our right hand route is mostly ice at 30 degrees. Much of the time we can climb narrow lines of softer snow but care is required while on the ice. At the top of the slope we cross L of the rib and join the main route which now zig zags up good snow to the north rim of the crater.

Once at the crater we turn left and walk about half way round to the highest point which is a neat rocky summit S 39.42103 W071.94010 (recorded by Duane Gilliland) perched over a deep dark hole emitting vapour. The wind today is from the south and I've been tasting sulphur in the air for much of the ascent. Depending on conditions, to avoid the fumes it might be necessary to turn right for the summit, or even use a gas mask. As with Llaima, I carry one but we don't need to use it.

Views from the summit are superb, with peaks including our previous summit Llaima, the big and impressive Lanin (no longer on our schedule due to the amount of time lost to bad weather), and to the south the twin Mocho-Choshuenco, together with a number of attractive lakes.

We're at the summit in 4 hours from the chair lift, spend half an hour at the summit area then descend in two hours. There are many people still ascending so we have no difficulty finding the normal route. Duane and I glissade most of the descent. Glissading is clearly an important part of the entertainment for the guided groups, who carry plastic seats for the purpose, and have a pretty good time, as do we in our over-trousers.

We regroup at the chair lift, which is no longer operating, but this is no hardship as the descent path is loose gravel at an easy gradient. We're back at the van by 1520, just less than 3 hours after leaving the summit. After a quick meal in Villarrica (the town) we make the short drive to our next target, Volcan El Mocho which we climb the next day.

Villarrica photo album
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3313 ft / 1009 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4708 ft / 1434 m
    Round-Trip Distance:9.3 mi / 15 km
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons
    Weather:Cold, Windy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3313 ft / 1009 m
    Distance:4.3 mi / 7 km
    Route:North face
    Start Trailhead:Ski Centre Pucon (top of lift)  6070 ft / 1850 m
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4708 ft / 1434 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8 km
    Route:North face
    End Trailhead:Ski Centre Pucon  4675 ft / 1424 m
    Time:2 Hours 

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