I decided to put together some details relating to our ski mountaineering trip to Chile in September 2011 that may prove useful if you are planning a trip there yourself. Click on the tabs to see the relevant information. Click on any of the photos / photodiagrams to view them larger. The colours used in the photodiagrams to mark routes do not correlate to ski resort grading for runs. I just used those colours to make it easy to differentiate between routes: red for ascent route, blue for descent route (if ascent route not followed), and yellow for a possible other ascent route. You can view all of the pictures from our trip here.
Transport within Chile
The bus network is excellent, but if you are short of time, and need to get to the base of some volcanoes easily, you are best to hire a car. We used United Rent a Car, which we had arranged in advance of arriving. They don't have an office at Santiago airport, but we were met there by a representative from the company, and the car was in the nearby short stay car park. We got a "C-class" car, which I am glad of, as despite asking by email about the rear seats folding down, they didn't. However, our skis were just able to fit diagonally across the back seat, so no problem. If there is more than 2 of you, get a bigger vehicle or a ski rack. The car was nearly new when we got it, and some kind of Samsung/Renault, which was fine for what we wanted. We only got stuck once, and on that occasion, a 4WD would probably have struggled as well. We hired snow chains, and used them that day we got them to get up to the Las Trancas. It is definitely worth having them. After 2500 miles of driving, the car was returned far from new anymore, having endured long distances on potholed dirt roads. It survived though without problem. I was impressed/very surprised!
We found that getting between areas was not often easy or quick without heading back to the Panamericana, travelling along that, then back inland to the destination. This added time and miles, but having got stuck, and sometimes there genuinely isn't a road that saves any distance, we kind of accepted that this was the logical way to go.
We had also considered heading into Argentina on our trip, paricularly if there was a chance of the weather being better there. In the end, we didn't have the need or time to go, but we had arranged the necessary passes through United to take the car into Argentina. It was an expense that we didn't need in the end, but they need at least 10 days notice to get the passes, so you really have to decide before you go. The passes were in the car when we got it. What it does mean is that if for some reason you have a problem with the car, or want to swap it when you arrive, the passes are specific to the vehicle...
We took a tent with us, but didn't use it. It was more of a precaution should we find ourselves stuck. However, there are a lot of decent places to stay, and we didn't have a problem where ever we stayed. I will mention the places we stayed within each description for the volcanoes.
When to go / weather
We went September 2011 for just under 3 weeks. In that time, we had 5 days of rain, and one of those was on the drive down on the day we arrived (resulting in a lot of snow falling in the mountains, and the use of snow chains). What we found was that there were definite blocks of good and bad weather. For example, after the first days bad weather, it was very calm and clear for 3 days, then very wet and windy for 2 days, then very clear for 4 days, then very wet and windy for 2 days, then very calm and clear for the rest of our trip. I suspect we were very lucky. In October 1997 we travelled through the same area, and it rained most of the time! We had been told by a few people on our trip that the weather had been bad prior to our arrival, so I do think we had been quite fortunate with our timing.
The locals used and seemed to rate snow-forecast.com. You can select the ski resorts on the volcanoes. The times we had access to it, we found it was surprisingly accurate. The "sister" site of mountain-forecast.com could also prove useful.
Navigation / Routes
For the roads, we bought a Reise Pocket Atlas to Chile. It was rubbish and inaccurate. We saw an old copy of the Turistel guides, and they look like the thing to get, but not sure if you can still get hold of them.
As for the mountains, I bought a couple of maps before going (for Pucon and Nevados de Chillan), both "TrekkingChile.com" maps. As a general "what's where" map, they are fine. For detailed navigation, forget it. We had a basic GPS with us, and I marked our ascent routes with various waypoints, so that we could navigate back using them should the weather deteriorate. Given that we always set off in good weather, and the routes were mostly straightforward, this seemed like a sound approach. When I tried to reconcile our position on Chillan Nuevo with where I knew we were according to features on the map, the position on the GPS put us approximately 2km out! I trusted the GPS over the maps here. The military IGM maps could well be better if you can get hold of them.
Our main source of information was the Chile - Argentina Handbook of Ski Mountaineering in the Andes by Frédéric Lena. It's a bit quirky, and takes a bit of getting used to, but is very useful. We didn't always follow the routes described, and never managed any of the times! Although all our trips were day trips, we were always well over the timings. It didn't matter, as we did them all in the daylight hours, but just worth bearing in mind. He even states in the guide that they don't include time for breaks, photos, etc! I will refer to the routes described in this guide in relation to the routes we took, and how they differed. It is not the aim of these pages to repeat a lot of what is in the book, but to supplement the information.
As for timings, all of the routes were done in daylight hours (about 7.40am to 7.30pm in September). Our longest days out were over 10 hours (Llaima & Nevados de Chillan), but these were related to the greater distances involved, plus on the actual days for both of these volcanoes, it was very warm. Osorno took us longer than we would have expected given the short distance involved, but that was due to the very strong winds that picked up in the afternoon, which slowed us down considerably.
Access to the volcanoes
All of the volcanoes we did were accessible from ski areas. This meant that there were roads to take you through the long forested approaches right upto the snowline, which was convenient. The only hill we "registered" for to climb was Volcan Osorno (see specific tab on Volcan Osorno for details) - other than that, we just got going.
As to whether you need a guide or not, it is up to you. We never felt the need for one, but if you aren't as confident, then it may suit you to employ a guide. Navigation was generally straightforward, there was minimal crevasse risk, and the length of days were comparable to days we are used to back here.
Access to these mountains is easiest from Termas de Chillan ski resort. You have the option to “cheat” and take the Don Otto lift up, saving 700m of ascent, 2 hours and a fair bit of energy. You won’t be saving much from your wallet though. Monday to Thursday, the lift passes are cheaper at CLP 20000 per person, which is currently about £28. Friday to Sunday, it’s CLP 30000! There is no single lift option. When I enquired about this, I was told that I was supposed to get permission from the police, supply a route map, contact details (e.g. mobile number/VHF), have everything on their equipment list, and then we would be given permission from the ski centre to go up the volcanoes. Alternatively, you could do as we did, and simply buy a lift pass, get on the lift, and go for your tour!
Chillan Nuevo (and Chillan Viejo) are just above the ski resort, and would be quite doable in a day without the lift pass. If you buy a pass, you should be able to easily get down in time to have at least some use of it. Alternatively, have a few runs before setting off on your tour. Nevados de Chillan is a much bigger day, with more navigation required, and some ascents and descents on the way to the summit. I would recommend buying the pass for the first lift, and accepting that you won’t be back in time.
Chillan Nuevo - 3186m (and Viejo - 3122m)
In terms of the route to take, once at the top of the lift, follow the easy angled traversing piste for a couple of hundred metres, then just head to the col, and go left or right! The guidebook suggested travelling further on the piste, then following an obvious wide gully. There are many options, and none of them look like you'd end up in trouble. Once at the rim of the crater, we dumped the skis, and walked round the shattered ridge to the summit (on the left hand side as you approach the rim). Takes about 10 minutes from where you dump your skis. There is a metal summit marker, so you'll know you are there! Chillan Viejo was looking quite bare, so we didn't bother with it, but would be a short walk to the top.
Pictures from our day out can be viewed here.
Nevados de Chillan (3212m)
For Nevados de Chillan, it's more complicated. We left the top of the Don Otto lift, and followed the traversing piste for a few hundred metres where it joins a wide piste at a small wooden hut. From there, we headed uphill, but then had to do a short descent, so it would make sense to traverse round the small ridge below the hut to get into the wide easy angled gully. Follow the gully below the disused lift (bright orange towers), then the line of the next disused tow above. We headed in the direction of Nevados de Chillan a couple of hundred metres from the top of that lift. Initially, it's a long gradual ascent, heading towards the col. You will have to cross at only 2 channels if you get the line right by staying high enough. If you are lower, you may find an extra channel to cross, and the slopes to get out of them steeper. The first channel is the widest, and goes to the actual col. We took a diagonal descent into it (point 1 in the photo below), climbing out of it just below a cone which sits on the watershed. From there, it's barely 5 minutes to the second channel (point 2 in the photo below). The drop on the second channel is barely 15m.
You will be facing a big snow slope at this point. From there, traverse left across the steep snow slope and round the ridge to a large bowl. You will then see the foresummit of the volcano ahead across the wide bowl. You can go straight up the front of this slope if snow conditions allow (yellow route in the photo below), or essentially traverse, only slightly gaining your height to go around it on the left hand ridge. When we cross this left hand ridge, we gained about 50m too much height, and found ourselves on icy ground. The ridge itself was also bare, so we had to walk the 100m or so round it to get into a nice wide gully (point 3 in the photo below).
Head for the top of the gully, which is actually a low point in the rim of a snow covered crater. Skirt round to the left, avoiding the bumps on the crater rim (or go over them if you want), before heading up the steeper nose to the summit plateau. From there, it's a gradual ascent to the summit, which has a metal frame on the summit, and 2 book slots, one of which contained a frozen summit book (which was actually a notepad). You can return the same way, or if feeling adventurous, head straight down to Shangri-La, as our companions on the day did, and find some way of getting back to your vehicle!
Pictures from our day out can be viewed here.
We stayed at Ecobox Andino in Las Trancas. Can't recommend it enough for very comfortable, self catered accommodation. The wood burner was always on when we got back from a day out. Rosa speaks some english, and is very enthusiastic about the area. When you enquire about prices, make sure you are quoted in US dollars, and ask for the price excluding IVA (the 19% tax that foreigners can avoid paying). It worked out about £80 a night for the 2 of us. Was worth it, given the journey to get there...
I had been assured by email that there were single lift tickets available from the Chacay ski area to save about 500m of ascent. However, when they eventually opened (nearly 10am), the ticket guy knew nothing about it. He sold us a half day pass, which was obviously not as bad as a full day pass, but not the bargain we were expecting. We then got half way up the second lift when it broke down. In the end, the lift probably took us to the equivalent of 45 minutes skinning time from the car – but we had to wait over an hour to get there! Don’t bother with the lift, would be my advice. It’s not a particularly big day out, as the distance is short, so just skin from the car park. We should have!
From near the top of the upper lift, we headed left and worked our way up through the lava flows (red route on both photo diagrams). This became icy once in amongst the lava flows, and the skis were carried for nearly 500m of ascent to the 2985m summit. Alternatively, if we had kept traversing a bit, we would have come to the slope full of wind packed powder (NNE slope). We found it on the way down – amazing run (blue route on the photo diagrams). We dropped into a wide easy angled gully with an obvious cliff facing us, that took us back to the ski area.
There is a tiny foresummit to Antuco. With our ascent route, we arrived at the little col with the main summit on our left. The guidebook describes arriving at the col with the main summit on your right. Their route takes a more direct steeper route up the volcano. The day we did it, it would have been icy as well with the winds - pick whats best on the day.
The red route is our ascent route. The blue route is our descent route. The yellow route is the approximate line I think the guidebook suggests.
Pictures from our day out can be viewed here.
We stayed at Antucalhue, which is just beyond El Abanico (don’t turn off the “main” road when you see the sign for El Abanico – keep heading towards the park and you will see some yellow buildings on the left hand side of the road, which is the Antucalhue). Despite the sign, the guy we dealt with spoke only a couple of words of English, but we got by on Spanish, and it was quite entertaining. We got one of the huts for CLP40000 a night, which definitely felt worth it when the rain was bouncing off the ground and the wood burner was on!
Access is very easy for Lonquimay - just park at the Corralco ski area car park. It is definitely not worth buying a lift pass for this one, as it is not a long day.
We stayed at Suizandina, which is very handy for Lonquimay. The couple who run it are Chilean-Swiss, and speak very good English, if that's a factor for you. We stayed in the dorms, which were en-suite 4 bed rooms! We paid to have the room to ourselves (effectively paying for a third person), but shouldn't have bothered, as we were the only people staying there (during the week it's quiet - weekends can be packed out though). We ate in the restaurant one of the nights, and the food was really good. There is free, but extremely slow, internet access in the main building. Definitely recommend the place. They also have a detailed map of Lonquimay available for purchase if you think you will need it.
You could use this place as a base for other volcanoes in the area, such as Sierra Nevada, or Volcan Llaima. However, to get to Llaima requires the "Ruta Interlagos" to not be blocked by snow. The day after Lonquimay we tried to get to Llaima and got the car stuck and the day was gone, as we had to turn around (once we'd dug it out), and it's a long trek round by any other way.
As with access, the route is very straightforward. We followed the easiest angled chairlift I have ever seen, then followed a curving gully to avoid the steep section up the next tow. From marker at the top of the lift, we cut diagonally up and right across the large east facing triangular face. The upper secion of the face became steeper, and we ascended the last section carrying the skis on a very shallow rocky ridge. This took us to the rim of the very large crater, where we turned south for the 5 minute walk to the summit at 2865m.
This was the only hill where we used our ski crampons, and it is just as well we had them. The lower easy angled slopes were quite icy. With the ski crampons - fine, but otherwise we would have been carrying the skis from approximately the top of the lifts. By the time we got to the top, the sun had softened the snow a little, but the easier angled section above the ski area was still quite firm. The steeper slopes were fine.
With skis on right at the summit, we cut back a bit towards our ascent route, before skiing the superb face. Our descent route avoided the steepest section directly below the summit, but in reality, you could ski anywhere on it, if snow conditions allowed.
Pictures from our day out can be viewed here.
Access is easy for Volcan Llaima if you arrive from the West (i.e. the Cherquenco road). The upper section of the dirt road is quite narrow, so try not to time it late in the afternoon when you may meet vehicles coming the other way.
It is worth pointing out that Volcan Llaima is very active. There were 2 significant eruptions in 2008 and one in April 2009 (plenty of videos on You Tube). However, there are signs on the access roads to let you know what the current activity level is, and the volcano is in a national park, so you have to get through a CONAF gate to get in. You would hope that they wouldn't let you in if there was an issue! Apparently, you are supposed to register with the police in Cherquenco to get permission to climb the volcano. However, a Chilean couple we spoke to at the ski area said that when they went to the police station to get permission, and the policeman they spoke to couldn't understand why they were bothering him, as no one bothers! We didn't bother, and just left the ski car park without a problem.
This was possibly our strangest accommodation of the trip. We stayed in the Refugio Los Paraguas - ask at the bar. They have 2 huge dorms, sleeping about 40 people, but we somehow managed to get a 2 bed room to ourselves for the same price (CLP 8000 per person per night), and they gave us a free Pisco Sour at the bar each! It was a bit noisy, as it's above the bar, but it was cheap and convenient. They don't do meals in the evening, but the chef let us use his kitchen. It turns out that the chef had once spent 3 months in Glasgow as his father had told him to travel! They shut it by 8pm, so try and be done before that. In the morning, they gave us hot water for flasks once the kitchen was open again.
As with all of the other routes, head for the top of the lifts. We left at about 8.45am, and were at the top of the upper lift before it opened, so it's probably not worth trying to buy a ticket for it. From the top of the lifts, the 3125m summit of Llaima is very obvious. Head for the gap in the nearby mounds which mark the perimeter of the plateau. Head across the large, almost flat, plateau. The guidebook describes the right hand side in a photo diagram (yellow in my photo diagram). We chose to ascend the left hand skyline on the North side (red line in my photo diagram). This may not have been the best plan, and the south side may prove to be a better route.
At about 2750m, we dumped the skis, as the upper slopes didn't look good for skiing. The volcano last erupted in 2009, and the whole side of the mountain is steaming. The snow was a bit icy, but also very hollow, with lots of holes in it. Whereas it's just rubble underneath, tread carefully. We returned by the same route on the descent.
The red lines mark our ascent, and descent route. The yellow line marks the possible alternative route from this side of the hill, as per the guidebook.
Pictures from our day out can be viewed here.
Park at the Pucón ski area car park. When you mention to people that you intend to climb villarrica, they will say that you will need a guide to do it. You may, or may not need a guide, but if you can manage the other volcanoes detailed here, you will almost certainly not need the services of a guide. We did villarrica on it on Saturday, which was a national holiday, and beautiful weather. It was mobbed. If you are in any doubt, you could just follow one of the many guided groups! Much of the “you need a guide” response is due to the guide organisations creating a perceived need for a guide for commercial gain. Sure, if you don’t have the experience, then fine, but if you are reading this with a view to organising your own trip, you probably don’t need a guide. Many of the guides we saw were cheery and seemed quite happy that we weren’t guided, and there were several groups who weren’t guided.
The one guided ski touring group I can recall seeing were cutting their own track instead of following ours (walkers had obliterated the existing uptrack). Whereas other unguided groups used our track, this group didn’t. I guess the guide figured he had to earn his money...
We set off up the easy angled piste below the chairlift that starts to the right of the base station. At one of the bends, we left the piste and followed the line of a short drag lift, crossed a small gully to then follow the line of the highest chairlift. From the top of the lift, we headed left and up, towards the remains of a concrete shell which was once a lift top station. You can ascend anywhere from here. The summit is not visible until over a lip. We went up the right hand side of the lip – many of the guided groups went up the left hand side – it doesn’t matter.
The yellow route is the alternative to our ascent routes (red route). "1" is the top of the chairlift. "2" is the concrete top station from an old lift.
The way ahead to the crater rim is obvious. The top section is reasonably steep, and we found it easier to carry the skis for the last section. One ski mountaineer had slipped twice down the slope. He gave up and carried his skis after that!
Most of the guided groups stop at the lowest point of the crater rim. We continued on foot to the 2847m summit, which only takes a few minutes. Be warned, the fumes are very strong here. While standing on the very top, I got a blast of sulphurous gas – not very pleasant, and it went right for the back of my throat.
The descent is the same way. Be wary of the bumsliding guided groups. They all carry small sledges with them, and hurtle down the slope at speed. Looked great fun!
Pictures from our day out can be viewed here.
We stayed at the Hosteria Hue-Quimey in villarrica. It was chosen sort of at random - I went for 3rd in the list in the Lonely Planet Guide. It was a lucky choice. The hotel had just reopened after having been taken over by Christel and Nicolas Mazet. They couldn't have been more welcoming. The prices are a bit out of date on the website (I guess they inherited the website with the business, so you can forgive them for the music!), but it was still good value. We got a room upstairs, with a view of the lake and Volcan villarrica for CLP 30000 (about £43 at the time) including breakfast.
The real attraction was the meals. We hadn't planned to eat there, but Christel and Nicolas ran a restaurant in Cameroon for 14 years, and the food was fantastic, in terms of quality and value. A 3 course meal for CLP 8000 (just over £10). I cannot recommend them enough. We were there for 3 nights, and when we left, we felt like we were leaving friends behind, they were that nice.
Sure, Pucón is closer, but it's busier and more expensive. It only takes half an hour to get to the ski area from here, which is nothing really, as villarrica isn't a big day out.
The ski road up to the Osorno ski area is unusual, in that it is paved all the way from Ensenada. However, you may find getting to Ensenada tricky, depending upon when you travel. We arrived from the north, so the logical route was to leave the Panamericana at Osorno, and follow the road directly to Ensenada on the North side of Lago Llanquihue. This proved a bad idea, as the last short section to Ensenada was blocked by a landslide. They are working on improving the road anyay (planned to reopen at the end of November 2011). This meant a long drive round to Puero Varas, and taking the southern approach to Ensenada, also through lots of roadworks.
With this volcano, unlike others, you are supposed to register. The CONAF office is clearly signposted, and the ranger we met was very friendly. You have to fill a form out, and there is no fee. One of the questions asks which countries you have climbed in, so it is actively encouraged to brag! There is an extremely long list of equipment that you are supposed to have. I didn't even read it all, figuring I had what was necessary. Mainly they wanted to know if we had rope/harness/axe/helmet/crampons, a phone/VHF, and a means of navigating. They are essentially trying to minimise the chance of having to mount a rescue, which I can see why. Of course, they cannot determine if you can actually use any of the equipment you have, but that's another matter altogether! Once you return, you need to let the ranger know you are down. In our case, he was watching us through binoculars through the day, so he knew we were back anyway. In poor weather, this wouldn't be the case.
The routeThe ascent route is easy, particularly if it is clear. Follow the piste initially, then to the top of the chair. From there, take a rising traverse round the slope facing the top of the chair into a wide gully which you ascent to it's top. Work your way up a small dome and onto a large plateau area. Pay particular attention to the ground leading to this dome from above, as this point is a particularly small target, and could be easily missed in poor weather on your return. I recommend you mark the position with your GPS, if you are carrying one.
The summit cone was quite steep and icy, and we wore crampons from just above the plateau. The upper part of the mountain is glaciated, and on the summit cone, there was a crevasse off to our left as we ascended. Worth bearing in mind. The summit area carried a crown of steep rime ice around it. We took a slight spiral ascent, curving round towards the North side of the summit cone, before cutting up to the top. Since we had the rope with us, we used that on this section, but it would barely be Grade 1 back home. It may be easier if you continued further tound to the North side. The summit area is almost flat, and I left a ski pole at the point we arrive on the summit plateau, so that our ascent route would be easy to find on the way back. The top itself (2662m) seemed to be on a corniced edge. I didn't get too close, so don't know what size of drop there was, but the view of Puntagiudo and Tronador was stunning.
On the descent, you will see why the rangers are anxious to try and ensure that the people on the mountain can look after themselves. The small dome that you ski over to get back to the ski area seems really small from above, and it could easily be missed while skiing across the plateau below the summit cone. Too far to the left, and you enter a gully with some seracs to contend with. Too far to the right, and you will find yourself a long way from the ski area very quickly.
Pictures from our day out can be viewed here.
We stayed at the Teski Refugio, just below the main carpark at the ski area. There weren't many people staying (during the week), so it was quiet. It was CLP 11000 each per night (about £13), using our own sleeping bags on the bunks and including breakfast. They do evening meals in the bar, which are reasonably priced. They said that as it was quiet, we could use the kitchen to cook, but we decided not to. The view from the large windows over Lago Llanquihue is stunning. It was a nice place to relax and have a beer. They only take cash.
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