OK, so I had a list of volcanoes that I realy wanted to do on this trip. It's difficult to know which were right at the top: Llaima, Lanin, Antuco and Villarica were all contenders, but Osorno was probably just above them as it is the least likely of those to get done due to how far south it was, and how exposed to the elements it is. It's often shrouded in cloud, as it's close to the ocean and exposed to the wind. To compound my desire to climb it, 14 years ago, we were in the area on our last trip to Chile, and the weather was minging, so despite having all of the climbing kit, we didn't even attempt it. Today was revenge day.
However, it came about in a strange way, as I had thought about doing it at the end of the trip, but an unfortunate incident the previous day meant a reshuffle of the 'plan'. We actually set off from the hostel near Lonquimay to climb Llaima, but our short cut on the "Ruta Interlagos" resulted in the car being beached on snow. After an hour of digging, jacking the car up and shoving wood under the wheels meant that the day was gone when we reversed back. It was perfectly clear and windless, judging by the fumaroles on top of Llaima. So, with one further day in this weather window, and uncertainty beyond it, we headed south. Driving on such a good weather day was tough! It got worse though, after turning off at Osorno to take the direct route to Ensenada at the base of the volcano which would take us up the ski road. A few hundred metres from the turn off at Ensenada, the road was blocked. The only other option was to turn around, and drive round the 3rd largest lake in South America to get to a point a few hundred metres from where we were. After the mornings escapade, I wasn't happy. However, an additional 2 hours of driving saw us at the right place, and we found accomodation at the Teski Refugio at the ski resort which was fantastic, with stunning views out over Lago Llanquihue (which we had just driven round). Having someone else cook you dinner always improves things.
The following morning was warm and calm, and we made good progress through the ski area. What was funny though is that we were joined by a friendly dog, whose name we subsequently found out was "Demon". He was a great natured dog, but wouldn't head back down the hill, no matter what we said to him in Spanish or English. He just kept running about, either ahead or with us. When we stopped to take Helens skis off on a steeper icy section, we were caught by Alex, a local from Puerto Varas who was astounded there was a dog with us, particularly as it wasn't ours!
Once below the final steep summit cone, it was obvious that the weather was on the turn, with cloud streaming in off the Pacific, and the wind was picking up. Alex turned back just above this point, having climbed the volcano several times before and was content with his outing. He managed to convince the dog to head down as well (from about 2400m!). Our decent pace evaporated from this point, and higher up we ditched the skis and got the rope out for the ascent through the cap of steep rime ice. The view east from the top will stay with me for as long as I live. The spike of Puntiagudo and the bulk of Tronador above the Todos Los Santos lake was like something out of Lord of the Rings, but more dramatic. The wind was really getting going now, so we didn't linger long. While descending the rime ice band, I noticed the plume of ash from Puyehue-Cordón Caulle that started in June this year and was still going. Taking a picture wasn't the easiest!
Back at the skis, it was too icy to ski, so we descended on foot for a bit until it softened. Unfortunately, the wind was stripping off the good stuff leaving an icy sheen. This became a problem lower down, and at points, I had to help Helen along and down, as she was getting blown backwards. There are some advantages to weighing the same as a medium sized family car. However, we got down in one piece, with our faces having had a good blasting from the snow, and triumphantly knocked on the door of the CONAF ranger, with whom we had to register with prior to our ascent. He had been keeping an eye on us with binoculars and was glad to see us back safely. That night in the refuge, the wind was so strong that the walls were shaking and flexing a lot. Was a bit noisy, but we were content after a proper day out. Another one bagged, and still more to come...