I’m sitting on a bus on the way to the town of Pucon, after spending five days at the Refugio Garganta del Diablo (Devils Throat Hut). Five days of beautiful, sunny weather and nonexistent avy conditions, or five days of ferocious wind and rock hard snow, depending on how you look at it.
On day one we carried our gear up to the hut. My pack felt like three sacks of cement, as I was carrying my 10 pound airbag pack inside plus everything else, but the hike only took two hours. We found the hut deserted and quickly dropped our stuff to head out for a short tour. The Refugio is situated a bit outside the ski area boundary, at treeline, just below a mass of old lava flows. We toured through a labyrinth of pumice and basalt, toward Volcan Nevados. A few hours later, we made it to the base of the volcano. We decided to head back to the hut not wanting to navigate back in the dark. We encountered a white out as we dropped elevation but having somewhat solved the maze on the way up, we didn’t have much trouble getting back to the warmth of the rickety wood stove.
That night sitting around a warm fire with a good supply of wood, I was excited for the next few days. Skiing from the town of Las Trancas, situated a short drive from the base of the ski area, proved to not be ideal, at least without a car. The earliest bus to the ski area supposedly left at 9:00, but usually much later, getting us to the base a little late for a long day of touring. Hitchhiking worked okay if there was traffic, but on weekdays there wasn’t much, so it took a while to get a ride. It was even harder to get back down at the end of the day. Up at the Refugio, however, we could start whenever we wanted and from a higher elevation, not to mention the free lodging and beautiful sunsets.
The second day we decided to head up to Volcan Nevado, the highest volcano in the area, and also the furthest away. Using the knowledge gained the day before, we found a quicker, more efficient way through the lava flows, and soon were skinning across the flats toward the volcano. The sun was out and there was hardly any wind, which made for pleasant touring. The wind picked up a bit as we gained the summit ridge, but only really got strong as we stood on the summit, overlooking clouds covering the town of Chillan, and an endless mass of mountains in the other direction.
We skied down next to some exposed ice on the glacier on some smooth, icy snow. Lower down we even found a few slopes of corn. If you focus on climbing summits and enjoying the weather, horrible snow conditions aren’t too bad.
For day three we decided to head over to Volcan Viejo, the only major volcano summit that we hadn’t climbed. The wind appeared to be far worse as we skinned above the ski resort. The north side of the volcano had little snow, but as the south side came into view, we found continuous snow to the summit. The wind grew intense toward the top. The last bit required crawling with crampons on icy snow, fighting the wind which threatened to tear the skis off my back. I was wishing for more than the single whippet I had. We made it to the top, and skied continuous snow (or rather ice) down to the hot springs in the valley below. I’ve been to quite a few natural hot springs in the states, all consisting of a small dribble of hot water. This was different, and awesome. An entire rushing stream of steaming hot water, complete with waterfalls. We skied down a bit and found some pools to hang out in. The waterfalls were better than any jacuzzi, and it was hard to get out after 45 minutes. We skinned up the valley in the failing light. It was a little tough navigating back to the hut in the dark but the gorgeous sunset and soak in the hot springs were worth it.
The next day we returned to Volcan Nevado and skied a shoulder of the main peak that held an aesthetic, slightly steeper line. It topped out at a little over 40 degrees. The descent was long and the icy snow made it seem steeper.
By day five I was feeling the need for a good rest. We packed up our monstrous packs and skied down to the base area of the resort. The blasting dance music at the lodge jolted us into civilization and we eventually made our way back to the town of Chillan.
In Chillan we feasted on empanadas and shopped for food at the authentic outdoor market. It’s interesting how there can be five different vendors selling the same item but at different prices. Why doesn’t everyone just head over to the cheaper guy? Skyler and I took advantage of the deals at the end of the day and ended up with packs full of fresh veggies and several pounds of dried fruit, perfect for trail food.
We’re lucky the killer Chilean bus system doesn’t weigh luggage. Our bags were heavy with food. A fair bit of snow is forecast for the next few days, but also the typical vicious wind. Tomorrow we will head up to check out the ski resort above the town of Pucon, on the volcano of Villarica. Perhaps we will find pow?