We met up at the airport in Puerto Montt and everyone’s bellies were rumbling for some Chilean grub. We went straight to the best pichanga bar in town and ordered up a round or two of pisco sours and caught up on the last two years of our lives.
The next day, we had a leisurely morning, put on all of our ski gear, and took the bus (amid stares from confused Chileans) up to Puerto Varas to meet my friend Jess for a little afternoon skiing on Volcan Osorno, a little mom-and-pop operation above Lago Llanquihue.
The views of the surrounding countryside (with volcanoes speckled throughout) were stupendous and it was tough to concentrate on climbing. As much as I love skiing volcanoes, I might’ve been just as happy to bask in the sunshine and take in the view for hours on end.
We eventually ran into some Basque ski mountaineers (randonerds in the truest sense) and they reported having fallen into a half dozen of them during their ascent of the final hundred meters of the climb. At that point, the corn snow from lower on the mountain had given way to a mix of ice chunks and deep sun cups. The snow conditions, combined with the prospect of dying in a volcanic vent crevasse, made the decision an easy one: we would ski from there and, once again, forsake the summit.
As we pulled into the driveway, we were greeted by a pack of small dogs that seemed eager to eat us for dinner and a dark-haired woman popped her head out the door to greet us. She looked a bit suspicious, but was friendly and the little cabin she had was wonderful, with a kitchen and several bedrooms and bathrooms all to ourselves. We got to chatting with her and her husband and found that they were half Italian and half Arabic and had moved to Chile several years before.
The next morning was also nice and clear and we up to a little lodge on the other side of Llaima to do some more exploring. Tree line was a bit higher there and there was only one type of tree on offer: the legendary Monkey Puzzle tree.
The next day we were feeling well rested and a bit more ambitious and we decided to head north to another hot springs that we hadn’t seen yet. They had a website that looked really promising and made mention of how exceptionally hot their springs were. It was up in the mountains and as we gained elevation, the rain eventually turned to slush… and then the slush turned to a light layer of snow. Karen had no problem working her way through it, but there were several busses stopped along the side of the dirt road and eventually we came to one that was blocking it entirely and was clearly having issues making it up a hill. We stopped to let them get out of the way. A half hour slowly marched by and they made little progress. Eventually a group of surly passengers from the bus trudged up to us said that we would have to turn around because the bus could “never make it past us”. There was clearly plenty of space, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer and we turned Karen around and pointed her back up the road away from the hot springs until we found an extra wide spot with at least two lanes of passing space. It was clear that the process of getting the stuck bus around all of the other stopped busses would take hours, so we decided to hoof it the remaining 3 kilometers to the hot spring – the only snag was that I’d just brought sandals. It was a cold, wet, slushy walk, and a shuttle from the hotel at the hot springs buzzed past and totally splashed us with muddy slush as we walked up the hill. Talk about adding insult to injury.
All of these stupid shenanigans wouldn’t have seemed so bad if we’d arrived and been able to jump into some glorious steaming hot springs, but instead we jumped in to find that they were barely luke warm. We spent enough time for each of us to drink a beer and then trudged another three kilometers in the snow and sleet back to the car. Hands down my least favorite hot springs in all of Chile.
This time around, we elected to buy lift tickets and try to get a bunch of skiing in before we made for the summit. It was some of the oddest snow I’ve ever seen – windblown and extra grabby – but we had a blast lapping it and waiting for the t-bar on the upper part of the mountain to open.
The wind was still blowing with some force and the clouds were threatening to close in again, so we made for the summit at the first opportunity. A couple hundred feet of skinning brought us up to the final ridge where the wind had blown the snow into a bunch of ice bulges. We switched over to crampons and slowly booted our way up to the crater with the clouds just skimming above our heads and the surrounding volcanoes beginning to disappear into the overcast. Pat and Haleigh looked down into the crater in awe and we all took a moment to rest and collect ourselves. We’d finally made it to a summit!