Climbing a Volcano

29 Oct

Yesterday was one of the most physically and mentally difficult, challenging, exhausting, beautiful and rewarding days of my life. I trekked up a volcano. El Volcán Villarrica in Pucon, Chile, to be exact. One of the world´s top ten most active volcanoes. I never in a million years would have imagined that one day I would be trekking up 1400 kilometers in snow, wearing a helmet and clamp-ons, and carrying an ice pick to peer down the inside of a volcano. It´s something to be crossed off the bucket list that I didn´t even know was on there.

Volcán Villarrica. At the base of the volcano taking in all that I am about to climb, which is to that plume of smoke at the very top.

The day started quite early. At 6am I was eating breakfast, at 7 am we met with the tour guides, and by 8am we were on our way up the volcano. We had the option to ride the ski lift that would take us up the first 400km, but on the one hand that would have cost extra, and on the other hand…I´m up for the challenge. I chose to ignore the guide´s “strong suggestion” to take the lift and opted for the long way up. Me, my two new friends Vanessa (from London) and Helene (from Vienna) and the Aussie boys were in it together. We knew it would be steep and we knew it would be difficult, but we imagined that it would be that much more rewarding at the top.

Trekking up past the ski lifts.

So on we went, up and up. The first optional portion of the climb was steep and took about an hour and a half to zig-zag up the mountain. But once there I felt strong and energized. I wanted to proclaim, “I am strong, I am invincible, I am Woman!!!”  We continued  on, zig-zagging, searching for a steady piece of snow to plant our feet, huffing and puffing. The higher we got, the more difficult it became. The wind became  fierce, to the point where you felt that it could sweep you right off the slope, chilling you to the bone and biting at your skin. The snow was thick, and each step prove difficult to find any balance. I found myself often praying that I wouldn´t lose my footing and roll down the mountain.

A much needed rest and snack break.

We finally made it to a resting point where we could eat a snack to keep energized, and thinking that we had already been climbing for a good 2 1/2 hours I thought certainly we were  almost there. So I asked one of the guides, “how much longer?” to which he replied, “Oh, about 2 more hours.” What???!!!! Oh my goodness. This was the moment of truth. I had two very clear choices: have a mental breakdown, kick scream and cry, refuse to go down and have a rescue team helicopter me off the mountain, or keep going up. While I admit, the former was tempting and would have been a new adventure in itself (helicopter ride is on the bucket list), I chose the latter. Grit my teeth and keep going.

Recharged and re-energized to make it up the mountain.

Re-energized and ready to go!

Just don´t look up and only focus on the step in front of you. Sounds silly, I know. An avid volcano-hiker-snow-trekker-wild-man would probably laugh heartily at my exhaustion and weariness, but man oh man, I´ve never hiked a hike like this before. Not looking up worked for a good while until I realized that I was forgetting to enjoy the moment. And so up I looked and found myself high above the clouds in the most beautiful, pristine, breathtaking landscape I have ever seen. I was so thankful to be exactly where I was doing what I was doing at that moment. And while it didn´t make the trek any easier, it refreshed my sense of determination and adventure.

Another rest break. Reminds me of “Weekend at Bernie´s”, the arctic adventure version.

Finally, after a total of 6 hours (it took a bit longer due to weather conditions-we thought we were going to have to turn around and go back), we made it to the crater of the volcano and basked in the glorious moment of knowing that WE MADE IT! And damn it was hard! The Moment of Glory was brief due to the strong gasses pluming from the crater, but I tried my best to be there in the moment and soak it all in. I´m pretty sure that I can to anything after climbing El Volcán Villarrica. I am Woman!!!

At the top of the volcano.

Me, Vanessa, and Helene dangling our feet over the edge of the crater. Inhaling lovely plumes of sulfur.

Our clamp-ons that made it all possible.

The crew that mad it to the top. The only group (it should be noted) that actually did make it to the top that day. We saw the others turn around.

Our guides that thankfully kept us alive.

The way down the volcano was a blast! We attached little plastic shovel-looking sleds to out belt, tucked them under our tooshies, and wheeeeeeee!!! all the way down. It took about 2 hours to make it back to the van, soaking wet, shivering, freezing, and satisfied. A warm shower, a beer, and 11 hours of sleep followed. I absolutely loved Friday, October 28th, 2011.

8 Responses to “Climbing a Volcano”

  1. Dad October 30, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Holy Smokes, April!

    I don’t know what to say (and that doesn’t happen very often). What are you going to do next? Hunt crocodiles in Australia? Wrestle water buffalo in Africa? Become an astronaut?
    I have a feeling an entirely different April is going to come home to us in December, and I can’t wait to see her in front of me. I’m impressed!



    • onelittleapple onebigworld November 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

      Since you mention them, I think I’ll be adding those to the ol’ bucket list as well. Thanks for the inspiration daddy! Can’t wait to see you when I get home. LOVE YOU A LOT!!

  2. Rick October 30, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Wow!!! What an amazing experience! You have such a gift with writing about it, too! Makes me want to join you, except for breathing the fumes. I get enough of those here in LA! Thanks for sharing your story. So proud of you!

    • onelittleapple onebigworld November 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

      Thank you! It was an amazing experience, I was wishing that we had done that long hike in Maui so I could have been at least a little conditioned. Hopefully we can do it next year :). Miss you! See you in 6 weeks!

  3. Big Sissy October 31, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    wow this is amazing! this is what life is all about little sister! i’m so proud of you. you’re pictures are stunning and your talent for story-telling is unparalleled! can’t wait to hear more!! xoxo

  4. Kayra November 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Apple! This is pretty badass. No lie! You climbed a volcano! A VOLCANOOO.
    P.s. “his fffffffffavourite walking stick.”
    I love you! Climb more stuff and document it! And most importantly, be safe!

  5. LAbackpackerChick November 8, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Very cool! I am definitely adding this trek to my list! Your travels look amazing! How much longer are you going?

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