Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stumped Again :-(

That damn volcano is still haunting me, now 2-0. It all started about a week ago, when we first arrived in Pucon, Chile.

Previous attempt.
The idea was to start the new year in a different country and let the adventure unfold from there. The weather was bad, raining most of the time; we checked the weather apps and decided to book in the volcano on Friday the 3rd Jan, the first fully clear beautiful day forecast. Tuesday was a generally fine day so we went to the National Park (Huerquehue) for a 5 hour trek up the mountains to the three lakes at the top. We thought this would be good training as we had done very little trekking for over a year. All of our plans for weekend treks fell by the wayside under the pressure of real life.

That night the rain seemed to set in and we thought New Year's Eve would be a bust, but at around 10:30 the sky cleared and the rain stopped and we went to the 'Grand Beach' for the celebrations. NYE in Pucon is a festive family affair: cans of foam and streamers and funny hats were the order of the day. The fireworks were brilliant; every time you thought they were finished they would start again. My first NYE in a foreign country in 52 NYE's, a nice start to the year. Pucon is a really lovely place, very relaxing: beaches, boat trips, forests, hot springs, water sports (kayaking, rapids etc), lovely town, friendly people and THAT volcano, overlooking everything like butter would not melt in its mouth. Friday cleared up as forecast and it looked like lady luck was upon us...

The luck seemingly continued as we arrived at the base of the volcano: the chair lift was going, saving us around 1.5 hours of steep uphill walking. The very basic chairlift (no bar in front) spilled us out at the base of the snow line. It was time to put on the crampons and suit up for the cold: jacket, wet weather pants, helmet, unclasp the pickaxe; oh yeah, bring it on.

The long slog began. Very soon it was one foot in front of the other, don't look down, as we traversed uphill in a criss cross manner. Sharp left, change side of pickaxe to high side, walk 50 steps, sharp right, change side of pickaxe, walk 50 steps etc. It's slow going and all uphill; luckily we were prepared for this, we had done it before, so up we went. After about 45 minutes we took our first break: time for some food, check the amazing view, nothing like looking down and seeing clouds and lakes beneath you and other volcanoes in the distance. Off we go again for another hour and so forth.

Then our luck changed. The wind started to pick up, we went over one ridge where the wind was particularly fierce and I grabbed hold of Elizabeth, shades of the TV show 'The Flying Nun' came into my head.

Then they started the 'we might not get to the top, the wind is getting worse, the snow is too hard etc' story, trying to prepare us for failure. Apparently the problem was mainly the fact that it had rained the day before (and most of the last week). The top third was hard ice; it was getting more and more difficult to punch our crampons through the ice to get a grip. They were communicating by walkie talkie with the other groups. Nobody had made it to the top; some groups were waiting at the final ridge for the wind to die down to give it a go.

Most of our group had already given up. We were losing people and guides as we went; they would stay behind at certain points and wait for us. Elizabeth did not want to give up; one of her many impressive qualities, her courage and determination, if Elizabeth makes up
her mind, it is very, VERY hard to stop her. We seemed to be the last two still walking in our group (could not see anyone else) when one of the guides ran up from behind to talk to Elizabeth. "Yes," he was saying, "I can see you are determined, but even if you get up to the top we cannot slide down, the ice is too hard, you would need REALLY strong legs to clamber down, and that will be the dangerous part, one slip and it's all ice for 500 metres."

Elizabeth and Spock
very unhappy
We relented and went back to where the last of our group were, to lick our wounds and look up at how far we had left. Again at the 2400m mark, only about 400m to go, we could see the smoke coming from the top of this active volcano, apparently a two-pack a day one. Yes, we must have made the volcano gods angry, Adrian, they don't want us up there. We were able to still do some sliding down the volcano once we had gotten to softer snow 100m or so below us. Elizabeth does not want to try again; I would be willing if some benefactor paid for a month in December to train and wait for the perfect day. Our hope now is Mt Fuji in Japan, in July. Hopefully she will be kinder, she is family after all, so put in a good word for us, Mariko (daughter-in-law).
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go...

Still an amazing experience, still brilliant views, but when they ask me on my deathbed, "What's your one regret?" I will probably say, "Not getting to the top of that bloody volcano."

A word from Elizabeth:
"I sit on beautiful Playa Blanca on the shore of Lago Caburgua under an umbrella with alternating panels of purple & orangey gold. Families are all around me sunning, swimming & sitting under equally colourful umbrellas. We're nestled among mountains & green forest and surrounded by the sounds of noisy happiness. The highest peak to the east still has remnants of winter snow on it. Gotta be one of the prettiest places in Chile. A perfect 27 degree day with the lightest of breezes & the lake water cool enough to make the skin tingle. Beautiful blue blue sky untainted by clouds. An idyllic end to a wonderful week. So glad we decided to start our year in Pucon."
Playa Grande with its black volcanic sand

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