Villarrica Volcano, Chile, July 17, 2003 — Day 40 was definitely a (mis)adventure. We awoke early with the plan of joining a group climbing the volcano Villarrica. We were fitted with ice crampons and picks, and I chose to get skis too to make the descent more fun. Our guide and another brave soul drove us to Villarrica, and from there we took a chair lift to the ski lodge where we were to start the climb. Our guide gave us our safety instructions, which consisted entirely of the words “follow me,” and he was off. For about 2 seconds. That’s how long it took him before he nearly fell on his butt on the ice sheet he was walking on. Later we learned that it had been easy climb through slush and snow the day before, but overnight the snow had turned to a sheet of ice. So we stopped and our guide showed us how to put on our crampons, and then gave us the extended (about 2 minutes) safety instructions, and we were off again. By that time, the sun was just rising over the distant peaks, and it was beautiful out.
We climbed slowly for about 90 minutes, when we arrive at a concrete structure that had been a ski lift until an eruption from the volcano destroyed it. While we rested, a heavy cloud cover rolled in, followed by sleet. We took cover for 15 minutes before giving up and heading down. Sherri and our fellow maniac followed the guide on foot, but I had skis with which to descend. The problem was, except for the occasional moments when the wind blew away some of the clouds, I couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead. The guide told me not to worry, just go down the way we came until we get to the top of the ski lift. Which is much easier said than done when you’re on a mountain with no trails and no obvious fall lines (at least not when you can’t see). And you don’t want to end up on the wrong face heading away from the destination. And the “snow” was really sheets of wind swept ice.
But off I went. Right onto my butt. One turn, one fall. But I got up and continued down, very slowly, with my skis chattering and unable to cut into the ice sheets the entire time. Perhaps I’m a huge wimp, but I ended up descending at the same speed as the walkers (though I couldn’t keep them in sight most of the time), heading downhill only when I could see more than a foot or two ahead. Let’s just say it was the least fun ski trip of my life. But we all made it down alive, and that’s what really counts.
For the record, Sherri carried the camera.