"Visual Quotations"

Photographs by Richard Freeman

Adventures in Chile - Conquering Volcano Villarica

This is not the easiest story for me to tell. It is full of powerful memories of emotional stress and physical peril. But, here it is in a photo-essay form in 12-parts. Click on the first image to begin the narrative.**

Chile 42-20

Where do I begin? I got off the bus from Temuco in the town of Pucón, where from the streets you can see the spectacular Villarica Volcano, one of Chile's most active volcanos rising nearly 10,000 ft.* I was alone yet determined to climb the mountain (no, not alone). I asked around to learn the logistics of climbing (this was before they had tours). I then ran into another group of travelers with whom to make the hike.
Chile 42-27
They seemd like a nice enough group. We learned that there was an A-frame cabin at the foot of the volcano. Although privately owned, the owner was away and it was regularly used by backpackers. It was bare inside except for a wood burning stove. We arrived in a drizzle, but our spirits were high. Hoping to get an early start, we fixed a dinner, crawled into our sleeping bags, and went to sleep.
Chile blacked adj

The next morning we woke to still more rain. And the next. And the next. I soon realized that there were some major flaws with the personalities in the group with whom I was hoping to hike up the volcano. One in particular took a dislike to me. For three days we were holed up in that cabin. Three very, very long days. The next day we would be out of food, and would have to go back to town, whether we hiked the volcano or not.
Chile 42-28
Ahhh, but luck was finally on our side. We awoke to a gorgeous blue sky and a whispy cloud of white gas emanating from the volcano. A perfect day to climb!
Chile 42-29
There I was, in bluejeans and tennis shoes. It was the best hiking gear I had, since my backpack was stolen from a bus station in Peru a month before (but that's another story, for another day). Tied to my tennis shoes, and already killing my feet (not yet attached in this photo) were crude cramp-ons I rented from a sometime guide back in town. But I was strong, nothing was going to stop me. Not physical pain. Not even the others!
Chile 42-31
We got a little way up, then regrouped to agree on an approach. The guide back in town had made me a sketch of the best way to approach the crater from an angle where we would be able to climb into it and not fall through the cracks of snow, ice, and rocks. Not everyone agreed with the plan, but they had no other.
Chile Blacked 2 adj
And so, we hiked....
Chile 42-33
...and we hiked.
Chile 43-9
I was a good 15 minutes ahead of the others when I climbed into the crater. Wow. I could feel the power beneath me as I cautiously made towards the lip of the inside crater, avoiding the deadly gasses hissing out like steam between the crevices.
Chile 43-7
And then, there I was. Looking straight down into one of the most powerful sights I have ever witnessed. The lava was bubbling and splashing, but it was silent. There was a very low rumble, just outside of being audible. It was more of a presence. And the heat flew right up into your face. It was a very spiritual and humbling moment. I felt suddenly very insignificant. Then, coming out of my trance, I heard voices...
Chile 43-6
... and felt a jolt against my body. it was [name deleted]! I was braced low enough to the ground so that I did not topple over. I turned as I fell on my back up against the lip of the crater. He came at me with his hands around my neck. With no time to think I reached for his shoulders and with all the power I could muster in my legs, I lifted him over my shoulders and forced him to release his grip just as he went over my head.
Chile 43-11
The others had witnessed the event. This was South America. We decided to say nothing until they would have to report an accident, after I left town.

The volcano looked so peaceful the evening my bus pulled away, heading further south.

*The latest erruption was October 2008.

** The producers would like to reassure our audience that no human being, plant, or animal was harmed in the making of this photo essay.

©2017 Richard Freeman. All rights reserved.