Pucon is an active, outdoorsy wonderland. There are some many cool things to do- climb the volcano, white water rafting, fly fishing, canopy zip-lining, hot springs and I am sure a ton of other things. I had never climbed the volcano before, so this time I had booked my flight for a day later. I was pretty sore after the race, but a super, although painful massage, a hot bath, and a little walk later on that evening, and I figured I couldn’t pass up on the volcano, I might not get the chance ever again. Besides, the group of triathletes with Ken Glah that invited me along promised it would be nice and slow and easy.
The Sol e Nieve tour group had 5 guides taking 17 of us up the volcano. Each of us was outfitted with a backpack, pair of boots, cramp-ons, helmet, pants, jacket, gators to keep the snow out of the pant legs, and extra layer to wrap around our butts for the way down, a plastic mini toboggan thinggamigaci, and an ice pick.
Yes, an ice pick- that’s when I started to rethink this adventure. We left at 6 am, and an hour later were at the base of the volcano which is about 1400 meters. A short ski lift took us up to 1800 meters where the snow line began.
The top of the volcano is just over 2800 meters, but going straight up is too steep so we would zig zag up, taking a route about 3-4 km long, and were told it would take about 3-4 hours. A short lesson on how to us the ice pick on the high side of the hill as you hike, how to use if if you fall and need to stop your slide down the mountain and off we went. One of the guides led our group, sometimes following preexisting footsteps, but whenever we caught up to a group ahead of us the guide would just veer off, and start a new path to get around them and up faster. It was very sunny, and hotter and hotter as we climbed up, and very slow going. Every 30-40 minutes or so we stopped for a short break, trying to find a way to sit without sliding down. Reapplied sunscreen, had some water, or a bite to eat. This definitely was not as easy as promised, but the steps were nice and small, and the pace was not quick.
We made it to the top a bit faster than expected, which was nice. This volcano is still active and even from far away you can see the smoke at the top, and at night a glow coming from the center. Once we arrived at the top the snow is all melted from the heat, and you can hear a deep rumbling deep down. We couldn’t see far down enough into the volcano to see any lava, but could see the smoke and just the area around the top show the heat coming off the core. It was pretty amazing, as were the views down and all around.
Now the fun part, going down the volcano. I was told we would slide down on our butts, and that it was a slow day, since the snow as very wet, and it was warm. Had it been colder and icier the slide would be much faster. I figured since we zigzagged on the way up it would be the same on the way down- but no- it is just a straight line down. We had another lesson on how to slide down- how to sit with your feet together, and arms close to your body, hold the ice pick properly so you don’s stab yourself or someone else and how to use it to control your speed or stop. I was pretty nervous on the first slide- it looked so steep! But the first one was easy, then we stopped, walked a little farther across, and picked up another slide down. We did that about 4 or 5 times. A few times someone would go too quick and fly out of the track, and then have to stop themselves with the pick, and get back onto the slide route. It was like a childhood dream come true, and the guys were trying to outdo themselves seeing who could get the most speed. It was so much fun. The way down is much, much quicker and more fun than the way up.
It is not very often that I do any touristy stuff when I go to races, but Pucon is a kind of race you have to plan to stay a few days after, and take advantage of the amazing things you can do there. As I was leaving the next day people were heading out white water rafting, and then later on to the hotsprings. So yes, it is a great race, super organization, great challenging course, and definitely not to be missed.