The last few days of our trip were an abrupt change of plans. We were supposed to arrive in Puerto Montt from Chaiten/Futaleufu on Dec. 29, leaving 3 days to go in and out of the Cochamo Valley by horse and spend a day there exploring. http://www.cochamo.com/trekking/
When we arrived a day late it did not make sense to go into the Cochamo Refugio for one night without time to see much of the area.
So on Dec. 31 we drove north from Puerto Montt through the Chilean Lake District to Pucon. This was a recon mission to the Villarrica volcano often touted for backcountry skiing and also for the December 14, 2020 total solar eclipse.
For most of the time we had been in Chile Dec. 31 had been forecast to be the nicest weather day, which was indeed the case. We stopped briefly at Lago Panguipulli with distant view of 7,850 foot Volcan Choshuenco.
Notice the handsome dog at lower left. Chilean dogs are perhaps the world’s most privileged. They roam the streets at will during the day and go home at night. It’s evident that most have good homes as they are mellow, friendly, well groomed and have been trained not to do their business on streets and sidewalks.
Liz and a local boy on lakeside swings:
Nearby we saw this pair of ibises, smaller than the ones in El Calafate 6 years ago.
Driving around Lago Calafquen we get a good view of the south side of Villarrica.
9,300 foot Villarrica is at 39 degrees latitude and note again the glacial crevasses on its south side. At this late time (4PM) it finally dawned on me to look up reviews about climbing Villarrica. The volcano became active in 2015 and you can see magma in the crater from the top, where the tour guides also provide gas masks if necessary. Tours guides Aguaventura and Antu Rios y Montanas were well reviewed so we called them. The bad news is that the government closes all of the tour guide operations on New Year’s Day. We later found out that was due to an accident on a whitewater trip where the guide was still feeling the effects of New Year’s Eve. So we missed out even though weather remained good on New Year’s Day.
The good news is that we are coming back in 3 years for that eclipse, and as with the Futaleufu river rafting we will try to make up for what we missed this time. The better news is that Aguaventura will rent ski or snowboard gear and for an extra $40 you can have a porter carry your skis up the mountain. AT gear is also available but I think we will use the porters.
We drove into the town of Villarrica at the west end of Lago Villarrica, then along the south side of the lake almost to Pucon before ascending the mountain road. It is paved for awhile then splits into two gravel roads, one east to the lava caves and one west to the ski area. We got a good view of the west side on Villarrica, which probably has the best spring skiing.
You need to ski the strip out the far left of the second picture above to get back to the ski area parking lot.
I think like Shasta, Villarrica is more a spring than winter ski destination, as evidenced by guided tours providing skis at the end of December. June is considered the optimal month on Shasta. These isolated volcanoes often have wind affected snow in winter but smooth corn in spring. I could be overestimating how late the skiing is good as we know that these southern areas had a big year in 2017. The Google Earth picture of Villarrica, probably taken in January or February, shows the north side snow mostly unskiable. But we will be here 2-3 weeks earlier than this in 2020.
We arrived at the caves at 5:30 but the last tour was at 5PM. We hiked the short distance to some viewpoints.
The guided tours ascend the more north facing face at left in the second picture, where you can see glissade streaks coming down. But the skiing looks better moving over to the more west facing aspect at right.
Looking down from the same spot at about 3,900 feet:
The view over the lake at left is in the direction of the approaching 2020 eclipse shadow. Totality is near midday at 70 degrees above the horizon.
We then took the other gravel road up to the ski area base at 4,000 feet, where Liz checked out the lower chair.
The lower green trail on that map is the summer road behind Liz, sunken a good 10 feet below the surrounding forest, which may or may not be skiable.
So we drove up that road to the upper base lodge above tree line at 4,700 feet. View left toward climbing route:
And right towards better ski lines:
View down from same spot to the upper lodge and its large sundeck:
I’m sure some high end tour group will reserve that deck for the eclipse, a slightly more rustic analogy to what we did in Jackson last August.
View northeast to 6,880 foot Volcan Sollipulli.
We drove into Pucon, which is a very attractive resort town and obviously jammed for New Year’s Eve. After a few tries at fully booked restaurants we squeezed in to El Fogon for a hearty steak dinner. While there we booked the night at Maison Nomade B&B about 8 km east of town. The New Year’s dinner package included party props and champagne at the end.
We left the restaurant about 11:30 and nearly everyone was walking north toward the lake though a few here were listening to a DJ.
Happy New Year!
A 20 minute fireworks show ensued.
We had prepaid for our last night in Puerto Montt on Jan. 1 so tentatively planned to return then. However, our Jan. 2 flight was not until 3:30PM so after getting to bed at 1:30AM we decided to spend a second night at Maison Nomade.
Maison Nomade’s extremely knowledgeable proprietor Alain has been there 13 years. He recommended the Los Pozones hot springs and the amazing Peumayen Lodge for our final dinner in Chile. Alain came to Chile from France and saw the 1999 eclipse in Picardy, so he already knew about 2020. He’s already had inquiries about reservations. In general the local hotels will be requiring minimum stays of at least 3 nights but he has not heard yet about price gouging like we had in Wyoming and Oregon this year.
The Lake District around Pucon is very spread out with lots of small places, cabanas for rent and some campsites. It’s a very scenic and relaxing area but has some downsides for the eclipse. Clearly the weather prospects are a crapshoot, probably a tossup per Alain. Thus most of us fanatics will be on the drier Argentine side for the eclipse. The roads in the Chilean Lake District are all two lane and fairly slow, so it may be difficult to relocate.
Alain also clarified the rental car issue which Patrick and I have debated few times. The Chilean car rental companies do not like to see their cars taken across the border. You need to specify in advance if you want that, and it can be much more expensive. By contrast it’s not a big deal to rent a car in Argentina and bring it into Chile. We almost did that in El Calafate in 2011 and we saw quite a few Argentine plates around Pucon. So we were pleased to learn that we can get a car in Argentina in 2020 and easily bring it to Pucon for climbing Villarrica or from Esquel to Futaleufu for the river rafting. In both cases we’ll need the weather to cooperate, but if we’re down there 3 weeks or so with a flexible schedule perhaps we can achieve those objectives.