The Antuco volcano

The Antuco area was the place for my first mountain trips. This photo, shot from the Chillán volcano about 50km away, shows the entire surroundings: To the left we have the nicely shaped 2800 meter high volcano, while the massive mountain to the right is the 3500 meter high Sierra Velluda. In front of the Sierra, barely recognizable, is the remains of the long-extinct Laja volcano's crater. During a relatively recent eruption of the Antuco, volcanic material obstructed the valley, forming the Laja lake, which is almost invisible in this picture, hidden by the mountain in the foreground. Only at the extreme left of the photo a tiny speck of the lake's blue surface can be seen. This lake has seen heavy use both for irrigation of the fertile land down to the right, and as one of Chile's prime hydroelectric resources.
The first time I came to this place was at age 14, on a school trip. We spent a week at the Antuco ski center, but I found less interest in skiing than in trekking. In a sneakers-and-sweat effort we almost managed to climb the volcano, but the day was too short, and at 16 hours the teacher called it a day and we had to return. It was a great adventure anyway, and my first at such heights. Unfortunately I have no decent photo of that trip because my box camera froze up.

A few years later I returned to this place with a firm intention: I wanted to check out radio propagation from high snow-covered places. Sebastián Oehrens was my climbing mate on this trip. We went up the mountain in a hurry, so we could set up the radio station and have enough operating time. This lead to some incidents like the one pictured here, where Sebastián tried to make it to the rock through soft snow, and broke in. We broke through the snow many times. There is not only the sun heat captured by the black rocks, but also the heat coming from inside the volcano! This melts the low snow layers, and at this time in the year, mid spring, the top snow cover is held up just by pillars of snow, forming huge caves below! At some places we could have walked right under the snow, but it was scary, after all the wet spring snow is heavy! If it came down onto our heads, we would have been material for the newspapers.

In my long-winded story about my beginnings as a radio amateur, on the homo ludens radioactivus page, you will find more photos of this trip.

One day I took the opportunity to come to Antuco on a single-day trip, with the secret intention of finally climbing the volcano right to the crater. But when we arrived at the ski center, it was snowing... With little visibility and a thick cover of powder snow, there was no hope to make the volcano. So I joined a rather huge group of hobby climbers who were trying the smaller mountain on the other side of the Laja lake. When the snow is so soft, it's a real advantage to be the last in the row! I got the most trampled snow, so I could walk up with much less effort than those at the top!

By the way, the red-clothed guy is Claudio Zehnder, a classmate with whom I have done a lot of trips, both during my school time and later.

Here's the view straight up the mountain. The weather was slowly improving, but it was very windy. The large accumulated snow mass posed some risk of avalanches, so we had to be careful. At one time indeed an avalanche came down, fortunately not too close to us.

As we approached the summit, the weather kept improving. The sun started looking through the clouds at some times, which gave us new energy to go on climbing this exhausting route. So we made the summit at a very reasonable time, getting an hour or even more to stroll around and shoot some pictures.

This is one of the arms of the Laja lake. It was rather well filled this year. I have never again seen it with as much water. The huge electric generation plants that draw water from this lake have since kept it at a very much lower level.

Claudio was always our clown. Here he demonstrates in a convincing way that he was tired from the trip! He also shows us the softness of this snow. But please be warned: Lying down to relax in the snow, when you are exhausted, is EXTREMELY dangerous! The cold feeling has a relaxing effect on the body, and before you can fend it off, you fall asleep! Then you drift into unconsciousness, and death. Many mountaineers have died this way. It's a sweet death, they say, as it doesn't hurt a bit. But still you should not try it. We pulled Claudio out of his snow bed before he had a chance to fall asleep.

I have done many more trips to the Antuco, alone and with company. But I have yet to climb it fully! I have been close many times, but not right on the top. It seems that I will need a two-day trip to do it.

And as a beautiful end to this little story, here is a closer view of the Sierra Velluda. It's a mountain I have yet to try. Getting to its main summit requires considerable rock climbing practice.

 Back to the homo ludens andinensis page.