The Chillán massif

Here it was where I got most of my formal training in mountain climbing. The postcard-like view is already a hint at the beauty of this zone. Through a forest that changes colors throughout the year, one reaches the Chillán massif, which consists of the long extinct old volcano, the moderately active young volcano, and the "Nevado", a huge non-volcanic mountain that holds a permanent snow cover even in summer. The three peaks are approximately of the same height: 3100 meter above sea level. The two volcanos are close together, while the Nevado is several kilometer separated from them.

On the slope of the volcanos is an important ski center, with several lifts, large luxury hotels, and everything else. But for the nature lover it is a better idea to stay clear of that jet set environment, and prefer the southwestern side. There one can be alone with nature, enjoy the view of rare birds, age-old untouched forests, and the huge quietness the white mountain offers.

In an area on the slope of the Nevado, close to the "Garganta del Diablo", the "Devil's Gorge", many years back a relatively large mountain shelter was built. It is very rustical: No running water, the furniture made from deft logs, and restrooms in the best medieval style: just a hole in a wall. It is such a romantic place to go...

Our University mountaineering group had an agreement to care for the keeping of this shelter, and in return had the permission to use it freely. So we did many trips to this place. It was our center of operation for training, climbing, and even partying!

There is no road to this shelter. Everyone who wants to get there, must rely on the transportation Mother Nature gave him: His feet. Thanks to this fact, the shelter has remained unharmed by looters, despite having no locks at the door.

When we hiked up there, it was usually a long walk. We took a rural bus to the town of Recinto, then walked (or hitchhiked, when we had that luck) a few kilometer up the road, and then left the road and took the forest trail, which left us up at the shelter after about six hours of walking.

We usually didn't carry just all of our equipment and supplies, but also tools and material for repairing the shelter. I once hiked up carrying 24 window glasses, another time I carried some roofing material. That part of the trip was the least fun; the repair work was much better, but even better was of course the climbing in the white heights.

The shelter is located above the tree line. Here we are resting after leaving the forest. It was summer, and the remaining snow was very soft, so from this place on we had to walk with snowshoes. That's quite an effort.

This is the place where all new members of the club came for their first mountain experience. I still remember a girl who had a view of traveling that was not precisely mountain-compatible: She arrived with a huge backpack, that few of us could actually lift! She was strong, and she could lift it. But after one hour she could no more. So we did the mountaineer's thing and opened her backpack, to distribute its contents among the stronger carriers. Out came about three kg of lipsticks, deodorants, facial creams, shampoos, conditioners, and other assorted make-up; several cans of fruit in syrup; several hefty books; about 8 complete sets of elegant dressing; two pajamas; a huge sleeping bag that was good for polar expeditions, but much to hot for summer-time mountaineering; and some other stuff I better shouldn't tell you about!

We ate the canned fruit on the spot, convinced her to leave the make-up, books, and most of her excessive clothing right there in the forest, to pick up on our return, and on we went. The girl was a bit pissed off by the harshness of the treatment - but she could walk with the lighter load, and she learned the lesson! She later became a very good mountaineer!

This is the Devil's Gorge. The name comes form the fact that the wind catches in the twist of the gorge, and blows out through the narrow opening, creating an array of whistles and whines that many people associate with devilish sounds. Sometimes we made newcomers camp out inside the gorge on windy nights. The more sensitive ones usually got bad dreams... But they all survived. The devil apparently didn't fancy any of them.

Training starts in this way: Proper slope walking. The piolet on the upslope side, stepping in the footsteps of the one in front, at a proper angle. It's not uncommon that newcomers get frightened by wandering about on a 45 degree slope, but the instructor cures this very quickly: He simply gives the shivering newby a good push, so that he looses balance and falls over. The snow is very soft, so the landing is soft too, and there is no way to slip down the mountain when caught by this snow! So the soaked apprentice learns that wet snow like this is very safe!

Of course, when training the same on iced slopes later on, safety ropes are used.

Mountain climbing is not always about going uphill. After you top that mountain, you have to get back down! It may seem trivial to learn descending techniques. After all going downhill is about 10 times easier than going up! But the issue becomes important when you see the statistics: By far most accidents happen when going down, not up! The climber is more tired, has a feeling of "job is done", and it's all much faster. So, it pays to learn some techniques of quick and safe descending.

The one shown here is one of the more funny: It's like skiing on the shoes, and using the piolet as a steering device. The angle of attack of the feet controls the speed, and if needed the piolet can be used for quick braking. I use this method a lot, but often I climb without a piolet. Then I use the same method of shoe-skiing, but without a steering device! With practice, it works well, but cannot be applied in all cases.

Of course there are other methods too. This one is particularly funny, but it's a bit on the wet side. And it works only in very wet, soft snow!

We learned lots of less photogenic stuff too. Rope work, rock climbing, first aid, orienteering, volcanology, and lots of other things which would be boring to list here.

One day we came up to the Devil's Gorge in mid winter. We arrived in Recinto quite late, did not get anyone to give us a lift, so we had to walk the entire stretch, and night catched us, forcing us to camp before reaching even close to the shelter. I would think that this photo shows clearly enough how cold it was... :-)

Beware of butane stoves. They don't work when it's cold! The butane will simply stay liquid, and unless you heat up the tank in some way, you won't get a hot meal or a coffee! So we always used gasoline stoves. They work in all situations, give a huge heating power, and the gasoline also is cheaper and more weight-effective than butane. Here a fellow mountaineer waits for the breakfast soup to be ready, while I walked around, shooting photos of iced grass, iced trees, and lastly of his iced nose.

This was the next day. Same guy, but seen from behind on the slope of the Nevado. We had an ideal climbing day, with beautiful weather, good snow, and lots of time, so we wandered around the Nevado, enjoying all those little grand things that were to be seen.

Here are the two volcanos, seen from the Nevado. The large depression is the Devil's Gorge. It was all dusted over with snow, producing nice photos.

This is a closer view of the active volcano, shot through a long lens. From our shelter it was a very long stretch to walk over to the volcanos, so we never climbed them from this starting position. But sure I wanted to do it! After all, peeking into nature's cooking pot is more interesting than having a walk on a simple heap of rock and snow!

Ice stalagmites and stalactites form wherever the sun melts snow, and the resulting water drips over rocks. The air temperature was below freezing all the time. Even so, thanks to little wind, a strong sun and the reflection from the snow, the perceived temperature was quite nice.

It was several years later, when I was out of University, that I finally did climb the two volcanos. I did it on a solo trip that went on much smoother than I ever expected!

I drove up to the ski center, and bought a two-way ticket for the seat lift. Not many people use this lift without carrying skis, but still I was not the first one to use it just as a launch pad to climbing. The lift goes up to the 2400 meter level.

Once up there, still in early morning and with fresh forces, I programmed the spot into my newly acquired GPS receiver, and set off towards the old volcano, which looked more climbable. I was carrying photo gear, snow goggles, the GPS, and  a plum. Nothing else. Not even crampons, since it was summer and I did not expect any hard ice.

Three hours later I was on the summit of the old, extinct volcano. The crater is quite open, not very large, maybe 50 meter across. The day was windless, very nice, so I spent quite some time up here, making photos of everything.

This photo for example shows the view south, towards the Antuco volcano and the SierraVelluda. You probably already read the page about that zone.

While looking, photographing, and enjoying the solitude, I discovered a caterpillar-like black line snaking through the snow, far down. As they came closer, I recognized the caterpillar as a group of soldiers doing mountain training. Poor guys! The commander had them marching all the time, with not a moment for enjoying the landscape!

After rounding the volcano, they started climbing it. I waited and played Wild West, observing them and photographing. Then I surprised them as they reached the summit. They had not seen me until then. So much for their ability to spot the enemy!

But they were no enemies. After the usual introductions, they even invited me to share a short meal with them! It's the only time in my life so far that I have eaten military rations!

When the soldiers were gone, and it was still just noon time, I decided to go down and try the other volcano! The day was just ideal, the soldier food had made me strong and bold, so why should I be happy with  just one summit?

The active volcano proved much harder to climb, with some quite difficult sections of rock. Remember I was carrying no equipment. But when I noticed the closeness of the summit, and specially when the incredibly snow-covered Nevado appeared behind, I pressed on and quickly made that second summit in one day, at about 15 hours.

Here is a view of the crater's inside. At this moment the volcano was rather peaceful, its chimney closed by snow, so that I could climb down into the crater (just a few meter deep), and carefully walk around. It's interesting to see the many colors caused by fumes carrying all sorts of minerals.

The crater had warm spots, where the snow had molten away, and cool places where it held up even now, in summer.

This is a fumarole on the outside of the crater. As inside too much snow had accumulated, any vapor could escape better on the outside! All this zone, the southern side of the crater rim, is free from snow, and very warm. Puffs of vapor come up as one walks here. The fumarole shown here was also a hot spring, producing a nice stream of boiling water!

There was relatively little sulfur dioxide smell, and some more hydrogen sulfide. Still, the water could have been used to prepare some coffee, as it was probably cleaner than drinking water in a large city!

The Nevado, seen from the summit of the volcano. Wind and sun are great sculptors, and snow is one of the materials they work best!

I really would have liked to go over to the Nevado, and make three summits in one day. And physically I was feeling well enough to do it. But I would have run out of time. Although it was still mid afternoon, the Nevado is farther away than it seems in this tele photo, and there was no way I could have made it before darkness.

So, I stayed at the volcano's summit for another hour, wondering at the greatness of the landscape and enjoying the solitude and quietness. Then I slowly started my way back, guided by the GPS, as no hint of the ski center, nor any other sign of civilization, could be seen from here.

On my way back I even found time to play a little with my camera, and shoot this UFO. The GPS guided me straight to the gorge that led to the ski lift terminal, so I arrived there when they were just closing down for the day! I had expected to do the entire trip back on foot, as closing time was rather early, but the people from the ski center are eager to provide a good service, and let me hop on a seat and take the lift down. I was the only passenger, all other seats being vacant. I felt princely, with that huge machinery running just for me!

It was a very successful day.

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