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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Puyehue National Park - climbing Puyehue Volcano

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

The hot thermal springs in the Valdivian rainforest invite to relax
Trailhead approach with obstacles - a gaucho helps us and our stuck car out
Steaming rainforest, lush green plateaus, and desert-like fields of ash and lava - a trek across all climate and vegetation zones
The early bird... - fantastic views of the crater rim of Puyehue Volcano in the morning hours

Before we return to Argentina after about 7 weeks in Chile, we have another highlight on the program: Puyehue volcano in the national park of the same name. He is quite unknown and little frequented. One more reason for us to go there. And probably the first opportunity to climb a volcano and hike right up to a crater rim.

First, however, we relax in the thermal springs of the national park. To be honest, they're not particularly pretty. The Chileans score neither with service orientation, nor cross-selling in the form of a cocktail bar (or whatever else you imagine as a German). But the relaxing effect of hot water is there. And hey - we have no bathtub in the camper :-)

The next day we head towards the trailhead. We don't have much information about the hike - only a description from a 20-year-old hiking guide. We are excited. Despite being a national park, part of the hike is on private property. And so, of course, tolls are required - not too little at 20 euros per person. After all, there is a shelter at the foot of the volcano that we can use as long as we want. After registering with the owner, we learn that we can even drive about 5 km further with our 4x4 vehicle to shorten the hiking distance. Perfect! It goes up a muddy path, we drive relaxed in four-wheel drive with low gear. Until there is a steep section with an incline of about 25° and we're not moving any further. I can see from the passenger window that the right front tire is spinning. We start an attempt to drive off, this time with differential locks. That's it. When we get out, we first see the full extent of the disaster: we have "buried" ourselves into the mud with three out of four tires. We sit up in the back, we're almost 50 cm in the dirt. All ground clearance of our Toyota is gone. Maybe we should have got off earlier... Our only solution - dig our way out. Paradoxically, the huge, isolated property has excellent 4G reception. While Micha digs, I google for alternatives, watch YouTube videos on how to get out of such situations - but all with outside help or tools that we don't have on board. A tedious affair for Micha. We take turns. After about 2 hours we try to move out backwards - no way.

Just as we are about to continue digging, a gaucho suddenly comes riding up. And a few minutes later a jeep approaches from the trailhead. Our rescue? They're trying to pull us backwards down the hill. On the first try, the lasso breaks after a few seconds (no kidding, Gaucho style :-)). Without further ado, the two drive away in the jeep, the horse stays with us. With a tighter belt, they come back. New try, new luck. And - yeah - we move. Unfortunately, we slide sideways so badly that we are about to move the rear tire into a ditch. We don't feel like laughing anymore... And we can't even think about taking pictures - there's too much at stake. We have one more try forward. It has to be 100% exact. The jeep pulls and we actually make it onto a straight lane. Phew! When asked whether we want to continue towards the Trailhead, we don't have to think twice. We park our car on the next leveled grass. At first glance, everything seems intact.

Now the hike can start - about 4 hours later than planned. We're unlikely to make it to Refugio El Caulle in daylight if the times are correct. But that's the only weather window we have. The path is steep, but not very long. After about 2.5 hours we managed the 1,000 meters in altitude. Micha can even catch the last rays of sunshine on the beautiful plateau. What a day! After dinner we go straight into our sleeping bags. We want to get up early to catch the best light on the volcano crater.

Refugio El Caulle Besteigung des Puyehue Vulkans, schöner Vulkan, Vulkankrater Chile
After a short delay we hike up to Refugio El Caulle

Refugio El Caulle Vulkan Puyehue Nationalpark
Refugio El Caulle

Puyehue Vulkan Vulcano Chile National Park
Our goal for tomorrow...

Shortly after sunrise we set off to climbing the Puyehue volcano ... The 800 meters in altitude feel quite exhausting on the sandy ground, which constantly gives way... We even find a companion - a dog appears out of nowhere to join us. We call him Piti. He seems to know the track well and is quite fit. After about 2 hours, the three of us reach the edge of the crater and can hardly believe our eyes. The view is unique. Below us lies the frozen crater, more than 2 km in diameter. Desert-like fields of ash and lava all around us, and all the lakes and volcanoes of the region in the background. We even see the volcano Villarrica, more than 100 km away. Crazy! We enjoy the view with pleasant temperatures and hardly any wind and strengthen ourselves. Piti also deserves a piece of salami :-)

Krater Puyehue National Park Vulkan Vulcano Chile Wanderung Highlight
What a view of the gigantic crater.....

Krater Puyehue National Park Vulkan Vulcano Chile Wanderung Highlight
Different perspective ...

The descent is extremely fast. Despite the steep terrain, the volcanic sand provides a good grip. We arrive at the refuge around noon, meanwhile it is around 15 degrees and the sun is shining brightly. Perfect for a long lunch break! In the afternoon we set off and descend. We're not longing for another cold night in the refuge without dry firewood. And it's supposed to rain the next day.

We are happy to be back at our car with enough water supplies and a Diesel heater :-) And fortunately everything seems to be fine with the vehicle. One more reason to further train our off-road driving skills. Nothing beats experience!

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