We reached Parque Pumalin driving north from Chaitten on Thursday evening having caught the overnight boat from Quellon on Isla Chiloe and spending the day walking around Chaiten, taking advantage of the free internet. The drive takes about 30mins on a gravel, winding road around the foot of the Andes.
A big sign on the right announces your arrival to the park. That and the end of the asphalt road are the only indicators that you are now leaving civilisation behind.
On advice from Nicolas, the half Chilean-half American guide in Chaitten, we set off to find Campo Lago Bianco as it’s been described as quieter and beautiful. Located about 4km further north from the start of the trail to Volcano Chaiten, the camp ground is probably the best we have come across to date.
Not only are we the only ones there but we have our own little hut overlooking the lake. Despite the lack of running water we opt to stay there for both nights, hidden away from the handful of other visitors to the park going to sleep to the sound of frogs and birds.
The next day we set off to climb up to the caldera of Volcano Chaiten. Whilst we aim to start early (the top of the volcano is obviously devout of any trees or shade) we don’t set off before 9am. The ascent is exhausting. 600mtrs over 2hrs in the blistering sun, most of it done with steps. Andy keeps telling me that this is training so that I can “do more mountain climbers at Barry’s”.
As we take breaks we have a chance to admire the view. The effects of the volcano’s eruption in 2008 are clearly visible. Dead trees, their trunks marked by the ash and the lava. At the hilltops, the dead trees cast against the blue sky make the mountains look like a giant hedgehog.
The last 50 metres are probably the hardest. A tough, steep ascent over muddy ground. We walked through two dead tree trunks that could very well be inviting you into Mordor. And then you are there. At the caldera, overlooking a volcano that over the 4 day eruption grew another 200 meters in height.
Quick picnic, the obligatory photo shoot and as we are about to head down we hear a baby cry. A German couple have just ascended the volcano with a 4month old baby strapped to their back.