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Hiking the Copahue volcano

 Estimated reading time: 3 min.Texts Mónica Pons   Photos Jorge González
Tour to the Copahue Volcano on a tracked vehicle

On the snow and ice of the Copahue volcano, the powerful Caterpillar vehicle allowed us to take a distinctive tour and a special return for experienced skiers.

Upon reaching the ski center at Caviahue, we found some bustle, much color and many people at the ski lifts. It was certainly the high season. At 1,650 meters above sea level, the neighboring mounts gleamed in deep white.

On one side, a parked Caterpillar vehicle caught our attention and we approached it to take some pictures. We felt a deep emotion as we were told that there was an unusual adventure outing on board this vehicle: this truck climbs up to the Copahue Volcano crater, 8 km from the mount base. Fortunately, few minutes were left for this excursion to begin and we decided to join the group.
Tour to the Copahue Volcano on a tracked vehicle
The volcano we were about to climb was at 2,458 meters above sea level, we could defeat the 800-meter slope with the vehicle power. The vehicle is composed of one unit and another attached to the first one, to which traction is transmitted. Both units have a double rubber track instead of traditional wheels.

The passengers were seated on quilted seats at the back of the vehicle and, once all the safety and security details had been checked, we set out slowly. This truck is somehow similar to a military vehicle. A strong slam and the starting of engine anticipated the departure.

Climbing up

We left the base heading towards a path lined with monkey puzzle trees and little by little the coffee shop and the skiers became smaller and smaller.

Adrian Arias introduced himself as the driver and guide in charge of the vehicle. He was looking for the places to sort out the slope, since the climbing was sometimes very steep and the engine was strained to its maximum. The engine roar and the crunching of the Caterpillar tracks on the snow were the only sounds we could hear. We passed by station 2, an intermediary high area with its red ski slopes. We were in a patch of woodland dwelled by monkey puzzle trees.
Tour to the Copahue Volcano on a tracked vehicle
After fifteen minutes, we went past the Amphitheatre, this time on the volcano side. The truck sometimes leaned towards one side and we only wished to see the horizon again.

We could avoid some huge rocks, which added some emotion to this tour. The truck is prepared to stop anywhere, even on sloping terrain and it can restart as if it were on a plain. As we climbed, the wind drew arabesque patterns with the blowing snow.

In the Heights

In the distance, the highest volcanoes in the Province of Neuquén, the Domuyo and the Tromen, showed their majestic appearance. Cutting through the ice, the truck made two maneuvers and easily moved ahead on the snow. Its speed was a half kilometer per hour.

Suddenly, we could not drive ahead any longer; we were very close to the volcano mouth and the rest of the trail was covered on foot. A 180-degree view showed us Lake Caviahue, the Chilean volcanoes, the town ofCopahue covered by snow and the vast mountain we had driven through.
Tour to the Copahue Volcano on a tracked vehicle
We slowly walked on the snow with the help of sticks. Without making a sound and formed in a single line, we reached the coast of the crater lagoon, where we smelt a terrible odor burning in our throats.

Like Water for Medication

“Here the sulfur concentration is very high and provides the same medical properties as Copahue, where it is thinned down for its use. There is no connection between this lagoon and the hot spring waters at Copahue.” An excellent explanation by Adrian.

Once recovered from this little effort, Adrian made reference to the 2002 eruption resulting in a change of the landscape. “In the past, people could go down to the lagoon using ropes and they bathed in its waters, but now ashes have blocked that access.” As the upper section of this volcano is open, it is less dangerous than others without chimney.
Tour to the Copahue Volcano on a tracked vehicle
We stared at the basalt walls and a 50-meter high glacier. We were open mouthed by the green color of the lagoon, a dense liquid we could see from a distance.

We were surprised by the fact that part of the group had brought their ski equipment and were prepared to slide downhill. They avoided a first steep slope and later they slalomed elegantly as they enjoyed off-piste skiing to find the ski center at the base.

Return from the Adventure

Again on board the vehicle, we went down and another kind of scenery unfolded before our eyes. Between the roaring of the engine and the juddering, we went past a seismological station that monitors ground movements in the mountains and forecasts volcanic eruptions. Everything was normal.

Adrian said that “the vehicle is extremely strong and is prepared for much more difficult maneuvers as well as for rescuing purposes. However, when it carries passengers, all necessary safety and security precautions are taken”. In this way, we returned to the base and the truck said good-bye to us.

This is a tour for those eager to start a contemplative journey through the mountains and for expert skiers who wish to experience the unspoiled ski slopes.
Tour to the Copahue Volcano on a tracked vehicle
Useful Data
The excursion takes 3 hours if weather conditions are favorable. Windless days are much more enjoyable.
Caviahue Tours
(8349) Caviahue - Neuquén - Argentina
Tel: +54 (11) 4343-1932/36  
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