We climbed one of the most attactive and mythical andean massifs in the Patagonia: The Lanín Volcano. Such unforgettable experience contacted us with the depths of our souls. Equipments, authorizations, timing and all you need to go on this high mountain excursion.
I was once told: “When you explore the summit of a mountain, in fact you are exploring yourself”. This brief and challenging maxim was the motivation for my “self” and other twelve souls to conquer one of the most attractive and mythical Andean massifs in the Patagonia: the Lanin volcano. In order to achieve our aim properly, we hired the services of a mountain guide authorized by the Lanin National Park. He assumed the task of dispelling all our queries and explaining what we would need for the climbing. Two days of hiking in the greatness of the Lanín National Park were ahead of us. We would spend one night in mountain huts, sharing and feeling the adventure step by step, altogether. “The Lanín is a demanding alternative” –he said–. “It demands a great physical effort and a medium level of exposure, as it combines rocky alluvium slopes and irregular environments”. Far from intimidating us, those words prompted us to leave hesitation aside and do the climbing. What we cannot deny is that you should be in good shape or, if not possible, do some previous training, in order to go on this kind of excursion.
Two days of hiking in the greatness of the Lanín National Park were ahead of us. We would spend one night in mountain huts, sharing and feeling the adventure step by step, altogether.
The day before the event, we agreed to meet in order to check the equipment we would use in the journey. It is very important that equipments are of very good quality, which implies they should be waterproof, warm, but reduced in size. What is obviously essential are comfortable shoes suitable for mountain hiking. As well, the backpack, sleeping bag, water bottles, crampons, ice-axes, poles, gaiters, gloves, hats, ultraviolet-protective sunglasses and high protection factor sun lotion, as the wind, in combination with the sun, may produce serious sunburn. The guide suggested that we should take two or three changes of underwear. Wet clothes from body perspiration during the climbing dry more easily if the t-shirts are made of synthetic material. As regards food, our guide was in charge of taking all necessary supplies for the days we would spend in the mountain. Everything O.K. Expectations grew remarkably and we were getting very eager to see the break of the day to go to the volcano base itself. The last piece of advice was that we should eat carbohydrates that night. Pasta would be the best choice, as our bodies would need calories to achieve our aim of the following day – getting to the mountain hut.
Mountain Hut Approaching Day
07:30 a.m.: The transfer vehicle fetched us at the place where we were lodged. From San Martín de los Andes
, we passed by the town of Junín de los Andes
and from that point we went along the final 60 km to Tromen Pass, where the Río Turbio Station of the Lanin National Park Río is located. At a distance, silent and impressive, the white figure of the 3,776 mosl volcano seemed to challenge us. 09:30 a.m.: After going along 105 km, we reached the forest ranger post, located 1,100 mosl. Our names were registered and we were appointed a hut. The guide offered a brief security chat and, from that moment on, decisions depended on him. We distributed the technical equipment, the food in the backpacks and got ready to start climbing. We beheld the eternal snow summit of the omnipresent volcano. It was a breathtaking picture… 10:30 a.m.: We started the march. With a steady pace, we began to go through a ñire forest, which started to disappear as we went up, giving way to the lengas. We were going towards the base of the Lanín. The marching pace was always that of the slower person in the group. We were a group, so we respected the decisions made by the guide, who knows the mountain. Hydration should be constant and, therefore, as we were feeling that our body needed liquid, we had to supply it. If not, we would be in danger of being dehydrated. During the journey, the guide told us that the location of the Lanín in the Andean mountain range is privileged. As it is two thousand meters higher than all the mountains around it, from there, you can watch the line formed by the Quetrupillán, Villarrica, Llaima, Lonquimay, Choshuenco and Achen Ñiyeu volcanos, as well as the well-known Tronador, Bayo and Chapelco mounts. 11:00 a.m.: Adjustment stop. Before we abandoned the lenga forest, the guide advised that we should check our shoes, how heavy the backpack was and make sure we had warm clothes at hand. One of the members of the group felt something strange in one feet and the guide quickly assisted him with the first aid kit. It is important not to underestimate light pains that might be present during the first hours of walking, as a simple blister may cause abortion of the climbing in a few hours. 11:35 a.m.: We started to go along the Espina de pescado (fish bone) path, at 1,200 mosl, and were getting considerably high. We were on a glacier moraine. Our pace was slow, steady and confident. Behind us, the perspective was getting bigger every minute. Amazement and beholding took control of time. We did not forget to hydrate ourselves. 01:00 p.m.: After midday, we resolved to have lunch. The guide had prepared a light lunchbox, to be easily digested and with a rapid assimilation of protein and calories, as we had to continue our march in brief. Our guide and his assistant were always kind enough to ask us how we were going and if we were in any way disturbed. The group was consolidating and fascinated by the sight the Lanín would offer. At a distance, the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tromen gave evidence of the height we had reached already. 01:20 p.m.: We continued with the climbing. In this area, the land was getting steeper. Therefore, the periods of marching were shorter and the stops were longer to eliminate fatigue from our bodies. 04:00 p.m.: We distinguished our hut, the R.I.M. 46 -Refugio de Infantería de Montaña- (Mountain Infantry Hut) located 2,450 mosl. The eagerness to get there was getting more and more intense. After a short break, we continued walking. 04:30 p.m.: Once in the hut, we changed our perspired clothes and loosened or changed our shoes. The guide explained that the “toilet” was at about 50 m from the R.I.M. We conditioned the place occupying only the necessary spaces. It was advisable to dedicate some time to elongation. Stretching the muscles we have used during the journey is good exercise not to feel pain or discomfort the following day. We arranged the sleeping bags and selected the climbing equipment we would be using the following day. 06:00 p.m.: Once settled, our guide started to melt snow to prepare water and start cooking. We started to cooperate with this task very willingly, while other people dedicated to prepare a snack to crown that moment. After a hot drink –instantaneous soup, tea or coffee– we had a brief rest while we watched what the mountain guide and his assistant were doing. 07:00 p.m.: It started to get dark. The orange dusk augured similar weather conditions for the following day. We were glad to watch the unforgettable panoramic view frozen before our eyes for good. The shadow of the volcano let us see its magnificent sillouette, which looked even larger from the heights. 08:30 p.m.: After a short instructive chat about how to use the technical equipment (crampons and ice axes), we got ready for dinner. As expected, the meal was based on carbohidrates – ravioli with mushroom sauce. A good dinner is important to provide energy and “feed adventure spirit”– said the guide. 09:15 p.m.: We left the torches at hand and made ourselves comfortable in our sleeping bags. Tranquility reigned. Silence was only interrupted by the wind hitting the mountain hut roof. All of us slept until dawn.
Hit the summit Day
02:00 a.m.: We woke up. One of the longest and most agitated days was awaiting us. We started to get up and arrange our baggage. While the mountain guide assistant prepared breakfast, the guide evaluated if the weather conditions would allow us to try climbing to the top. 05:00 a.m.: Fascination time. When we reached the C.A.J.A. hut (Club Andino Junín de los Andes), we caught sight of a unique and unforgettable picture. From this point, located 2,600 mosl, we managed to observe the Llaima and Quetrupillán volcanos, the Huaca Mamuil lagoon and the rocky formations known as “La Peineta” (the ornamental comb) and the “Colmillo del Diablo”. A carpet of grey clouds embraced the rest of the surrounding mountains. After setting our senses at rest for a couple of seconds and hydrating ourselves, we continued our way to the 3,000 mosl plateau. The slope became more intense, tiredness took control of us, but quietly and steadily, we were approaching our aim. 06:30 a.m.: We arrived in the 3,000 m plateau. We passed by a rocky promontory that led us to the Canaleta del silencio (the gutter of silence), from where we observed the superb summit as a silent witness of our pass. We went along the gutter that would take us directly to the top. 07:15 a.m.: We continued along the Canaleta del silencio keeping the same marching rhythm. At this point, the Villarica volcano appeared. Amazed at the new perspective, we reloaded our strength to get to the pre-summit. 08:00 a.m.: Once there, we started to use the ice-axes. We were still climbing in a zig-zag fashion. Eagerness to reach our end increased. “Come on! It won’t be long!” – encouraged our guide. 09.00 p.m.: We made it to the top and all our senses were subject to the inmensity of the scenery. How could we explain the thrill of being there? Standing in the well-known circum-Pacific belt, the Lanín volcano is privilegedly located in the Andes. At the top, we made a 360º turn, observing the Villarrica and Mocho volcanos towards the Chilean border. To the South, we saw the Tronador mount, the Puntiagudo and, at a distance, the Osorno volcano. Towards the North, once again, we beheld the Llaima volcano and, lower down, the Peineta mount. From the summit, Lakes Tromen, Huechulafquen and Paimún seemed to be just puddles. Unequal quietness and harmony invaded us when we became aware: we were at the heights of Patagonia. We started to celebrate: we uncorked a bottle of wine and another one of champagne, wishing that minutes would be endless, that they would freeze like the glacier that we were stepping on. “This is like life itself …” –the thoughtful guide reflects– “This is like when you set yourself an aim and do your best to achieve it”. That initial phrase rang a bell in our inner self. It was true: in that remote nook, we were exploring ourselves. After taking pictures and enjoying the different panoramic views, we picked up the garbage we had made and got ready to start our way back to the hut. We started to go down. The technique of descending with the crampons on is similar to the climbing technique with only one difference: you have to fix the heel first and then the rest of the foot. Enraptured by the fraternal moment we had lived at the top, we went down. We stopped for a rest at the 3,000 plateau, the C.A.J.A. hut and a few meters before reaching the R.I.M. 46, where the guide and his assistant taught us how to wedge the ice axes in case of slips –an explanation that will always be useful. Much more relaxed, we got to the mountain hut. There we repeated the previous day operation to set ourselves to rest till the following morning. The anecdotes experienced during such unforgettable day arose in the stories of all the members of the expedition that got to the top of the Lanín. We were all in our sleeping bags.
Return to the Base Day
After breakfast, we arranged our backpacks, picked up the garbage, put the equipment in order and started to climb down. Taking advantage of the snow, our guide decided that we should descend along La Canaleta, using the crampons and the technique we had learnt the previous afternoon. In the intersection of the Camino de mulas and La Canaleta, we took our crampons off and continued our way down along the Espina de pescado. We hydrated ourselves on the way. Note: It is not always possible to hit the summit due to weather conditions. At such height, the weather determines whether the aim can be achieved or not. Furthermore, safety and physical questions are always determined by the mountain guide.