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Ascent of Volcán Villarrica - A Photojournal

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Captions to photos and movies.

1. A view to the south from Pucón, of Volcán Villarrica - overlooking a scenic Marina on Lago Villarrica. All of this beautiful countryside has been devastated at least twice in the last 14,000 years, during eruptions of the Licán and Pucón Ignimbrites. More recently smaller pyroclastic flows have poured down valleys visible on the north flank of the volcano, entering into regions near the Pucón city limits.

2. The climb generally starts at Villarrica ski area, and takes about 3 hours (to the summit). Guides are required, but are easy to find in Pucón. I climbed with a friendly group of folks led by very professional guides from Politour.

3. Beautiful view looking to the north from above the top of the ski runs, towards Lago Villarrica and the town of Pucón (middle ground).

4. Interlayered lava flows and pyroclastic rocks reminds me I'm climbing a composite volcano. The scenery was remarkably reminiscent of that around volcanoes I've climbed in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington.

5. The ski area used to extend somewhat higher up the flank of the volcano than it does today. This is the remnants of one of the upper lifts, apparently badly damaged and subsequently abandoned after the last eruption in 1984 (for English-only speakers refer to this site).

6. Pretty typical slog up a snow-slope on the flank of a mid-latitude composite volcano.

7. Closing in on the summit we noticed periodic "puffs" of steam appearing above the summit region (mixed with lots of SO2, and, based on the smell, some sulfuric acid as well).

8. Mosaic of images illustrating the summit crater region.

9. Close-up of the crater area. Note the tenuous SO2-dominated plume rising from the crater. Also note the smooth mantling on the opposite wall of the crater. This was apparently left over after the 1984 eruption. During that rather mild eruption, gas-poor magma ascended within the crater and overflowed the rim at several low points. After the eruption the magma column withdrew to roughly its current position about 70-80 meters below the crater rim, and, remarkably, has remained their since that time.

10. Steam fumarole along the upper rim of the crater.

11. Debris thrown up onto the rim of the crater during a recent "vent-cleaning" eruption. These minor eruptions occur periodically after the lava-lake has "crusted-over", and probably constitute the greatest hazard to climbers in the summit area.

12. Gas sampling station supporting work by Jeff Whitter (University of Washington) re. The volatile budget of Volcán Villarrica.

13. Fracture opening in snow-pack along the crater rim. One of our guides speculated that periodically large slabs of ice break off and tumble into the lava lake below. This process probably produces small hydrovolcanic eruptions at the volcano.

14. Finally, a look into the crater; note the distinctive bluish cast of the SO2-plume.

15. Active period of convection within the lava lake (approximately 40 meters across). Magma appeared to be rising from the margins and sinking in the center of the lake. Occasional weak strombolian eruption occurred throwing blobs of lava 10 to 20 meters above the level of the lake (but - fortunately - well below our level!). I was lucky to catch the vent while it was open; it commonly crusts over, as shown at this link.

16. Similar to photograph number 15.

17. When convection in the lake slackened it began to immediately crust over, as seen here.

18. A 15 second QuickTime movie of the lava lake.

19. Another 15 second QuickTime movie of the lava lake.

20. Returning to the crater rim for a look around.

21. Views to the east (top) and west (bottom) of Villarrica. The eastern view is taken over the spectacular ice-field filling in the Villarrica-Stage-I caldera. The eastern rim of the 5-km-dia. caldera is visible in the middle ground. In the distance you can see the other major edifices of the Lanín - Villarrica volcanic chain.

22. Gratuitous photo of the author on the crater rim.

23. Long glissades on snow-fields are the norm for mid-latitude mountains. One difference here is that frequent small eruptions and Aeolian processes have loaded the snow with small cinders. Note a problem unless your trousers aren't up to the task (I can attest to the fact that Levis are not!).

24. Back to Pucón and time for una cerveza fría.