By Freya Marshall
When asked if I wanted to climb a volcano, I’m not even sure why I thought about it. And when passing over 30,000 pesos, I wasn’t sure why I was paying for it.
This money got me dragged out of a bed at 6.45 a.m. and had my body brutally beaten and exhausted – and that was just from trying to get my massive waterproof trousers on. The volcano was to come next, I couldn’t see it but I could feel its looming presence as pictures of it leered at me from every corner of the office. A glint of hope flickered as I was told that low cloud may stop the climb but the hope was mixed with mild disappointment, as after all I had decided to climb this thing in the end. Remembering again I was a terrible climber, we set off towards our fate. I worried that a packet of crisps and some plain bread rolls wouldn’t be enough to survive on if anything were to happen to us. Finally we were hauled up the first section on a ski lift with a remarkable resemblance to a fair ground ride assembled with a faulty spanner, and we arrived our brief base camp.
Nine in the morning brought a medley of people to this place, all dressed equally strangely, and we all lined up as if waiting for an ATM machine. Shuffling up the volcano was easy for the first few steps but the teams of people broke off. Marathon runners and such like at the front and the chronically ill and me at the back the journey became more and more perilous. “Stupid, stupid, stupid” was on re-run in my mind’s tape I sliced my crampons into the ice and stopped after every tenth step. No one else was doing this.
Our first stop arrived in good time but after that, they seemed to think we deserved less rest as our gestapo-style team leaders barked orders at us in Spanish. My legs seemed to fill with ice I felt as each step grew more and more difficult. So much for the people who told me this was easy. Was it all a big joke in Pucon? Tell her it’s easy, that will be funny!
Traditionally melodramatic, I thought of giving up just as the peak came into sight. It was so close yet it couldn’t be further. Turning to eye the view of the mountains poking out above the clouds, I plundered on and could look at nothing but my feet. The snow, I assume, had been melted by the heat from the volcano as I climbed over bare rocks. Pushing on I made it to the top. Faced with the rest of the group and a growing cloud of noxious gas, we had to race to the crater where we saw the lava glow red hot. I wondered if I should just throw myself in to avoid the walk back. Overwhelmed by the cloud of what we were only now told to be toxic gas, we began our decent.
Now came the exciting bit. Waterproof trousers worn for this purpose, we all hopped into a small channel carved into the snow sat down and began to propel ourselves down the volcano side with ice axes. What started as fun ended a a little terrifying as our speeds grew and the end was not in sight. A 360 degree spin dislodged my ice axe from my hand and I landed in a heap shouting “Ice axe! ice axe!” hoping it was not lodged into the person behind me. I waited and as the ice axe and I were happily reunited we made it to the bottom in a ridiculously short amount of time. Down hill was the way to go.
Wondering when the sense of satisfaction would come to me, I waited a long while after struggling to get the waterproof trousers off and perhaps it was a good 24 hours later that I realised I had climbed a volcano.