Volcan Llaima

  • Volcan Llaima
  • 3125 m.
  • Primary factor: 1819 m
  • Chile
  • Location: South 38.69609, West 071.73038 (GPS on the summit)
  • Difficulty: (YDS) class 2
  • Climbed January 21, 2015


How to get there:
This mountain is located east of the large town of Temuco. The trailhead is at a skiarea on the west side of the mountain. One may access this from Temuco, driving east on Hwy. S-31, via the town of Vilcun, then by Cherquenco. Alternatively, (as we did) one can drive south from the village named Curacautin. This road is paved initially, but changes to a dirt road for most of the distance. There are signs for the ski area and navigation is, in general, not too difficult. Park at the ski area, location S38.68525, W071.80048, elevation about 1490 meter.
This is a quick summary and reference to climbs made on this trip.
Route description.
From the skiarea parking, walk across to the base of the lower chairlift, then follow the gravel service road that runs directly uphill. Follow this road until it ends at a flat platea, location S38.68957, W071.78201, elevation slightly more than 1900 meter.
From here, pick a direction more or less directly towards the summit of Llaima, you may see some faint trails, possibly some cairn markers. The terrain is a bit broken and one should avoid gettng too far to the left with several loose up and downs, since the terrain (several minor ridges) runs a bit across the route. As you see the NW ridge, with a distinct cone-shaped hump, the route should ascend on easy snow to gain what looks like the horizon ridge line (this is on the left side of the mountain when coming from this direction.)
Pick a nice line ascending the snow towards the (local) horizon. There are some slightly steeper snow on the right, so slightly curving left, then heading up, makes for a good line. Aim for the location S38.68741, W071.74385, elevation about 2360 meter, this is a good waypoint on the route.
From here, one should head (more right) uphill, the snow slope remains gentle. Looking ahead, one should notice a distinct rock high up near the end of an upper gully. The route heads that way, but in order to stay on gentle snow, one first proceeds uphill, then do a small traverse left below the rock higher up, in order to enter the upper gully.
Once up in this upper gully, advance uphill as far as possible, but do keep left if possible. The terrain above is extremely bad, loose small rocks, sort of like a lot of tennis balls that all will roll downhill if you try to step on them. The only route uphill that mostly avoids this bad, loose stuff, is to stay all the way on the left side, then proceed to the slightly indistinct ridge line on your left side (when looking uphill).
The rest of the route now continues directly uphill. More left is slightly steeper, but sometimes better footing, more right gets you into the very bad, loose stuff. The best compromise is likely to just stay on the uphill course, slightly left of the bad, black rubble on the right hand side. One should note, that this part of the ascent is steep enough to make larger rocks shoot down the slope. This means that one should be the only party on the slope. This is not a good place to be with several teams on the same slope.
Near the top, the slope eases and you need to cross a few local bumps where sulphur smoke and also some heat can be felt. The remaining stretch is short and easy. The summit is directly on the edge of a rather large, broken crater. Be extremely careful, the rocks near the cliff edge are unstable and the terrain may be overhanging. In fact, this edge looks similar to, and may share some properties with a dangerous snow cornice.
We got up early and drove south along (mainly) dirt roads to the base of the ski area located near the base of Volcan Llaima. Not a single person or car anywhere to be seen. We considered driving up the service road belonging to the ski area, but decided that one ideally should have asked permission to do so, there were no signs saying that one could not do it. This road is steep and a bit rough, only a 4WD will be able to do it.
We started out at 0720 and quickly gained the flat, but rather broken area between the top of the ski area and the base of the volcan. Soon, we were on some large, nice snow fields and it was easy to pick a line that would get us high on the horizon ridge. We continued up on easy snow and quickly reached the place where we ran out of snow. We quickly experienced the really bad "tennis ball" terrain, but equally quickly realized that the only viable route uphill would be along the left side. Even there, the terrain is hard work, pretty steep and fairly loose.
We arrived at the summit at 1135, the weather was good and the view all around quite nice. We took a well deserved rest and stayed around until 1150, before starting down. Clouds were now accumulating near the summit. The return hike was extremely easy and we were all the way back at our car at 1415.
While getting our boots off (Pål using a pair of plastic boots), a Conaf ranger arrived on a tiny motor bike. He started asking if we had been up on the mountain. I told him that we did not understand Spanish and he did not speak a single word of English. He clearly wanted to know why we had not registered or at least left a note about our hike. We had not seen/noticed any Conaf station along our approach route. However, I decided that just telling him that I simply did not understand him was the the best approach. He gave up and continued his trip.
We now continued our trip by driving west in order to spend the evening in Pucon, near the base of Villarrica. As we left the mountain area, we actually drove by a Conaf station with a gate controlling the road. The people there opened the gate well before our arrival, we waved a thank you and continued to Pucon.