Tracing the latest volcanic eruption in Chile

Obsidian flow
Obsidian flow

Puyehue is another volcano in the Lake District (cf. The Formation of Mountains). Because of the summit caldera, it is not a perfect cone like Osorno or Villarrica, and it is a bit lower. But it can be reached in a nice hike and there is more to discover in its neighbourhood …

The starting point, El Caulle, consists of only a few houses. To get there, I take a bus to Aguas Calientes and hitchhike the last part. First I have to pay an entrance fee in a restaurant and then I climb up through initially dense forest. At the forest limit there is a simple wooden hut, next to which I pitch my tent.

The next morning I leave my backpack 100 m higher up and climb over the still hard snow to the summit. Unfortunately, a cloud hangs there in the meantime, so I only have a few metres of visibility. After I have descended 500 m, the cloud is gone again. The decision is made quickly, of course I climb back up, I have no other choice! I don’t regret it, the view is really great.

On the summit of Puyehue

Back at the backpack, I cross to the other side of the volcano, where I wanted to reach hot springs and a geothermal field. Most of the time I trudge through snow, which doesn’t exactly make it easy to find the way. Every now and then I discover a pole as a marker.

volcanic ash and snow
Ash and snow — after the 2011 eruption

At some point the Cordon Caulle comes into view, the most active zone with tuff hills and fumaroles. I wonder about a lava flow in the plain where the hot springs were supposed to be, because it is not mentioned in the guidebook. I descend over undulating tuff hills with regularly incised erosion gullies and finally stand in front of the steep, perhaps 10 m high wall of the blocky lava flow. There is nothing to be seen of the river described in the book. After a bit of searching, I suspect that the lava flow might be younger than the description …

dead trees
Danger… Dead trees

I walk laboriously up and down around the lava flow. It steams everywhere and for a short time I think that maybe one of the steaming spots could be the hot springs, which of course is not the case. At some point the sun has set, and I have neither a place to camp nor water to cook as the streams no longer exist, so I head for the neighbouring plateau with its remnants of snow. Then, at the front of the lava flow, I see a slight red glow between the blocks of the lava flow! Every now and then larger blocks rumble down. I didn’t expect the flow to be so young.

tent at Cordon Caulle
My tent at Cordon Caulle

I now know that the violently steaming hill next to the lava flow is the centre of the June 2011 eruption, which saw violent ash eruptions, pyroclastic flows and finally a lava flow. The glowing part, however, seems to be a second even younger flow that has recently flowed alongside the other one.

At a respectful distance, I finally pitch my tent and fill the pot with snow. Back to El Caulle it is still half a day.

Read on

The Formation of Mountains
Puerto Varas in the Lake District of Chile
Villarrica and Huerquenes
Conguillio National Park and climbing Llaima