My senior class in high school voted me “friendliest” and “sunniest smile” the year we graduated. One thing they most certainly did not vote me was “most likely to participate in adventure/extreme sports.” And, although I think of myself as an extreme runner, I’ve never been interested in mountain sports. (Bellinghamsters forgive me for what I’m about to say.) For example, I’ve never skied, never snow-boarded or snow-shoed, never even gone sledding or inner-tubing down a mountain as an adult. The fact is, I’m not a big fan of snow, and where I live, that’s sort of a crime.
But when I saw Villarrica (Chile’s most active volcano whose steam you can see from a distance every day) here in Pucon, Chile, I said, “I’ve gotta climb that.”
I’m not sure why. Bill has repeatedly asked me back home to climb Mount Baker with him and I’ve always said, “Naw, you go ahead.” This time, though, I felt compelled—partly because we’re here in Chile. Somehow in your own backyard you know you can take advantage of natural beauty anytime. But here in my temporary home, I’d better jump at my chances to live out loud while the jumping is good.
We started our day by being outfitted for the weather conditions
and then made our way to the base of the volcano by 8am where we began our climb to the summit (at 2860 meters/9,380 ft) with the help of three competent, good-natured guides who taught us how to use our equipment and watched out for our safety with diligence (thanks VolcAn Villarica!).
This was my first time, as I said, to spend the day on the snow and I was anxious—though confident that if making it to the top was a matter of endurance, I could do it. I’m nothing if not patient with my body’s ability to take me the distance.
The first part of the ascent was on soft snow that cooperated nicely with our slow-stepping up the incline. Our guides were patient and careful to make sure everyone was using his/her equipment properly, so my confidence grew that if the average tourist could make it to the top with such instruction, I could too.
On the way up, we trudged. This climb reminded me of marathon running in a way. For one thing, the whole climb would take more than five hours—my average marathon finishing time. For another thing, I was alone, even though I wasn’t. We all walked in one long single-file line,
so I didn’t have the chance to talk to anyone while we were picking our way to the summit. That meant that I was in my head with my thoughts.
I reflected on how much endurance activities are compact versions of big-scale life. First you decide to take something on, then you get started, then you get tired and consider quitting. Finally you decide to push to the end and you finish the task.
Four of the people who started with us chose to abort their climb at the last rest stop. I don’t have any judgment of people who give things a try and then quit them. I’ve done it myself and probably will do it again. You can’t always know when you start something if it’s for you (this is true for almost anything: a job, a new hobby, even love affairs). Yesterday, I thought about quitting too. “Yeah, there’s the top. I get the idea. No need to put in the last 45 minutes. I’ve proven my point,” I thought—for about 10 seconds. Then I pushed the idea of turning back out of my mind and pressed on.
At about 1:30, Bill and I summited along with five other people.
Getting down the volcano was the fun part. We trekked back over the hard packed snow and ice for less than an hour and then used plastic sleds to cruise down the wet snow for the better part of the distance.
I wish my senior class had the chance to vote again for who I would turn out to be!