Chile: Patagonia

Volcanos: Chaiten, Villarrica, Osorno, Llaima

Volcano Chaiten 2009 Chaiten, Chile 2009    December 2009    Chaiten, Chile 2009 Volcano Chaiten 2009

M.Rietze, M. Szeglat, R.Roscoe

in deutsch


Volcano Chaiten

The first documented eruption of Chaiten volcano in 2008 was also the first rhyolitic eruption since Novarupta in Alaska, around 100 years ago. The onset of the eruption was totally unexpected and involved several Plinian episodes with spectacular lightning surrounding the eruption column. Hence, the volcano is of great interest.

Three volcanophiles set off from germany on the long trip to southern Chile: Richard (who had already briefly visited Chaiten in July 2008 with a british film crew), Martin and Marc Szeglat. The long flights to Puerto Montt via Madrid and Santiago were made slightly more entertaining by the fact that the check-in lady at Munich had seated Richard and Martin next to eachother without realizing that they were actually on different Madrid to Santiago flights (LAN and Iberia code-share and depart within 20 min of eachother). After reaching Puerto Montt, 24 hours were lost in the city before it was possible to board the Naviera Austral ferry “Pincoya”. At this point we checked the MODIS data for Chaiten and found that no heat signal was being registered by the satellite, this was a first disappointment. The Pincoya was an even greater disappointment since it was rather like an oversized D-Day landing craft and should probably have only been used once. The overnight journey was totally uncomfortable in the dirty and cramped seating lounge.

Chaiten, Chile 2009rr  Volcano Chaiten 2009     Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

Chaiten, Chile 2009      Chaiten, Chile 2009rr

On arriving in Chaiten, we were greeted by Nicolas from the Chaitur agency who had made local arrangements for us and was providing us with transport during the trip. The weather was less welcoming with low cloud and a cold wind. After settling into our seafront Cabin at the Cabinas Pudu, doing some essential shopping and gaining permission to climb Chaiten from the rangers of the Pumalin Park, we eventually drove to the north of Chaiten volcano, to investigate the current situation. The road was again interupted due to erosion resulting from the altered drainages around the volcano following the eruption, as in July 2008, although it had been repaired at some stage in between. Hence, we set off on foot for about half a km before reaching the point where the area of forest flattened by pyroclastic flows intersected with the road. This also gave us a first view of parts of the lava dome.

Volcano Chaiten 2009      Volcano Chaiten 2009     Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

The felled forest presents one with a kind of extreme obstacle course, so progress towards the volcano was slow. After some time we reached a deep erosion channel at the base of the caldera where Richard, Marc and Nicolas decided to remain since it appeared too late to climb (we had encountered a french couple that reported taking over 5 hours to ascend). Martin, the groups “high-speed Alpinist” decided to nevertheless set off to look for a suitable route. Shortly before dark, he returned with images from the dome after climbing in only 70 minutes. Before driving back to town we waited to see if the dome could be seen glowing after the onset of darkness. This was however not the case. Similarly first observations from near the bridge in town revealed no glowing. Only when Martin made a first attempt at some long exposure night photography was it possible to see that there were weakly incandescent spots on the dome showing that at least residual activity remained.

Volcano Chaiten 2009   Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

The plan was to climb in the following days, yet much of the following 4 days were spent in the chalet listening to rain beating on the roof with the only thing glowing being the chimney pipe of our little metal stove. Watching the river rising and approaching the front of the lodging was also interesting. During some temporary improvements in the weather it was possible to visit parts of Chaiten town buried by lahars the year before and at least make some photos or film.

Chaiten, Chile 2009     Chaiten, Chile 2009rr  

Volcano Chaiten 2009     Volcano Chaiten 2009     Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

After several days, Martin decided to depart by plane from the new Santa Barbara airstrip which replaces the old Chaiten airport which remains buried. As will be shown later, he spent time at Villarrica, Llaima and Osorno volcanoes. Marc and Richard remained in Chaiten, trusting that the weather would eventually improve. The weather indeed changed by the 3rd of December, yet the volcano remained cloud-capped. Marc and Richard nevertheless made a first climb together with Nicolas and reached the caldera rim after well over 2 hours. The cloud did however not lift. Two further days were spent in town before on the last possible day in Chaiten, the dome appeared free of cloud. Low clouds were ominously drifting in from the sea yet Richard decided to climb the dome again. Making minor changes to the route, based on experience from the first climb, he reached the rim in just under 2 hours, making several photo stops on the way and resting from the intense heat due to the strong sun. The damaged forest is fascinating as it is tribute the immense power of pyroclastic flows. Most trees were uprooted whilst others were snapped off in the middle of their trunks. Others had the bark stripped clean off the side facing the volcano and / or had pieces of rock deeply embedded in them.

Chaiten, Chile 2009   Chaiten, Chile 2009   Chaiten, Chile 2009rr

Chaiten, Chile 2009   Chaiten, Chile 2009rr

The dome was indeed finally clear and sits magestically in the huge caldera formed during an eruption many thousand years ago. Interestingly it was possible to hear extrusive activity although it could not directly be seen. The sound was like that of gently tipping glass bottles off the back of a lorry and seemed to be coming from the western summit of the dome.

Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

Chaiten, Chile 2009     Chaiten, Chile 2009     Chaiten, Chile 2009rr 

Chaiten, Chile 2009     Chaiten, Chile 2009   Chaiten, Chile 2009rr 

After spending nearly two hours on the rim, Richard descended rapidly and joined Marc and Nicolas to head back to Chaiten town to get some images of the lahar damaged buildings with a clear dome in the background. This was also possible so things had finally taken a turn for the better at the last moment.   

  Chaiten, Chile 2009    Chaiten, Chile 2009    Chaiten, Chile 2009rr 

Chaiten, Chile 2009     Chaiten, Chile 2009rr

Volcano Chaiten 2009     Volcano Chaiten 2009    Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

Volcano Chaiten 2009   Volcano Chaiten 2009   Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

The next day, Marc and Richard headed to the dock to board the comfortable Naviera Austral ferry “Don Baldo” in order to return to Puerto Montt. This is an old Greek ferry with ample seating space and even a small restaurant area. Due to fine sea conditions the ferry arrived early and a relaxing evening could be spent in the city before starting the flights back the next day.


Volcano Chaiten 2009   Volcano Chaiten 2009   Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

Volcano Chaiten 2009     Volcano Chaiten 2009mr

Volcano Villarrica

Translation under construction

Das Hauptziel dieser Reise war natürlich Chaiten, aber nach einer Woche bei bescheidenem Wetter und ebenso bescheidener  Aktivität des Chaiten-Doms beschloss ich, meinen Rieseverlauf zu ändern. Zwar waren die Vulkane im Lake Distrikt nicht gerade besonders aktiv, dennoch sind diese für ihre klassische Kegelform bekannt, welche im Frühsommer mit der reichlichen Schneebedeckung ideal zur Geltung kommen. Zudem wollte ich diese Gegend immer schon einmal sehen. So nahm ich einen der ersten Flüge mit einer Twin-Otter Propellermaschine am 2.12. zurück nach Puerto Montt. Marc und Richard wollten noch besseres Wetter abwarten und blieben am Chaiten. Von Puerto Montt fuhr ich per Mietwagen nach Norden und nach Pucon am Fuße des Villarrica-Vulkans. Zum Dank wechselte gerade zu der Zeit das Wetter und es sollte nach wochenlangem Schlechtwetter die folgenden Tage blauer Himmel und strahlender Sonnenschein folgen.

Villarica Volcano 2009, Martin Rietzemr

Villarica Volcano 2009, Martin Rietze    Villarica Volcano 2009, Martin Rietze   Villarica Volcano 2009, Martin Rietzemr

Villarica Volcano 2009, Martin Rietze    Villarica Volcano 2009, Martin Rietzemr

Somit konnte ich in der nur noch kurzen verbleibenden Zeit alle meine Ziele erreichen. Zunächst folgte noch am 2.12. eine Nachtbesteigung des Villarrica. Die noch starke, ideal gefrorene Schneeauflage lassen ein zügiges Steigen mit den gut greifenden Steigeisen zu. Keine Schuttschlacht wie im Sommer. Auf dem höchsten Punkt des Kraters hat man ideale Aussicht ringsherum, der beste Punkt für den Sonnenaufgang. Starker Wind und beachtlicher Frost ließen jedoch allmählich alle Gliedmaßen einfrieren und die vulkanischen Gase gehen dort oben bei längerer Anwesenheit bösartig auf die Lunge. Leider hatte meine Gasmaske einen Defekt. Dennoch beeindruckend, das starke Leuchten und die wallenden Geräusche des tief im Schlot sitzenden Lavaponds. Trotz einer kompletten Kraterumrundung mit einigen Abstechern zu exponierten Stellen mit beachtlichem Tiefblick gelang es mir nicht, die Lava direkt zu sehen, es müssen mehrere hundert Meter Tiefe in dem engen Schlot sein. In früheren Jahren stand der Pond zeitweise wesentlich höher. Beim Abstieg kamen trotz Vorsaison zahlreiche Seilschaften entgegen, was für ein krasser Unterschied dieser eintönigen Massenbesteigungen gegenüber einer komplett einsamen Nacht am Gipfel! Am 4.2. ging es weiter nach Norden über Temuco nach Cherquenco. Dort beginnt die Piste, welche den kompletten Llaima Nationalpark durchquert. Zunächst erschien es so, als sei diese Piste nicht für non 4x4 machbar, ich schaufelte das Mietwägelchen mit halb ausgekochtem Kühlwasser dann doch in mühsamen 2 Stunden von Hand aus dem Lavasand.

 Volcano  Llaima

 Llaima Volcano 2009, Martin Rietzemr

Dennoch gelang die komplette Durchquerung mit erstaunlich wenigen Aufsetzern bis nach Melipeuco. Dabei zeigten kleine Spaziergänge die beeindruckende Lavalandschaft des Llaima Bilderbuchvulkans. Zahlreiche Seen wurden durch die verschiedenen Lavaströme aufgestaut, Araukarien geben der Landschaft ein unverwechselbares Gepräge, der Truful-Truful Canyon zeigt die Schichtung der zahlreichen Llaima Ausbrüche. Just an dem Tag meiner Durchquerung wurde die Warnstufe erhöht, es zeigte sich nach einigen Monaten Ruhe wieder fumarolische Aktivität am Gipfelkrater. Der nächste Tag führte auf langer Strecke wieder nach Süden zum Ort La Ensenada am Fuß des Osorno-Vulkans. Zufällig traf ich die Bergführeranwärter Paolo und Niccolo, gemeinsam stiegen wir am nächsten Tag mit dem Sonnenaufgang in direkter Falllinie auf den Osorno Gipfel. Der Tag brachte wieder perfektes Wetter und ideale Bedingungen im noch reichlichen Schnee.

 Volcano  Osorno

Osorno Volcano 2009, Martin Rietze     Osorno Volcano 2009, Martin Rietzemr

Osorno Volcano 2009, Martin Rietze   Osorno Volcano 2009, Martin Rietzemr

Hierzu muss gesagt werden, dass der Osorno in der Sommersaison meistens wegen unüberwindlicher Gletscherspalten gesperrt werden muss. Es gab schon viele schwere Unfälle, so kam z.B. der Leiter einer der größten deutschen Trekkingveranstalter dort ums Leben. Im Nachhinein scheint daher diese Jahreszeit ideal für einen Besuch dieses Lake Distrikts zu sein, noch einsame Berge bei perfekten Schneeverhältnissen, die erwachende Natur des Frühjahrs, billige Unterkünfte und freundliche Einheimische. Leider war damit die Zeit wieder um, ich traf mich mit Marc und Richard in Puerto Montt für den gemeinsamen Heimflug.

A detailed scientific description of Chaiten volcano and more images can be found at

by R.Roscoe                     More Images at  ALPE by M.Rietze     Geonauten

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© 2010, Photos and text R.Roscoe and M.Rietze, web boeckel, last modification 01/18/2010

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