Snowboarding on Volcano Quetrupillan, Chile

Wanderlust Blog of the Week

I think this was my favourite volcano of the nine we snowboarded in Chile. It is located in a remote part of the Villarrica National Park

which lies in the centre of the long stretching leg of Chile. Accessing this wild and romote area we relied heavily on GPS and Frédéric Lena’s great book; http://belupress.com/en/topo.html. Why was it my favourite? It’s not the highest, not the steepest, certainly not the most active volcano. However it has the complete package; the approach was epic but beautiful and the remote location between Volcan Lanin and Volcan Villarrica gives it some truly wild and unbeatable views. The full route in and out was 26km – this was mostly with splitboards on our back, split into two skis letting us hike more easily! The stark remoteness was highlighted by the fact we saw no-one else for the entire two days we were in the area, not a footprint nor a tyre-track; we saw buildings abandoned for the winter on the approach but the hike to the summit was blissfully free from any signs of human interference. There’s so few places on the planet as wild as areas like this in South America. The untouched snow on the descent was perfect which helped make the day as well!

The route starts from an old abandoned ranch that has a prominently placed ‘Private – No Entry’ sign. We camped in the van just outside in a layby off the rather rough dirt approach road. Then the next day we drove as far as we could along the same track until we were forced to park up- this wasn’t very far as we were soon stopped not due to snow but rather because the track was icy and had clearly deteriorated in the last few years. Count on about 3-4km further than the book or map suggests, each way!

The picture below is from the walk in along the deteriorated track, Volcano Lanin stands imposing on the skyline.

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Each section of the tour was defined by varied vegetation that reflected the altitude change. The first major area we approached after the end of the track was thick forest lined with lush bamboo and decorated with huge Coihue trees. The snow line had encroached on this part of the forest and we could start skinning up the narrow path on snow. The next stage was monkey puzzle forest, these unique trees laden with snow was fascinating, like an alien world! The next section was the highest level of forest and the deciduous Lenga trees, the picture below shows Marion sliding up between them. Blue sky and powder snow, stunning!

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Out of the forest we entered the area of old lava flows and the upper volcano. The skin up was fairly mellow after choosing the best line we could see. We approached the cone section with darkening skies set against the black volcanic rock and fresh powder snow , as you can see in the shot below, the atmospheric light on this landscape was numbingly epic. The black and white shots I think really bring this out. The shot below is Marion using crampons for the last icy steps up the cone to the crater rim. Despite a bit of high cloud we could clearly see from the summit the perfect cones of the surrounding active volcanoes: Lanin, Mocho and Villarrica, with others visible on the far horizon too.

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The next picture shows the view back down to the forest as we prepared the splitboards for descending, this was just below the summit. The slog up in the forest had taken its toll and we had less than 3 hours before sunset, or so the GPS told us. The race was on as we rode down the beautiful snow that this open lava field provided.

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After leaving two perfectly carved lines on the upper snow, we quickly reached the snow line again in the dense forest. From here we had a couple of hours to get out in daylight. With splitboards strapped on our backpacks we jogged down. The road had turned from ice to mud in the sunshine of the day, but we progressed quickly, and a lucky find of two squares of chocolate, lost from a previous trip spurred us on! We returned to the van as we had left it; all in all a great day and a great area to explore in a stunningly wild environment. 

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