Pucon - Santuario El Cani / by Mark Boyd

My original plan fro Pucon had been to tackle the 81km four day trek known as the Villaricca traverse, which I was very much looking forward to  -  I think -  hahahahah!  Four days of trekking around the base of the Villaricca volcano carrying all my equipment and food.... Hmmmmm. 


A visit to trekking office to obtain the necessary permit and check conditions brought a halt to my plans, and on arrival I was informed that the route was impassable due to deep lying snow.  They wouldn't be opening the trail for at least another three weeks.  So that was that.  Instead of punishing myself with lesser multi day treks I took it easy on myself choosing to explore the local waterfalls.  With the most impressive cascades ticked off I decided I needed more of a challenge and Santuario el Cani trek sounded perfect.  What did I know about this trek?  Well it was a three to four hour 'strenuous' uphill trail.  Okay.  I could do 'strenuous' and I could do 'uphill'.  What am I waiting for?  Nothing.... Ah, how would I get there?  It was 13 miles east of Pucon.... Hmmmm bus and hitch seemed to be working so far.

The following morning I enjoyed another wonderful hearty Hostal de la Libre breakfast, grabbed my day pack and headed out to catch a local bus that went in the right direction.  I checked GoogleMaps, and jumped off the bus approximately 4 miles from the head of the trail.  The little road was quiet, but I hoped that a passing car would take pity and run me to the next village.  Sure enough after half an hour of walking a truck stopped.  I jumped in the back.  They dropped me twenty minutes walk short of the trail.  A fine warm-up for what lay ahead.


On picking up the trail I passed what looked like a home made ticket booth come ticket table, where normally I'd have been charged around $6.00 to proceed, but with no one there I sauntered past.  The track immediately took on a more menacing gradient.  After 10 minutes of what felt like vertical ascent I passed an almost dead guy in his late fifties.  He attempted a few words then gave up....

The trail was at this point already 'strenuous'.  I was impressed.  I'd begun around 11am to give myself plenty of time and with my normally speedy pace I hoped to make the ascent in around 3 hours.

The sky was clear, the sun was baking, and maintaining hydration required regular bottle dunks in the crystal clear streams.  There was no one, this was just what I was looking for...


As I got ever higher the terrain changed. Araucaria trees (monkey puzzle) appeared towering in to the heavens.  Some of the trees up here were estimated to be over 2,000 years old!!!  Suddenly feeling youthful in comparison to my surroundings I bound on past the lake, legs getting scratched by the sharp brambles.


Then there was snow... What?  Snow?  I wasn't expecting that.... The path seemed to disappear from time to time. 


I pushed through brambles and fallen trees.  Was I lost?  Then footprints would appear again from time to time, where others had lost track of the path.... The snow was knee deep in places and very hard going.  I referred to my downloaded map and I was definitely in the correct area and close to the path.  I fought on through the undergrowth.  

I passed a guided group sat on a fallen tree beside another lake.  I hopped across a clear stream.  Pausing to fill my bottle again.... It was cooler up here.... a far more pleasant temperature.  I'd made really good headway and looked like I'd reach the viewpoint within 2.5 hours.  Even I was impressed!  Then I reached an incredibly steep snow covered incline... Super steep!  How on earth would I get up this without crampons.... Eeeesh.... I wasn't looking forward to it one little bit.  I crunched onwards and upwards.  As I did so I wondered how on earth I would get back down!??


At the top, according to my map, the invisible snow smothered 'path' turned across to the right. 

 At the top of the steep snow field..... This view doesn't tell the half of it.....

At the top of the steep snow field..... This view doesn't tell the half of it.....

It was narrow, rocky and snowy... and two little sections required the use of tree limbs to get across safely.  It would be easy to have an accident here.... an accident here would be bad news!  I followed the path/climb/clamber passing a couple of lady trekkers.  I was less than five minutes from the top.

And there it was.... A view spanning across four volcanoes with blue sky back drop.  Impressive.  A young group of trekkers sat looking out. 

 Volcanoes..... and Araucaria trees....

Volcanoes..... and Araucaria trees....

Two young american ladies a lad from south London and an Aussie chatted amongst themselves, impressed with their achievement.  I sat quietly across from them.  I ate the water based porridge and banana I'd put in to my thermos.  It had turned to a stodgy lump, and with no honey or cinnamon it was bland at best, but I need energy.... The English lad began chatting with me.  He was a lovely young fella, and offered some of their high energy, way more delicious, Oreo biscuits with peanut butter.... Oh my!  I was in calorie heaven. 

'How long did it take you to get up?'  I looked at my watch.  'Just under two and half hours.'  I replied.  All their heads turned at once, their eyes almost popping out of their heads as they began to laugh.  'WHAT??!!!' said the young lad.  It had took them almost four hours... The old legs had served me well, but I have to say the descent was already weighing heavy on my mind, and even heavier on my knees.  The youth group had said there was a bus around 4.15pm which passed directly on the road.... Then there wouldn't be another until 6pm or later.... It was just coming up to 2pm.... We all decided to go for it.

The youth team went ahead, I set off three or four minutes later.... I'd reached them by the snow covered steep descent.... One chose to bum slide, one attempted a snowboardless snowboard style, one ran taking huge steps and the other tried everything.... I wondered what would be best.  In the end I decided to just go for it.  Big striding running steps down.  The deep snow cushioned the impact and also provided a little grip due to the holes made by the pushing down of the feet.  Getting down turned out to be easy!  I left the youth team in my snowy dust... My knees were already pained, but I was expecting it, so I just ploughed down.  The last section of snowy field was a maze of trees and brambles again.  I got totally lost for 5 minutes with snow coming up to my mid thighs.  It was tough going.  Once past the snow I could really move, and I was going at quite a pace.  This was fun!

By 4pm I was down.... I'd made it in 2 hours.... I was knackered!  Hahahahaha!  I sat in the little bus shelter and waited.  I'd have liked to chat with the group for a little longer and thank them again for their kindness, but it seemed unlikely that they would be down within the next 10 minutes.  

Then I heard hollering and whooping as the Aussie lad appeared, followed shortly by the girls and Londoner.... As they approached me the bus came around the corner!  Perfect timing.  We all chatted on the bus back to Pucon.  The girls were yet to sort out accommodation for tonight, so I suggested Hostal de la Libre and they followed me there.  They loved it and booked in for two nights.  My act of kindness was rewarded with a plate of delightful pasta that evening.  Happy days!

I'd been in Pucon for 5 or 6 nights, it was time to move on.  Fabrizio (the Argentine manager of the Hostel) had mentioned somewhere in his home country.... Something about a moon....  I'd go speak to him later...