It had rained for three days solid in Pucon, Chile, as we waited to climb the volcano and it seemed that as soon as the rain stopped and we headed for the mountains, so did everyone else. The meeting point was packed with people and there was a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air as we made our final preparations.
Our first task was getting up to the starting point of the climb on a chair-lift, something which always terrifies me as I feel sure that I`m going to be the person who falls off in a Bridget Jones-esque style. However, having managed to safely navigate that task, it was on to the next one - attaching crampons to our shoes to enable us to walk on the ice and listening to our safety talk. The only problem was out instructor only spoke Spanish, which the other three members of my group did not. So it was left to me to translate his commands into English. I wasn`t too sure how I felt about the group`s safety being based on my interpretations which went something along the lines of "er...keep your ice-pick above you at all times or if you slip you´ll fall down the mountain" and "um, I think he`s saying ´if you fall, keep your legs up or the crampons could break them´." Eventually, after a lot of gesturing, pointing and nodding, we were ready to go.
|The preparations begin (just don't tell anyone we have no idea what we're doing!)|
We set off in single file, walking up the side of the snow-covered volcano in a zig-zag pattern, with our ice-picks always to the inside. The walk started off well and we made it to the first rest point without too much difficulty. But it was clear when we arrived there that the weather was not going to be on our side. The wind had picked up considerably and small pieces of ice, like hailstones, showered down on us from above. Our instructor Gabriel (somehow his name was reassuring) said we would wait for a while to see if the weather changed. Meanwhile as we hunkered down behind the rocks we could see other groups attempting the assent. Their bodies were bent double against the wind and every so often someone would lose their footing and start sliding down the mountain, only stopping when they managed to get a grip with their ice-pick or were grabbed by their guide.
|Sitting out the storm...|
Eventually it was decided that our group would try again and as we were about to set off Gabriel said to me: "Are you scared?" "No," I replied, before instantly panicking in my head: ´why should I be?` The answer to that question became clear as soon as we left the shelter of the rocks. The wind hit me so hard it took my breath away and for a moment I couldn't even remember what I was supposed to be doing. But I quickly pulled myself together and started following Gabriel´s footprints, turning when he turned and falling into a ´1-2-3´pattern of ice-pick, right foot, left foot. Every so often we`d hear a shout, which would be passed down the mountain from guide to guide as a boulder of ice came tumbling down. At one point I fell forward onto my knees and dug my ice-pick in for dear life as Gabriel pulled me back to my feet.
As we continued up we passed other groups who had abandoned their climb and were coming back down. "Impossible, impossible," one guide said. Gabriel told us he wasn`t sure whether we should go on. However he must have seen our disappointed faces peeking out from underneath our hats as he said we could try and go on a bit further. But unfortunately he was right. Each time I lifted a foot I felt as though the wind was going to blow me off the mountain, it was all I could do to keep my balance. Eventually Gabriel told us it was too dangerous to carry on and we took his word for it and slipped and slid back to safety. Not one group made it to the top that day.
Even though it was disappointing not to have reached the summit, it was a brilliant experience and don`t they always say leave something to come back for? So technically, I realise that I didn`t make it to the top. But after being battered by hailstones, forced to dodge boulders and nearly being blown of the side of a mountain, I`m taking my number 7!
|I'm taking my number 7!|