Circuito Volcán Antuco (Ñuble, Chile)

Party : Mum, Dad and I

Volcan Antuco, with its almost perfectly formed volcanic cone rising 2,979m above the waters of Laguna del Laja, is the [namesake] of this compact Andean national park. [The park] provides the only walking opportunity of any significant length in the area, with a trail circuiting the volcano on a three day trek.

Antuco’s past eruptions have created a dramatic volcanic landscape of lava deserts, in many places almost entirely devoid of vegetation, with the jagged, ice-draped peaks of the non-volcanic Sierra Velluda dominating the skyline to the south-west.

Contents :

  • Prulude
  • Days -1 to 0 : Chillán to Los Ángeles
  • Day 1 : Los Ángeles to Cathedral de Sierra Velluda
  • Day 2 : Cathedral de Sierra Velluda to the Antuco/Velluda Pass
  • Day 3 : Antuco/Velluda Pass to Los Barros
  • Day 4 : Los Barros to Abanico
  • Day 5: Abanico to Los Ángeles


After completing an extended version of Circuito de los Cóndores, we spent Christmas morning with Sol and Diego. It was getting late when, together, we drove to the highway to catch a bus to Los Ángeles… It was a lot harder than expected. We spent hours flagging down busses and even made a hitchhiking sign; all to no avail…

Eventually, after a rushed goodbye, we popped into a bus Diego had organised. It was $8k apiece. I wasn’t really sure where the bus was going and spent some time getting the new SIM card into my phone. Eventually we we were dropped off on the outskirts of what turned out to be Chillán. We should have caught one of the frequent micro busses to the terminal in town, but instead spent another couple hours of flagging busses and hitchhiking. As it got later, I gave up a little before the others and whilst they were still trying to hitch a ride, I sent Hety a message letting her know that we probably wouldn’t make it to share Christmas night with them 😦

In the end we set up camp in a secluded spot beneath a tree in a field sandwiched between the highway and the railway tracks. (Fruit cake for dinner… Like our infamous Christmas dinner in Tassy many years ago). It was a cool night, but I slept well. The spear grass was horrible and managed to find its way all through my shoes, and even put some holes in our sleeping bags 😦

Days -1 to 0 : Chillán to Los Ángeles

After another couple hours of hitchhiking (and missing a couple of potential busses) we finally decided to catch a micro bus to Terminal de Autobuses. We should have done this first thing but had been worried there’d be no busses (being Christmas day). Once there however, it was a simple process to buy tickets ($2?k each). Two hours later we pulled into the Los Ángeles terminal. Hety was already waiting for us! We were magicked across the small city and soon enjoying tasty food and good company.

A semi competetive game of volleyball followed, then a dip in the pool, more talking, berry eating and simply enjoying the immaculate garden. Later as the family slowly started departing, I played some cards and one very brief game of Jenga. Jimmy played a game with some of the guys, it involved hurling a heavy metal disk at an inclined pit, trying to get as close as possible to a line strung across it.

Soon it was us and the immediate family, it was nice that they’d opened their home up to us. I acted as butler whilst they enjoyed the home made hot tub. The stars one by one, decorating the night sky.

Except for Emanuel, everyone slept in. My parents decided to head into the city to shop for the next trek. Hety woke just before they left and gave them a lift into town to save a walk. I tried to sort photos and do some writing but wasn’t overly productive. Mum called several times trying to get help with the buses… I was just about to head in with Pablo when they managed to find a colectivo. We picked them up from the nearby neighbourhood instead.

We snacked and talked into the night.

Day 1 : Los Ángeles to Cathedral de Sierra Velluda

We woke relatively early and finished packing. Hety emerged to bid us farewell, and Pablo dropped us off in town. We found a gas canister (not wanting a repeat of the last trip, but also because pack mass wasn’t really an issue) and headed to the bus terminal. We were sent to another terminal where we again waited and asked around… Eventually heading back to the other terminal! I finally found the ticket office (we had another hour to wait. The last bus had left at 10:30, we were on the 12:30 (leaving from number 6)).

The scenery was fairly bland; farming and pine forestry, the peaks of Antuco and Velluda occasionally visible in the distance. I dozed off while the full bus slowly emptied. Passing the well tended gardens in the town of Antuco the valley deepend, the walls pressing in with obvious volcanic rock on our right. Soon we were dropped off at the intersection to Abanico. We were still over 8km from the TH, but that’s as close as you could get using public transport.

If you are arriving by public transport, you will only be able to get a bus from Los Angeles as far as the tiny village of El Abanico. From here it is 11km to the starting point of the walk: during tourist season you are likely to be able to hitchhike this section, if you can’t, you will have to walk.

We began walking the road, trying our luck with each passing car. Hitchhiking here seemed a lot harder than we’d been told! Eventually (without asking!) a polish guy out front of Saltos Velo de la Novia gave us a ride! He was travelling with a Brazilian girl. We paid the $4k (each) to enter the national park and were soon dropped off at the trail head (Sendero de Sierra Velluda, where the blue and yellow houses are). A quick farewell and we were on our way.

We quickly turned off the main trail and onto the Sendero de Chile that runs parallel to the rd. Not to hike the trail, but to look for a place to cache some gear (and enjoy a late lunch). That done we headed back to our trail to tackle the steep hill.

Mum seemed to tire quickly and Dad complained about one of his knees. I hoped they just needed to warm up… We paused at the top where the Los Zorros (the foxes) trail branches off but couldn’t stay long as we needed to keep moving to find a good spot to camp before dark.

The walk proper starts from the small ranger station of Guarderia Chacay, with an initial steep ascent to a plateau overlooking the Rio Laja. Here, a junction splits the path; to the right is a possible short side trip to Meseta de los Zorros, to the left is the main trail, signposted towards Sierra Velluda.

I was *very* suprised to see a frog!

The clearly marked trail led us across a flat bench and then another steep climb to the edge of the volcanic field. Vegetation was notably absent with only lichens visible on the black slag (Jimmy was slagging behind).

We soon reached the river Estero Los Pangues (saw cows on the other side). I was pretty excited. The spot was amazing! Countless waterfalls dropped down from the towering cliff, fed by the hanging glacier visible below the jagged peaks.

Volcan Antuco’s activity has fashioned the landscape here, the sheer scale of its impact is astounding. The trail skirts lava fields, travels across solidified slag and through dark volcanic sand, coming after an hour or so to Estero Los Pangues.

Heading downstream I soon found a spot to cross. Helping mum across we found a good place to camp whilst Jimmy crossed further downstream.

We enjoyed a large dinner of couscous, mash, tvp, green peas, soup and some left over butter. Bats flew around as the sky darkened. Soon we were all sound asleep. I woke later, the overcast sky now clear with a brilliant display of stars. I think they are simply better in the Southern Hemisphere.

It is near this stream, directly beneath the towering peaks of the Sierra Velluda, that many choose to camp for the night.

Day 2 : Cathedral de Sierra Velluda to the Antuco/Velluda Pass

The next stage of the walk crosses the pass between Volcan Antuco and the Sierra Velluda, at 2,054m the highest point of the trek.

The next morning we rose very late – too much Christmas pudding! After packing we headed off to join the others already exploring the rock cathedral (more ppl as it was Saturday). We tried first to reach some caves roughly opposite us, but that side of the amphitheatre was swampy and skirting the edge we soon split up. I took my shoes off and headed to the main waterfall (a snake just before), and then past a smaller waterfall with snow still lingering at the bottom (mum said there was a snow cave here). Passing Jimmy I visited the shallow caves. As I was leaving, a group arrived to camp there. It looked like the spot might offer some rain protection – not that it’d be needed tonight.

I waited for the others at camp, dozing off and playing a couple of puzzles on my phone. Finally mum arrived and then Jimmy. It was really late now. The plan to summit Antuco and get down to Los Barros was not an option. After some somewhat heated discussion about whether to stay the night or relocate, we crossed back over the river and followed it up the valley.

As most people are just day tripping to where we’d camped, this section of the trail is much harder to follow. .. Roughly sandwiched between the slag and river we followed the black sand trail and occasional cairne towards the pass. The river was melt-water from another glacier on Velluda’s other flank. As we passed this valley we discussed carrying water up, but with lots of snow still visible around the pass, I decided we’d be able to find water. Near the top, we managed to find a convenient spot to collect some! A small stream was running beneath the strip of snow. Part way up I enlarged a hole, created a small dam, and Mum scopped water up to fill our bottles.

1700m from the beginning of the escorial (in a straight line), there is a natural lava arch over the estuary, but this one is off the route, about 200m south.

The pass was not far away. I walked out into the cornice and peered down at the trail continuing below. We would have to skirt around. It wasn’t really a problem as we were planning to summit Antuco via its southern face.

Heading up a little higher, we belatedly lunched behind a low wall of rocks. It wasn’t a great spot to camp, the wind still ripping past, so we headed up a little further almost settling in a small moraine crater until some scouting produced an alternative in a wash behind a bank of snow. There was a good spot for my parents 2-person tent, and it looked like I could squeeze in a little higher. I asked if they wanted to move, and very happy we did! There were convenient spots for us all (after I dislodged a giant boulder threatening the lower spot), and I even found a hole in the snow above us where I could place our billy to capture the dripping snow. As I studied the striking summit of Velluda, pondering over various routes the billy slowly filled. We had plenty in no time and Jimmy soon set about making dinner. Unfortunately the thread on my stove, on its way out earlier, was now done. After dismantling it to clean the jet, the stove continued to stop. The heat was melting the medical tape I’d put on the thread, and the pressure was pushing the stove off. Annoyed, I dismissed Jimmy so I wouldn’t snap at him, and after trying a couple of things found that cooling the lower part of the stove regularly with spoonfuls of water would get our dinner cooked.

Somewhat later than intended, we ate as a Turkish moon rose with accompanying star.

We retired for the night. A saw a couple of shooting stars and numerous satellites before I finally drifted off.

Day 3 : Antuco/Velluda Pass to Los Barros

We woke early and packed a single bag mostly with water, but also some snacks. It was cold as we headed up towards the main cone of the volcano but we warmed quickly and soon stopped to shed some layers.

After following the moraine for a time I decided the snow/glacier below would offer better passage. We scree skied down a slope and made good time on the firm snow. As we climbed I eyed the SE slope comparing it to the SW which Jimmy said was «Impossible». Whilst the SW route was steeper, in the end I opted for it, thinking the rock would offer safer passage than the icy snow covered SE face.

Spiralling up to the base of the primary cone I waited for the others to join me. After a short section of scorial, we made our way up at the transition between the rock and snow. I stuck to the snow at first, in spots kicking in steps with my feet, and sometimes cutting steps with my ‘digging sick’.

As it steepened we moved to the rock. Still making steps we advanced slowly. Always scanning ahead there was plenty of micro route finding, sometimes heading straight up and at times contouring. The aim was to find the rock bands that provided good footing, easy passage, and a rest for my tiring arms.

It took hours to reach the top, but after a brief rest before the top, we scaled the final section of rock and stood triumphantly at the edge of the summit crater, the true summit in the far side. Dropping down I noticed what looked like smoke coming from the true summit in front of us… Or was it the wind blowing up a dust? I didn’t think so. Before checking out the lava bridge I’d spied we visited some snow caves which proved to be very nice!

After checking out the lava bridge we scaled the summit and buffeted by the wind sought refuge from the wind. My parents hadn’t realised how big the lake was (we’d only glimpsed a corner on the way up, and I think it must have been a nice way to find out!). As we ate snacks, the three group we’d seen coming a up the standard route made the summit – we could hear their shouts of elation. They rested just above us and before they left we took some photos together.

Clouds began drifting by and after some final sightseeing the clouds enveloped the summit. Time to head down. The sun had softened the snow, and we decided to try descending via the SE face. It was steep but by kicking in your heels we could make steps and get by without crampons. I went down much faster, especially because I glisaded much of the lower flank using my sick as a paddle Russian style. I passed what must have been a commercial group (outfitted with crampons) just before a rock band and relaxed as my parents descended (30mins).

Continuing down the glacier we made very good time. The snow was much softer now and surface streams were forming on the snow. Clouds were building, Velluda in front of us was partly concealed and we wondered if the commercial group would get any views?

Following the snow further down than on the approach, we split up for the last section, Mum going virtually the entire way on the ice and snow.

We packed fairly quickly and returned to our lunch spot from the previous day. I shouldn’t have remembered that the cornice was too steep, but only thought about it when I got there. We skirted around to the left to bypass it. I glissaded whilst me parents skirted around a little further to avoid the snow. Crossing another large patch of snow, we dropped down to rejoin the trail. It was nice that the grade was now less steep.

We soon dropped down to the flatlands below soon picking up an obvious road. We crossed a river and soon stopped the lonely araucaria that was our planned camp camp for the night. We left the road and made a beeline for it.

There were a unfortunately a lot of cows ignoring national park boundary which was literally the river. As we set up camp I noticed the customs office not far away, we were quite close to the Argentinan border.

I suprised my parents by cooking dinner whilst they were resting in the tent.

Day 4 : Los Barros to Abanico

The river had dropped during the night but would inevitably swell again as it warmed. We skirted around some wetlands to join the road hoping to hitch a ride back to the other side of the volcano.

A number of vehicles past heading to Argentina, but in our direction it was very quiet. After several hours of walking we were somewhat seperated. I was supprised when a car pulled up behind me, I hadn’t heard it because of another inconsiderate driver racing past. To my surprise, mum was in the car. There wasn’t room for another person, but they took my bag which was a huge help. We’d already agreed to meet at the start of the waterfall track.

Jimmy and I continued along the road, after 10km or so we started passing many graves from the Antuco Disaster.

In 2005, in what has become known as the «Tragedy of Antuco», 44 teenage conscripts and a sergeant of the Chilean national army died when they were caught up in a snowstorm during a training exercise. On the path between Laguna de la Laja and Volcan Antuco, you will see the scattered headstones commemorating these men in the places their bodies were found, and an impressive new memorial.

We finally reached the memorial with only one other car passing us. But just after the memorial I turned around and saw Jimmy get a ride, they stopped for me too! They were two retired climbers with their young child. He had even climbed Fitzroy!

We drove through the lava flow that originally dammed the lake and continued through the ghost ski village to meet mum at the trailhead below.

Hiding our packs off the trail, we continued down to the loop. Travelling clockwise the first part was supprisingly green. An amazing contrast to the last four days and worth visiting for that reason alone.

The blue water preceding Salto las Chilcas had supprising force and the blue was otherworldly. Mum and I jumped the fence to get a decent look at the raging falls.

We waited, but Dad failed to appear. I went back a ways before thinking he had past. But then I found Mum who also hadn’t seen him. She went back to look but he wasn’t too be found. I thought it almost impossible he could have fallen into the river but still couldn’t help worrying a little… He wouldn’t have gone back would he?

Mum and I continued on to the amazing Salto el Torbellino admiring it for some time. Water from the lake was resurging from numerous caves in the rock.

We headed back up. I asked some Swiss tourists if they’d seen him and mentioned a guy sitting at the trail head. Good. Probably him. His bag was gone and I found him sitting in the shade of the information kiosk. He’d gone back somehow not knowing the way on… Oh well.

We (I) retrieved our undisturbed cache and we didn’t wait long before we got a ride with the ppl we past on the trail(joining some of them in the back of the ute). They were actually Swiss, Chillean and American. All having met through the exchange program Rotary.

We stopped at Velo de la Novia and were soon dropped off in Abanico.

We spent the afternoon at the popular Captación Estero Malalcura. Jimmy sourced some yummy food from town, and whilst simple, it seemed like a feast compared to our trekking food.

We moved back down the road to camp the night secluded in the shrubs, rising early the next morning to catch a bus back into Los Ángeles to plan our next trek: the Villarrica Traverse.

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