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In this stage we cross the Conguillio National Park, starting at Melipeuco and ending at Curacautín. The park's star is the Llaima volcano, visible from everywhere, with its more than 9000 feet. In short, this tour includes one day up to the area where the lakes are and a second day to do a hike and go down to Curacautín. The park at this time of the year is wonderful. On the slopes with vegetation there is a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees that creates a kaleidoscope of colors emphasized by the contrast with the volcanic rock and ash. With the gorgeous sunny days we are having, we keep finding new ways to photograph the Llaima, framed by araucarias, between yellowish or reddish foliage or by itself against the blue sky.


Stage index:

April 30: From Melipeuco to Lake Conguillio (Profile)
May 1: From Lake Conguillio to Curacautín (Hike profile) (Bike profile)

April 30, 2011: From Melipeuco to Lake Conguillio

Llaima volcano

The climb from Melipeuco to the camping area on Lake Conguillio is not as hard as we expected. The slope of the dirt road is very gradual. However, the main reason for not noticing the climb is the beauty of the landscape that keep us excited at all times.

Cèsar riding in Conguillio N. P.From the beginning, the volcano is in sight from everywhere against the blue sky. The Llaima is the second most active volcano in South America. Its summit ends in a double crater, one of 8700 feet and the highest that reaches to 9375 feet. As we go up the track, we can see one of the lava flows down from its slopes. In fact, the road crosses it. To our left, on the Llaima’s side, only scoria, except for some islands of trees that survived the last eruption. On the right, the lava field continues to the Truful-Truful river, Mapuche name meaning "jump-jump" for the multiple waterfalls. Across the river, on the foothills of the mountains there is a diversity of trees that show a colorful landscape at this time of the year. Yellow, red and green overlap from the bottom of the valley to the ridge, where you see the profile of the araucaria watching it all from the top. Occasionally, the river has eroded the slope exposing the layers of different Llaima eruptions.

Judit close to Laguna VerdeHalf way up, the road goes slightly inside the forest, a few yards from the lava field but enough to completely cover the road. The sun is right over us and illuminates the ocher and red leaves. From the bottom we see a bright ceiling decorated with warm colors.

Upon reaching 3000 feet of elevation we come out of the forest and a swirl of yellow leaves says goodbye to us spiraling wildly. At this height, the araucarias take possession of the landscape and the forest is much more open.  We don’t hesitate to shoot these new views of the Llaima.

Finally we arrive to the shores of Lake Conguillio where we can see without interference the Sierra Nevada volcano, although not as slender as its neighbor. When we get to the campsite we sit on the volcanic gravel beach and we sunbathe for a while. We realize this is the first time in our trip that the temperature is pleasant enough to take some clothes off and expose the bare skin to the sun. We stay there until the sun sets behind the mountains. Then we run to set up the tent and start the nightly routine.

Judit riding in Conguillio N. P.

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May 1 2011: From Lake Conguillio to Curacautín

Llaima reflected on Lake ConguillioBefore proceeding to cross the park, we hike part of the trail that goes to the Sierra Nevada volcano. We climb to a lookout just 3 mi from the trailhead from which not only we have an exceptional view of the Llaima and the Sierra Nevada, but also see the Villarrica in the distance. The trail is packed with all kinds of shrubs, bamboo and moss. The forest is a mixture of raolí and araucaria trees. The raolí provides a variety of warm tones. The araucaria gives a dark green background.  The wind carries the yellow pollen from the male araucaria trees to the cones on the female ones. After two years, they give their precious cargo of nuts, essential for the ancient Mapuche.

Cèsar riding in an araucaria forestAt 4000 feet, the snow covers the trail but it’s hard enough to keep our feet dry. From the intermediate viewpoints, but mostly from the farthest one, the view is amazing. At our feet is the Lake Conguillio reflecting the summit of the Llaima. Its shores are lined by trees of all colors. Behind the star of the park, in the distance is the Villarrica. At our back, the stretched crest of the Sierra Nevada. And the sky is completely blue one more day. We sit in the snow to contemplate feeling fortunate to enjoy such beauty.


The Lake Conguillio has the particularity of having been formed as a result of eruptions from the Llaima. The lava flow blocked the previous river and created a natural dam. The lake has no outlet in the form of river, but the water is filtered through the volcanic rock at the bottom, very porous and permeable, facilitating the water to percolate towards the old river bed.

Sierra Nevada volcano

Back to the main road, we retrieve our bikes from the hideout where we left them and we set off to Curacautín, the village where we will sleep today. The road has some snow at the pass but the vehicles that have passed since last week´s storm have left two tracks clean of snow that we gladly use. The forest is too dense to let us see the Llaima. Only when we come to the lava field of the last eruption (January 2008), it comes into view. Here the view is chilling. We just came out from the lush vegetation and suddenly it becomes a desert of jagged rocks and slag impenetrable to all forms of life. However, the landscape is still amazing. This side of the volcano has some lateral cones with distinct red deposits from the black ones we have seen so far.

Leaves rainbowWe descend through a track in bad conditions. Halfway down I run out of front brake power. Since the rebleeding in Pucón, it has been gradually losing braking power. The mechanic probably left too little oil and the wear out of the pads in these downhills is considerable. Luckily, the back one still works, but it´s going the same way. Both need an urgent bleeding. The last miles of the road are a bit overwhelming due to the disrespectful behavior of those who return home after their Sunday drive. The dust is almost welcome after so much rain puddle, but the speed at which they pass us is excessive. The low sun blinds us in the last stretch to Curacautín. Two new volcanoes appear in front of us, Tolhuaca and Lonquimay. Now we are surrounded by three!

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