It seems after spending time with a volcano as inactive as Kilimanjaro, I’m in the mood for a volcano with a bit more “oomph”. And it just so happens that I found what I was looking for in South America among the Andes in Chile at a volcano called Llaima.
Llaima (not to be confused with Iliamna in Alaska) is one of the top three active volcanoes of Chile, and has had 53 confirmed eruptions in historical times, not to mention 3 prehistoric eruptions confirmed by radiocarbon dating of rocks. Most of Llaima’s eruptions tend to last a few months and are classified as VEI 1-2. Of course, there are exceptions, but it is fair to say she is a good reliable volcano. Her style is generally Hawaiian or Strombolian with the occasional subplinian eruption, regular moderate explosions, fumarolic activity, and every once in a while a lava flow occurs. Of course, with the good comes the bad, and there have been times when evacuations and airport closures were necessary due to ashfall, threats of lahars, or the well-known danger an ash cloud presents to jet aircraft.
As is often the case, the modern volcano was constructed in phases which began with a large caldera eruption 13,200 years ago, over which lava flows accumulated. The volcano then underwent an explosive phase that ended some 7,200 years ago and included a VEI 5 eruption in 6880 BCE. After that, the stratovolcano we see today began to take shape.
Strictly as a mountain, Llaima has a strikingly unique profile with two peaks, both of which have had historically-active vents. The lower one is called Pichillaima, and is 205 m short of the higher peak, which rises 3,125 m asl (above sea level). She may be tall, but her slopes are not completely formidable to tourists. Roads can carry skiers to slopes that operate at the 1,500 m mark, and from there, a well-trained climber can make it to and from the summit via the steep route in one day. or they can make that same trip via the less perilous southern side in two days stopping to camp overnight. At higher altitudes, the going becomes quite cold though, and at the highest heights, glaciers and perilous snow-filled crevasses present a proper challenge to mountaineers.
Of course I was expecting to find mountainous things and volcanic things at a place like Llaima. But I had to dig a little deeper to find the strange mythological folk that are said to inhabit the area. One is a feathered and rather harpy-like monster with a horned or antlered head, no arms, a pair of bird or dinosaur-like legs and a long prehensile tail. This creature was said to have appeared during the 1640 eruption, and might be somehow connected or a divergent version of the Mapuche peoples’ pillán, who were spirits that live in bodies of water or inside volcanoes such as Villarrica. And if that was not peculiar enough, the area around Llaima is also said to be the home of a dwarf-like human called Quetrunamun with one single large foot and who slightly resembles a penguin. Mind you, that area of South America with all its volcanoes was bound to attract some strange characters. Perhaps with a little luck, one day there might be tales of small cinder cones with short legs and large ears roaming the Patagonian hills….or perhaps not.
Congratulations to Aficientífico, who was the only one to find me this week. But the rest of you still have plenty more chances to win points this year. And as always, a new adventure at a new volcano begins this coming Monday evening.