Virtual Volcano Vacation #120 WINNER! – Llaima

Llaima eruption of 4 July 2008 forces evacuation of ski slope – photo by Reuters – Image via

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.

Strombolian activity at Llaima volcano on 5 April 2009 – photograph by Reuters – Image via GVP

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.

False-colour mage of Llaima volcano taken on 6 April 2009 by Earth Observing-1 satellite. Green represents vegetation. Brown represents bare earth or volcanic ash. Blue is ice or snow, and red is lava. – image via NASA Earth Observatory

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.

Llaima volcano in Chile with two asymmetrical peaks – image via SERNAGEOMIN – photographer not credited

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.

The Llaima volcano monster as depicted in Fr. Alonso de Ovalle’s Historica relacion del Reyno de Chile y de las missiones y ministerios que exercita en él la Compañía de Jesus – image via

And of course, I have two Llaima webcams for your volcano-viewing pleasure.
Here and here (though I cannot guarantee that either/both are currently operational)

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.


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