In the June-July 2018 edition of Trail Running, Matt Maynard tells us about the wondrous Pucon Trail Run 50k - a Chilean race around a volcano - here's a portion to whet your appetite
I’ve run Villarrica’s trails before as a competitor, but today I’m working as a photographer. The organsiers send me in by pick-up. At 4am we turn off the Tarmac towards the backside of the volcano. Gravel turns to soil. Overgrown branches thwack from the darkness against the passenger window. In two hours’ time the runners will be driven here. But for now it’s just me, the river and the low-lying trees. Oh, and the pumas that the driver gleefully assures me stalk this forest.
The route, which boasts 2500m of vertical ascent, sneaks between long-limbed deciduous raulí trees and stouter, moonlight-blocking coihues. By night, the only sound is glacier meltwater, gurgling underfoot through ancient leaf mulch. But as daylight breaks through the canopy, a pneumatic kind of hammering begins. Somewhere beneath the steadily rising trail, the toddler-size Magellanic woodpecker is banging out breakfast bugs.
Nothing in this forest is quite as it seems. Ropes of scaley, green monkey puzzle arch down like umbrellas without their fabric. Shadows here move throughout the day in mirror image to their northern hemisphere counterparts. And as the trail markers lead up to the snowline the trees soon shrink to bonsai size, before disappearing altogether. From here a rocky ridge of volcanic lava rock now begins to snake its way up the slopes. At this point slower-moving runners will have to don jackets to protect themselves from the wind.