Weird Wednesdays: Chile’s Mount Doom


The “Weird Wednesday” column is brought to you by a staff writer who is obsessed with factoids, history bits and freaky information to get you over the weekday hump.

Illustration by Alicia Fitzmaurice

Of the top ten places to build a super villain lair, the looming Villarrica Volcano of Chile easily makes the list.

The snow-capped mountain looks innocuous from a distance, stooping over the towns of Villarrica and Pucón. Closer inspection, however (which may take awhile, considering how you’d either need to get a helicopter or walk about 10,000 feet above sea level), reveals toxic gases, fountains of molten rock and a lake of boiling lava nestled in the middle like the world’s angriest baking-soda science project. The glowing crater will sometimes reflect on the clouds hovering over the peak, giving the sky an eerie, fiery glow.

The most active volcano in South America is also called Ruka Pillañ, named after the Mapuche spirit Pillan, who was told to show his anger by causing the volcano to erupt. It seems that Pillan is a temperamental fellow, since the volcano has erupted a total of 65 times in the past 500 years or so (Mount Saint Helens, for comparison, has erupted about four times within the same period). Smaller disturbances, known as Stromboli Eruptions, occur on a regular basis.

Volcanoes like Villarrica are known as stratovolcanoes, or composite volcanoes, centuries-old formations of built-up volcanic ash and hardened lava into the mountainous Cone of Doom we all know and love.

Active volcanoes serve as a hellish portal into the molten mantle underneath the earth’s crust, with melted rock pooling to the surface, mixed with sulfur, phosphorus and other chemicals and minerals, as well as gases produced by dissolved water and chemical reactions within.

The process of a volcano eruption is like having a bad cold. When something blocks the volcano’s crater, be it hardened lava or crusty snot, gases build up underneath and the pressure rises until a huge eruption (or a good nose blow) releases them in a deadly explosion of ash, gases and molten rock.

The regular puffs and wisps of smoke that rise from Villarrica Crater are rather mild and are taken in stride by the locals. The last time the volcano erupted was Feb. 2015, sending clouds of poisonous gas over the town of Villarrica and forcing the evacuation of over 3,000 people in the surrounding towns. Advanced seismic equipment was used to detect the volcanic activity in time and the eruption continued for five months, spewing ash and fumes well into June.

An aerial view of the Vilarrica Volcano of Chile on January 12, 2007 (Sarah & Iain/Wikimedia Commons)

When not vomiting toxic gases like certain politicians, Villarrica volcano is a popular tourist attraction. Covered in snow and glaciers, it’s actually possible to climb up the mountain and peer into the crater, while laughing maniacally and/or tossing a princess in there to complete your evil, evil plan.  

Explorers can also visit the caves and woodland surrounding and covering the mountain. Volcanic ash is highly nutritious to plants and the volcano serves as a national park. Red foxes, pumas, mountain monkeys and several of species of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals inhabit the area, making it an ecologically rich climate for both visitors and scientists.

Dotting the side of the volcano like the devil’s sponge cake are several caves, created by lava outflow and hardened into forever-frozen rivers of rock. Some are remnants of the volcano’s tragic 1971 eruption, which killed over 2,000 people and covered several small towns in a layer of lava.

Higher up on the summit, where snow and glaciers cover the peak, some of the caves are still active-- lava bubbles inside, nestled between snowdrifts, in an oxymoron come to life. To top it all off, one side of the mountain (when it’s not oozing lava like an overdone Hot Pocket) is used as a ski slope.

So if you’re a villain in need of a fortress with a penchant for snowboarding, the Villarrica volcano is for you. Just keep in mind-- if you happen to forge any evil rings, opportunistic hobbits can just take the ski lift.


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.