Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Ascent of Teide

On my first ever trip to Tenerife in 1995, I visited the National Park and was instantly awestruck by the amazing landscape. I decided there and then that I would come back the following year and climb Teide, Spains highest peak at over 12,000ft. After reading up during the intervening year about the climb, I successfully made it to the top and back down again the following August.
Since moving to the island last year, I have walked in many areas but each time I have seen the peak of the volcano looming over me in the distance, it seemed to be mocking me and challenging me to climb it again. Okay, I realise this was all in my mind but the longer it went on the more I began to question if I should have another go. On my first climb, the cable-car wasn't running so I saw only a handful of people all day. Since that climb, it has become a more popular challenge and a permit system introduced. I was unhappy about doing the climb in a 'procession' so I devised a plan to hopefully avoid the crowds. I decided to wait until near the middle of the year when there would be enough daylight hours for a midday start giving time to climb up and back down again. This way, I would hopefully avoid walkers starting off early in the day and I should also reach the top when the last cable-car would be taking the tourists back down, meaning that I should have the mountain to myself. This of course meant that I would be unable to get a permit for the summit but I had been right to the top before so I wasn't too worried about this, plus with no-one around, it might be possible to get to the top without one.
I set off at 1pm as planned, and climbed the wide tracks to Montana Blanca without problems. I knew that this was the easy bit however, and once I left this and started the climb up the back of Teide itself, the air would become thinner and I would find the going much harder. There were a number of walkers on this stretch but they all turned off to the summit of Montana Blanca at around 9,000ft and then I was alone. I started the steeper mountain path confidently but I could already feel the thin air starting to have an effect as I began feeling heavier and my breathing became slightly more laboured. In front of me, an almost vertical wall of rock loomed over me so I just admired the scenery and plodded onwards. I passed a lone Czech walker descending and we had a 'conversation' where I think we only understood about three words the other was saying but he managed to wish me luck as we said goodbye. As I approached the 10,000ft mark, my heart began to pound in my chest and I was having to stop more regularly. Soon, I reached the Altavista Refuge at around 10,700ft and I was now struggling quite badly. Any movement was accompanied by a pounding in my chest and I was now deliberating if I should turn back. I sat for a while to ponder what to do but I decided that I had no headache and apart from the weakness and pounding in my chest I felt okay. I decided to carry on by walking 40-50 yards and then sitting to recover. This I did and after an age, reached the La Rambleta walkway from the cable-car to the Forteleza viewpoint. I was by now feeling very weak but continued plodding to the cable-car station passing another very shattered looking walker descending. He was the only person I saw on the summit. Reaching the cable-car, I came to the start of the final summit path, which was unguarded although part of me by now wished that there was a huge guard with a machine-gun to stop me going up. I knew I had to attempt to get to the top and I reluctantly plodded up the steep final climb. By now, I was taking half-a-dozen steps and then stopping. As I neared the top, puffs of sulphurous smoke blew unpleasant odours across the path and unlike the mountain, I had by now virtually run out of steam. I decided to leave my rucksack by the side of the path for the very last section to try and make the task a little easier and as I struggled alongside the small crater at the top, the summit rocks came into view. The relief was immense and I struggled to take a summit photo without my tripod, which was still in my rucksack. After a very short break for a few photos and to just take-in the scene, I made my way back to collect my rucksack and begin my descent before it became dark. As I began descending, I started to recover and was soon moving very quickly. I reached the Altavista Refuge for the second time and passed a group of walkers sitting outside who were presumably staying the night for an early start to the summit to catch the sunrise. Passing a number of other walkers ascending to the refuge, I continued my descent at a jog and before too long I was off of the mountain path and striding along the wide tracks below Montana Blanca. The sun was now setting and the deep reds and browns along with the shadows gave the scenery a totally different look and feel from earlier in the day.
Two and a half hours after leaving the summit, I was back at the car, exactly half the time it took me to climb it. I was tired but euphoric that I had made it, despite being on the verge of giving up a number of times. Climbing Teide is a daunting challenge and one that I have now completed twice. I'm glad that I managed to do it a second time but after the difficulties experienced on this trip, there probably won't be a third. But you never know!
A photo album can be found in the right-hand column.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Tenerife's Split Personality

I was recently reminded on two walks in the Anaga Mountains in the north of the island of the extremely diverse nature of the islands scenery and climate. The mountains form a long, irregular ridge of steep, heavily wooded & sharply pinnacled mountains rising to a little over 3,000ft. The woods comprise of some of the only surviving laurel forests in Europe and provide a contrast to the usual Canary pine trees found in the rest of the island. The rich soil is a another contrast with the south of the island and local people working in the fields growing potatoes and other crops is a common sight. On these walks, I led two groups of walkers along the same route within the space of a week and the two trips could not have been more different. The objective of both walks was the troglodyte village of Chinamada, which is a tiny hamlet of houses built directly into the rocky hillsides. These cave houses were common at one time in the Canaries as they remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter, so suit the more variable temperatures of the mountainous regions. The route took us through the laurel forests and along paths giving us spectacular views into the nearby valleys and down to the northern coast at Punta del Hidalgo. On the first of these trips, we walked in beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine with views across the Barranco de Tomadero to the tiny village of El Batan, clinging to the steep-sided valley. In the background, just visible through the haze, the towering peak of Teide watched over us as we admired the bellflowers and lillies adorning the paths and terraces along the way. In Chinamada, the quaint old cave houses (photo) set into the rocky hillsides looked a little like a scene fron the hobbit village in Lord of the Rings. Leaving the village, we followed a path out to the spectacular viewpoint of Mirador de Aguaide with it's dizzying views down to the sea almost 2,000ft below and watched walkers toiling up the steep path from the coast on their way to the village. The second trip, just one week later, showed the darker side of the islands personality as we set off from the Cruz del Carmen carpark in heavy rain, blustery wind and fog. Descending into the laurel forest, we encountered paths running with water and strewn with fallen trees and rocks, which we carefully picked our way around. Descending into a steep ravine, we crossed a fast flowing stream below a waterfall. Normally, this ravine is dry so it was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to hear the sound of water rushing down through the woods to the sea. Crossing the stream, we descended to Chinamada and were grateful as the weather slowly improved and the skies cleared. One of the things that made these walks special for me, even though I have walked the route a number of times, was the reaction to the Anaga scenery from both groups of walkers, which is completely different from any they had witnessed on previous visits to the island. They all found it difficult to believe that they were only an hour or so away from the south coast resorts. Another big difference noted by all was the abundant flora along the walk. Besides the obvious difference in the laurel trees, they were surprised by the varied amount of plant species never seen in the south.
On both walks, we sat in the square by the little church in Chinamada for a break and a rest before passing through the attractive mountain village of Las Carboneras on the long climb back to the car-park at Cruz del Carmen. At the end of both walks, it was very satisfying for me to listen to the appreciative comments as we drove back from the lush greenery to the more desert-like scenery of the south. Tenerife had proved, to these walkers at least, that it is definitely an island with a split personality.