Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Beautiful South

'The south of Tenerife is a barren wasteland once you get outside of Playa De Las Americas, you have to go to the north for decent scenery' Or so I am often told. A recent remark by a friend, similar to the above, started me thinking about this common perception of the landscape in the south of the island as barren and desert-like, unworthy of exploration and the only reason to visit the south is for the sun, sea and sand holidays normally associated with this area. Being a walker, my first visit to the island was filled with curiosity as I had been advised that, being a person who enjoys the outdoors, I wouldn't like a destination where all there was to do was sit in the sun all day on the beach or around the pool. Upon arrival, the first thing about the island that immediately caught my attention was the strange, mountainous landscape a few miles inland from the coast. Immediately I wanted to put my boots on and explore. While the coastal regions were very barren and volcanic, the mountain scenery looked more promising. Sure, it didn't have the 'chocolate box' greenery of somewhere like the Lake District in England but for me that was a bonus. This was something different, worthy of further investigation. I have always had a love of landscapes that some describe as 'bleak', often exclaiming 'Wow! look at that', while others are complaining that 'it's not very green, is it'. 'Bleak' isn't the right word to describe what I witnessed on my first visit, mysterious yes, exciting yes, barren maybe, but bleak no. Having purchased a couple of walking guidebooks so that I could get out into this wonderful countryside, I was disappointed to note that there were only a handful of walks in the south of the island. Having walked these routes and frequently been amazed by what I had seen , I began to wonder why these books seemed to largely avoid the south. Having noticed large quantities of walkers at the bus station in Los Cristianos heading into the hills, I thought it was a shame that there weren't more guidebooks offering more routes in this part the island, so I set about writing a guidebook detailing all of the walks I had found for myself. Over a number of years, during numerous visits, I have walked through the quiet, remote beauty of the Ifonche region, the wonderful pine forests of the Corona Forestal, in impressive barrancos such as the Barranco De Las Vegas and the Barranco Del Rey, to the top of mountain viewpoints and passes such as Montana Colorada and the Degollada De Ucanca, to the sadly deserted village of Las Fuentes and to the spectacular viewpoints of the Cauldron and the Mirador La Centinela. While I recognise the beauty and fantastic walking opportunities of areas such as the Anaga, Teno and the Orotava, not to mention the Las Canadas national park, I think it's a shame that the south is often dismissed as having nothing worth investigating when, in my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Cairns - A Diverting Topic

A couple of days ago, I climbed a mountain close to my home in the south of the island. As I neared the summit, I realised that I was not on the correct path and this despite there being only one route to the top and having climbed the peak many times in the past. Retracing my steps I found that I had been derailed by a rock cairn marking what turned out to be on further inspection, a 'short-cut'.
Now, I hate short-cuts on mountain paths. They generally occur where the path zigzags and walkers can't be bothered to follow the original line of the path and so cut off the corners thereby 'straightening' the meandering, looping path for a direct one. This to my mind is disastrous. Mountain paths zigzag for a reason. By following an indirect route they greatly reduce the incline thereby making the ascent or descent easier but probably more importantly, they reduce erosion. A long steep straight path cutting directly down a hillside becomes a river in heavy rain washing away topsoil and greatly increasing the damage to the hillside.
You may have noticed as you walk through the mountains, narrow channels cut through the path and often lined with rocks. These are water drainage channels that divert the water off of the path thereby further reducing erosion. A short cut will have none of this and coupled with the steep decent, the water cuts a deeper and deeper 'scar' down the hillside.
Having determined that the path I had inadvertently taken was a short cut bypassing the original zigzag route, I set about obliterating it. First I removed the cairn marking the start of the short-cut and then set about hiding the 'path' by covering it with as many boulders as I could find. It's bad enough that some walkers create short-cuts but to then mark them with cairns so that others then establish a false path is nothing short of vandalism.
Cairn building in Tenerife is starting to reach epidemic proportions. Along every path and track, countless useless cairns litter the routes, often on straight sections of path and sometimes many metres off of the route. I expect to perhaps see a summit cairn on a mountain-top and occasionally one marking the hard to find path but the amount currently littering the paths on the island sometimes makes me wonder if all of the islands builders, frustrated at the downturn in the building industry, have taken to the hills and started building cairns to alleviate their boredom.
They can be dangerous too. A few years ago in Gran Canaria, I was walking with my wife in the Barranco De Arguineguin when the path simply vanished! Puzzled, I began searching for the path we had walked without problem a couple of years earlier. After a frustrating and tiring ten minutes searching, we gave up and retraced our steps only to find that we had been diverted at a hairpin bend by an erroneous cairn that indicated an onward path on the apex of the bend where none existed. Other walkers had obviously been misled as we had and a 'path' of sorts had formed but petered out after five minutes or so in the middle of nowhere when they realised, like us, that they had been misled! Upon returning to the point where we had been diverted, the onward path was obvious but when we had approached from the original direction , it had been invisible. Had the cairn not been marking the erroneous path we would have automatically passed 180 degrees through the turn and carried on uphill. In this instance, it caused nothing more then a few minutes of frustration but the potential for a less satisfactory outcome is obvious. The cairn is supposed to be used to help other walkers locate the hidden path or mark the summit of a mountain but it is getting to the point here where I now regularly kick over these annoying, mostly useless and potentially harmful, unsightly heaps of stones littering the Tenerife countryside.
So, if you are walking in the hills in Tenerife and happen upon a madman kicking cairns over and swearing to himself it's probably best to just keep walking and pretend you haven't seen him.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Roque Del Conde

Recently, I climbed the prominent southern peak of Roque Del Conde. This table-topped peak is very visible in the southern resorts and one I have climbed many times via the usual route from the small village of Vento, near Arona. Some time ago however, I climbed it from the Degollada De Los Frailitos on the north side of the peak. This is not the usual route that is followed by most walkers from Vento in the east but is a difficult and fairly dangerous route involving scrambling up cliffs. As I reached the summit, I came across a plaque fixed to the rocks 'To Ichasagua - Free People's Mencey'. Having visited the summit many times before along the usual route, I had never seen this plaque before and I became intrigued by the person and events that it commemorated. I was also aware of the existence of a mural painted on the wall of a ruined building below the peak showing a Ichasagua holding a club with the mountain in the background. After a little research, I discovered that Roque Del Conde is also known as Roque De Ichasagua, which is a reference to Guanche Mencey (king) Ichasagua, who led a guerrilla war against the Spanish in 1502. Ichasagua was the Mencey of Adeje and led Guanche rebels against the Spanish after retreating to the highlands from the conquest in 1496. The conquistador Fernandez De Lugo landed his troops at Los Cristianos but the guerilla warfare skills of Ichasagua held them at bay for many months. Changing tactics, the conquistadors, used sympathetic Guanche nobles to negotiate a meeting with Ichasagua close to Roque Ichasagua, but he was betrayed and De Lugo and his troops were lying in wait. Realising he had been betrayed he killed himself by plunging a dagger into his chest to avoid being taken captive.

The walk along the traditional route from Arona via Vento to the summit of this impressive peak is now available from Cyberhiker Walks including full route instructions, photos, map and points of interest. Cyberhiker Walks

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Walking the GR131 on Tenerife - Vilaflor to Siete Canadas

Distance: 10 Miles Ascent: 3,500ft Descent: 1,120ft Time: 5 hours 40 mins

For the second section of the GR131, or Stage 6 as it is officially known, I set out on Tuesday morning from the Plaza San Pedro to the sound of workmen renovating the square. This seems to be taking an age to complete, which is a shame as normally it is a pretty, peaceful spot to sit with a drink and enjoy the sun. Today however, it was a pleasure to be leaving the sound of digging behind as I located the route out of the village. Strangely, although the GR131 and the Lunar Landscape walk coincide for the first two or three miles, they leave the village by different routes! Soon, I was climbing steeply out of the village on a section of the Chasna Royal road called El Atajo or The Shortcut. The Chasna Royal road is an ancient trade route from Vilaflor to La Orotava in the north of the island and was used for transporting goods and herding goats to the high pastures of Las Canadas for grazing during the summer months. After passing Casa Galinda, a finca in a picturesque setting near the top of the climb, I descended into the Barranco de Las Mesas on a path that pushed it's way through a number of giant Tajinaste Rojo plants that depite now being green, had been a riot of red flowers on a previous visit a few weeks earlier. Crossing the Pista Madre del Agua, I continued climbing as the peaks of Montana Guajara, Roque Encaje and Montana Arena provided a spectacular backdrop to the surrounding pines. Soon, the Lunar Landscape path and GR131 parted company and the path now climbed steeply above the Lunar Landscape, which I could see far below in a valley to my right. Continuing the climb, the scenery began to change as the black, sandy mound of Montana Arena became more prominent and I descended into and out of a barranco as I admired fabulous views down through pines to the sea of cloud below. Leaving the trees behind, I emerged at a junction of paths and followed a pathway marked by a two lines of stones as it ascended the back of a broad, black-sand ridge towards the peak of Montana Guajara. The walking now became more difficult in the loose sandy soil and this combined with the effects of the altitude made for slow progress as I stopped fairly frequently to catch my breath. Leaving the black sand of Montana Arena behind, I climbed a rocky path on the slopes of Guajara and after passing the turn-off to the summit, the peak of Montana Pasajiron came into view above the Degollada de Guajara pass. Reaching the pass, I decided to stop for a lunchbreak and enjoyed the superb scenery from the rim of the caldera where I had a chat with a group of German walkers walking from the parador to the Lunar Landscape and back again! Wishing these intrepid if somewhat insane hikers farewell, I descended to the Siete Canadas trail where I left the GR131 and turned left to the parador. After admiring the rock formations of Piedras Amarillas I reached the parador where I pushed the boat out and paid an outrageous price for a large slab of chocolate cake and a coffee before catching the bus back to the south.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Walking the GR131 in Tenerife - Arona to Vilaflor

Distance: 11 Miles - Ascent: 3,500ft - Descent: 1,200ft - Time: 5.75 Hours

Having decided to walk a section of the GR131 long distance route from Arona to La Esperanza, I set off on Sunday morning on the the first stage from Arona to Vilaflor. Actually, the official direction appears to be the opposite way around as this section is 'Stage 7', the last part of the route from La Esperanza to Arona, which when you look at the ascent/descent figures above would make sense. Never having been blessed with much common sense, I set off from Arona on an overcast morning as local people decorated the streets with pictures made from sand, salt and flowers for Corpus Cristi. Leaving Arona, I walked to the village of Vento and here left the road for the Camino de Suarez, which forms the first part of the route. As I crossed the Barranco del Rey, the surrounding peaks were cloaked in swirling clouds but it was already hot and humid. Climbing to the Degollada Frailitos pass, I paused briefly before ascending into the cloud and climbed steeply to the threshing circle at the pass between the peaks of Roque de Los Bresos and Roque Imoque. Although misty, the climb proved to be very hot in the humid, moisture laden cloud and the surrounding flora was dripping almost as much as me! An hour and a quarter after leaving Arona, I arrived at the large threshing circle at the pass and followed the country lane to Ifonche. As I left the village, I emerged from the cloud to be greeted by a stunning sight. Ahead lay pine forest stretching as far as the eye could see, the huge 'scar' of the Barranco del Rey the only interruption in the otherwise green carpet in front of me. High above the forest, the peaks of Sombrero de Chasna and El Sombrerito marked the boundary of the National Park and I began the long ascent of Montana Chimoche alongside the Barranco del Rey and after what seemed an age, I reached the edge of this impressive ravine. As I decended to the streambed, I passed a brand new GR131 sign warning of temporary flooding, which I suppose could be a problem if you were mad enough to be walking in some of the monsoon-like rain that the island gets from time to time but seemed otherwise superfluous. A short distance later, I arrived at the attractive Puente Guayero stone bridge in the Barranco de las Goteras before ascending Montana Mohino. Great views now opened up of the surrounding Ifonche countryside and the high mountains above as I puffed and panted my way uphill. Reaching the top, I descended once more to a track at the foot of Montana de la Vica, a mountain with a spilt personality it would seem as it is marked on most maps as Montana de los Guaniles or de la Vica. Vica is shorter and easier to spell than Guaniles so that's how I usually refer to it. After following the track for a short distance the route once again begins to climb towards La Coruja where there is a fantastic viewpoint surrounded by an amphitheatre of cliffs overlooking the surrounding countryside and on a clear day you can see down to the southern coastal plain. This was such a day, the earlier cloud having cleared, so I took advantage of the large, stone seat conveniently placed at the cliff edge and enjoyed the scenery as I took a well earned break. After leaving La Coruja, I climbed a short incline on a path below cliffs, which signalled the end of the climbing for the day. Not long afterwards I found myself on the outskirts on Vilaflor as I reached tarmac at the Villalba Hotel. From here it was just a short downhill stroll into the Plaza San Pedro and the end of this stage of the walk.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Montaña Del Cedro Ridge Walk

Last Friday, I walked the hardest route I've done on the island since my ascent of Teide last year. I planned to walk the ridge running alongside the TF38 Boca de Tauce - Chio road starting from Boca de Tauce in the National Park. The walk began sedately enough starting from the new parking area just before the junction. This carpark is next to the Casa de Juan Evora, house of the last fulltime resident of the National Park, who lived there until as recently as the late 1980's. The path from the car park initially followed a pleasant broom and flixweed lined route beneath the towering pinnacles of the ridge that I planned to traverse later in the walk. After a short distance, the route converged with the lava flow from the 1798 eruption of Las Narices Del Teide and the walking became slightly more difficult as I crossed this unusual landscape. This turned out to be one of the easier sections of the walk however. The route plan was to walk to the far end of the ridge close to the car park beneath Las Narices del Teide (The Nostrils of Teide) before ascending the ridge and returning along the mountain tops. As with most ridge walking, once on the the top there usually follows a succession of summits with the associated height gain and loss in between each one. On this ridge, there were four tops, the highest being Montana del Cedro at 2257 metres. As I climbed the end of the ridge onto Roque del Cedro the first summit of the day, I was feeling a little 'under par' and found the going uphill a little harder than I should have. This coupled with the altitude made me feel a little sluggish but this was more than compensated for by the fantastic scenery. To the north the view was entirely filled by Pico Viejo, which was itself dwarfed by the summit of Teide towering over it in the background. Looking further east the summits of Montana Guajara and El Sombrerito silently observed a huge spiralling 'dust-devil' that towered over the Valle de Ucanca as it moved slowly on it's journey across the flat plain. The path across the top of Roque Del Cedro was fairly clearly defined and gave no real hint of the trials to come. As I began to ascend Montana Cedro it became clear that I was going to have to improvise as the path, such as it was, frequently disappeared amongst a jumble of boulders and broom bushes. At times I was climbing on all fours as I scrambled over the boulders before finally reaching the summit. The views from the top were stunning and I had a break to enjoy the scenery before descending steeply to my next objective, the Boca de Chavao pass. This was not as easy as it sounds however as the path, when I found it, was extremely steep and scree covered and I frequently had to force my way between very overgrown sections as I fought my way back on track. After veering off course slightly into a pine forest, I again had to retrace my steps back onto the path before I finally arrived at the pass. Here, I had a moment of weakness as I wasn't feeling too well and seriously considered the option of giving up and using the escape route from the Boca de Chavao down onto my outward route at the base of the mountains. I stood for a while looking up at the daunting prospect of the climb onto the Roques de Chavao and then down to the comforting sight of the level pathway below. After a few minutes deliberation, I turned and began climbing. This turned out to be an even tougher climb with much scrambling over boulders as I tracked around huge rock formations with no obvious path to follow. This was not helped by me banging my head on a rock wall as I concentrated on scrambling on all fours across a rocky section around one of the overhanging rock towers. Eventually, I arrived at the summit and surveyed the fourth and final climb onto Montana del Palo. After another 'adventurous' descent on loose scree and boulders, I arrived at a saddle where I spent a few minutes trying to locate the onward path in amongst the broom before wearily ascending to the summit of my fourth peak of the day. The views down to Boca de Tauce from here were superb and I had the tantalising view of my car gleaming in the sun far below. Leaving the summit, I walked for around ten minutes before arriving at a sheer precipice from which it was impossible to descend. To my left, a huge rock tower reared up above a dramatic, dizzying drop straight onto the caldera floor. Retracing my steps slightly, I located a cairn to the right of the summit leading into a rocky gully. Pushing aside the undergrowth I descended into rocky hollow underneath a huge boulder aided by an old tree-trunk obviously placed there by other walkers to aid progress. Breathing a sigh of relief that I had found the correct route and didn't need to climb back up, I regained the path and descended before facing my last climb of the day, a small hill directly above the car park at Boca de Tauce. Slipping and sliding my way down I finally arrived back onto the path I had started out on five hours earlier just behind the car park. A short walk later and I was back at the car marvelling on how I had managed to traverse the dramatic and difficult ridge despite not feeling too great. It had certainly been a challenging walk and one that would remain long in my memory. Photos opposite.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The GR131 Long Distance Route

While researching routes for the 'Discovering Tenerife on Foot' walking guidebook I noticed that a lot of work was happening in the south of the island creating and restoring footpaths. After encountering various sections of newly created path, I eventually came across one with new signposting for the GR131 European long distance route, which explained the creation and restoration work happening on three of the routes in the book. The red and white paint stripes and signposts along the new pathways are the symbol for this network that spans a number of countries including Spain, France, Belgium and Holland. A quick look on the internet revealed nothing about Tenerife but the GR131 apparently spans El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera and is designed as an 'island-hopping' route for walkers interested in long distance mountain routes in the Canaries. The section currently being created in Tenerife stretches from Arona to La Esperanza and is 85 kilometres long. The parts of the route that I have so far encountered go from Arona to Ifonche to Vilaflor before heading off up to Montana Guajara. It sounds an exciting, if strenuous route that I will look forward to completing at some time in the future when the signposting is finished and it is nice that Tenerife is now included in this route across the Canary Islands.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Walking amongst Volcanos

Last November was the one hundred year anniversary of the last eruption in Tenerife at Montana Chinyero. To commemorate the event, a plaque was fixed to one of the volcanic boulders lining the newly waymarked route around the volcano. The circular route around the dark volcanic cone is a fascinating insight into the devastation caused to the surrounding landscape during the eruptions that lasted from the 18th to the 27th November 1909. At one point in the route, the path actually crosses the top of the lava flow to give you an idea of the scale of the sea of molten rock that flowed through the countryside during the eruptions. As this 5.7 kilometre route is quite close to another eruption site, I though it would be a good idea devise a route linking the two sites together in one continuous walk. The Montana Negra eruption of 1706, destroyed the harbour and a large part of the port of Garachico and the area around the volcano is an amazing black sand desert dotted with pine trees with the imposing sight of Teide and Pico Viejo providing an impressive backdrop. On clear days, the contrast between the black ash and sand, the green of the pines and the deep blue of the sky is quite stunning.
Last Thursday, I led a group of walkers from Los Llanos to Montana Chinyero on a chilly but sunny morning. The walk began with a pleasant stroll through pine trees before arriving at the start of the Chinyero circular path. A short distance along this, we climbed up unto the lava flow (pictured), which is an amazing sight and although it is a route I have walked a number of times, it never fails to fill me with awe. As we picked our way carefully over the frozen lava, the walkers cameras working overtime, the cinder cone of Montana Chinyero came into view. This breathtaking view was complemented by the bulk of Teide towering in the background. Having left the lava field behind, the walk then climbed around the far side of the volcanic cone where we had further superb views looking down onto the lava. During a short break for lunch, the earlier sunny skies suddenly clouded over and it was soon raining steadily. We walked to Montana Negra in the rain but by the time we arrived at the 1706 eruption site, the cone of Montana Negra was all but invisible in the cold, damp mist. With the rain now falling quite heavily and the views having disappeared for the day, we walked briskly back through the woods to Los Llanos and the dry and warmth of the car.