Wednesday, 11 May 2011

In the Land of the Giants - A Walk to Playa Seco

The Teno Mountains, in the west of the island, end abruptly at the sea forming towering cliffs plunging up to 600 metres into the ocean at Los Gigantes (The Giants) and it is from these that the resort takes it's name. These rugged mountains boast spectacular mountain scenery with remote villages nestling in the vast valleys or barrancos, that separate the various ridges in the area. The most famous of these is Masca, a tiny, Canarian village standing guard at the start of the popular Barranco De Masca walk that descends for around 600 metres through the labyrinthine ravine to the sea. Between the Barranco de Masca and Los Gigantes are two other barrancos, the Barranco Seco and the Barranco Manchas de Los Diaz and it was these that I set off to explore from the village of Santiago Del Teide at 8.30am on a beautiful May morning. Following the ridge above El Molledo, I reached the path into the Barranco Manchas de Los Diaz after around an hour, and with many of the surrounding mountains still cloaked in shadow, began the descent into the gloomy ravine.
I knew that the walk would be fairly tough so I had planned an early start to give me as many hours of daylight as possible. In the event it turned out to be prophetic as a series of circumstances led me on a marathon walk that saw me staggering back to Santiago del Teide at 7pm in the evening. As I descended into the barranco on a good, partly paved path, the prominent tower of Roque Blanco (above) stood bathed in sunshine on the opposite side of the valley, over 700 metres above Playa Seco. A raven flew overhead croaking it's woody call and looking back, if I was a more suspicious person, I may have seen it as a warning and turned back there and then but I was enjoying myself immensely as I descended rapidly, with no inkling of the trials to come. The path descended steeply and at times was fairly overgrown and this was to be the start of my problems. Trying to round a bush growing across the path, I stepped on a large boulder lining the way, which promptly rolled and caused me to fall, landing heavily on my left leg, which had buckled double under me. The pain shot through my knee and I sat for a moment massaging it and once the pain subsided, slowly stood up. I was quite surprised to find that I seemed to have suffered no ill-effects and after putting my full weight on my leg, decided I had had a lucky escape. I continued unhindered downhill and arrived at the Galeria Junquero. The galerias are tunnels bored into the rock to access water contained in underground aquifers, from where much of the islands water is obtained and there are many examples scattered around the mountains. Here, there was a gated tunnel with large keep out signs and a tajea, or gutter, with fast flowing water (right) issuing from the galeria. This was to prove a lifesaver later in the day but now I was intrigued by an old building and rusty old rails and rail-trucks that lay around and wondered what they could have been used for. The rock hereabouts was a chalky white and I wondered if this had at one time been a mining area for obtaining minerals, possibly calcium. Up to now the path, aside from being overgrown in places, had been easy to follow but suddenly became indistinct. I found myself in the streambed looking for the way, which I found and promptly lost again as I was diverted by the maintenance path of the tajea, which now led to a rough block building being constructed in the side wall of the barranco. Adjacent to this was a cave containing building materials with a bridge over a gap leading to the building fashioned from some of the old rails tracks. Judging by the rusty generator in the cave, it seemed as though the project had been abandoned for some time and I retreated in search of the onward path. Having once again located this, I continued down the streambed, which was proving very difficult to negotiate as it continually disappeared over dry waterfalls. This combined with scrambling over large boulders was not helping my knee, which was starting to stiffen slightly. I arrived at one waterfall with no obvious way down, I could see the onward path on the far side of the fall but there was no way of getting to it without hanging over the edge of the fall and shuffling along on a ledge around five metres above the streambed. This may not sound very high but it actually feels a lot worse when you have to hang over it clinging on with your fingers and toes. After some time spent trying to determine the best way of negotiating this obstacle I eventually managed to get across and continued down the streambed (right) as the higher path along the barranco walls had by now completely vanished. After around four hours of diversions and climbing down waterfalls, I had my first glimpse of the sea and found myself a short time later standing on Playa Seco as the surf broke on the rocky shore. The huge cliffs towered over the boulder strewn beach and I was amazed to the see the jaunty colours of an umbrella as well as numerous craft in the bay which included jet-skies, tourist boats and divers dinghys. I assumed that the people with the umbrella had arrived by boat as they did not looked equipped to walk in the barranco. I crossed the beach, (below) which proved difficult walking across the boulders to the mouth of the Barranco Seco at the other end where I stopped for lunch. The plan was to investigate the Barranco Seco, which I knew led to the pass on the Masca road and if viable, follow it to the road before walking along the tarmac back to Santiago Del Teide. If it didn't prove to be a viable route, I would turn around and retrace my steps back up the descent path in the Barranco Manchas de Los Diaz. After sitting for a while enjoying the sunshine and watching the boats in the bay, I set off and entered the Barranco Seco, soon locating some stone cairns along the stream-bed and encouraged by these, started following them. After around half an hour, the path left the streambed and began climbing and I soon found myself clinging to the side of the barranco wall with no obvious onward route. I knew that if I was going to turn around, I needed to make a decision soon, which I did, and descended back down the barranco to the beach. Since the fall, my knees seem to have stiffened up and I was now having problems walking over the boulders as I crossed the beach. Not only did I have sharp pains shooting through my left leg due to the fall, but my right knee was also stiffening, presumably due to me compensating for my left leg, and this coupled with the rough four hour descent had obviously taken it's toll. On reaching the far side of the beach and my descent route, I was now stumbling regularly on the boulders, my balance seriously affected by the problem with my knees. I began climbing back up in the now very hot sun, tripping over the rough ground as I skirted around large boulders and it seemed to take an age to progress along the streambed before I reached the large waterfall I had struggled with earlier. I decided that the best way to tackle this was to climb up the rock face of the waterfall, as I has missed the turning for the path along the cliff wall and didn't want to retrace my steps looking for it. Again, from below, the waterfall looked an easy scramble up the rocks but when you're clinging on by your fingers and toes, it seems much higher. After a tricky climb, I eventually pulled myself onto the top and sat to regain my breath and cool off, although this was proving difficult in temperatures around 30c! As if this wasn't enough, I now had a new problem, I ran out of water! I always carry two litres of water with me and half a litre of an orange juice/water mix but all I now had was half of this left and no water at all. I knew this was serious as I was now thirsty and the heat in the barranco was stifling with no breeze and little shade. I had to get back to the Galeria Junquera and hope that the water was drinkable. From there, I knew the serious climbing would begin and water would be essential if I was to get back to the top of the barranco wall. After a slow plod and with my mouth like a sandpit, I reached the galeria and after testing it, decided that the water was probably safe and filled up my bottle with two litres. I now began what was probably the most gruelling climb of my life as I staggered on my near useless knees in the blazing sunshine up the barranco wall towering 760mtrs over me, seemingly reaching into the sky. I stumbled on, tripping regularly as my knees refused to lift my feet high enough off of the ground and rested every 30mtrs of ascent, taking shade wherever I could find it. Just as I was settling into a rythym, I suddenly had a severe bout of cramp in my right thigh muscle, presumably brought on by dehydration, although by now I had drunk around three litres since setting off all those hours ago. I sat massaging my thigh to relax the muscle and once it had passed, stood once more to continue my way up the wall of rock that seemed to never get any smaller. After an interminable time and many more rest stops, I finally reached the lip of the barranco and sighed with relief at the sight of the town of Tamaimo in the Santiago Valley that I had last seen over nine hours before. I still had around an hour to walk back to Santiago Del Teide but knew that the serious climbing was done and staggered back towards the village, suffering yet another serious attack of cramp in my thigh along the way. Having massaged this away, I set off again along the walled path into the village with barely had enough energy to celebrate the wonderful sight of my car parked at the side of the road, where I had left it 10.5 hours earlier. The relief should have been immense but I was too exhausted to be overjoyed and sat in the car to rest for a few moments before driving home reflecting on the fact that the giants had almost claimed a victim.
Thinking back, I came close to having to call the emergency service for the first time in my life and wondered if I could have done anything differently. The main problem was obviously the fall and had I felt pain upon standing after this incident, I would have turned around at this point. If I made an error it was trying to return up the Barranco Seco instead of resting on the beach and returning the way I had come down the Barranco Manchas de Los Diaz. However, at this point I didn't feel that my knees were causing me any real problems, it was only as I started up the Barranco Seco that this problem started to effect me significantly. The water problem was largely caused by my progress, which was so slow that I eventually ran out. I was lucky that I had passed the Galeria Junquera earlier in the walk and knew that I might be able to top-up when I reached it again. . This unfortunate series of events combined to put me in a situation that, while never really life threatening, would certainly have been embarrassing had it been necessary to call for help. My route is marked on the map in red and you may need to zoom in to see it once you have clicked on it.

A short video of the walk, not great quality I'm afraid.
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