Monday, 23 January 2012

Walking with Tenerife's Elusive Mouflon

Setting off from the Parador


The walk from the Parador to Vilaflor, Spain's highest village, starts at over 2,000 metres altitude and last Friday a group of us started the day in balmy temperatures in Los Cristianos as we caught the once a day bus to the Las Cañadas National Park. As the bus climbed the serpentine road to the park, the temperature plummeted until, as we entered the park, the frost covering the volcanic landscape made us glad that we had packed our fleeces. Starting off in the crisp, cold air under electric blue skies after a group photo outside the parador, we were soon walking quickly, trying to warm up as we headed for the path out of the giant caldera. The first hour of the walk involves climbing almost 300 metres in thin air and we made regular stops to catch our breath, giving us the chance to admire the fantastic scenery below. 
On the Ucanca Pass
Arriving just below the caldera rim, we reached the final ascent path to the Ucanca Pass, which in winter is usually a tricky climb over hard packed snow but due to the very dry winter the island has enjoyed so far this year, posed no real problem other than the rough, rocky ground underfoot. After around an hours climbing, we reached the pass and after another group photo, began the descent into the wild beauty of the Barranco de Eris de Carnero. As we descended, one of our group suddenly called our attention the 'deer' on the far wall of the barranco and as I looked in the direction he was pointing, I was amazed to see three 'deer-like' animals bounding across the rocks.

Approaching the Caldera Rim
Initially, I was a little bemused as I knew there are no deer on the island but then I recalled reading some years ago that there were a number of mouflon sheep on the island in the National Park region. These were introduced in 1970 for hunting, although there have since been moves to eradicate them in an attempt to stop them damaging the protected flora of the National Park. The males of the species have large, curving horns but the three we were watching as they expertly clambered across the volcanic, boulder strewn valley wall appeared to be female as no horns were visible. The mouflon are extremely elusive and rarely seen and this was the first time in many years of walking on the island that I had encountered them. Unfortunately, they were too far away to photograph but more information about them can be found Here

Decending into the Barranco de Eris de Carnero

Eventually, they disappeared out of sight and we continued our descent into the valley and as we reached the path to the Paisaje Lunar, or Lunar Landscape, we descended into the cloud. As the chilly mist swirled around us, we reached this valley of strangely eroded pumice pinnacles, sculpted over the years by the wind and rain and after a break here to take in the views we continued through the pines before descending steeply into Vilaflor.

At the Lunar Landscape
After exactly five hours of excellent walking, including an encounter with one of the islands more elusive inhabitants, we had just enough time for a quick drink in a bar before catching the bus as it returned from the National Park to the coast.
(The walk from the Parador to Vilaflor is no.4 in the book 'Discovering Tenerife on Foot')