Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Pico Viejo – Climbing Tenerife’s Second Highest Mountain

The gap in the list glared at me, like a tooth missing from the smile of a small child. I had climbed three of the four highest mountains on the island, but for some unexplained reason the second highest summit had eluded me. Now, I was setting off to fill the gap with a climb to the 3,134 metre summit of Pico Viejo.
Montaña Guajara & Parador at the start of the walk
I set off from the parador passing the incredible rock sculptures of the Roques de Garcia in the Las Cañadas National Park, that at this hour of the morning were thankfully free of the hundreds of tourists that would inevitably arrive by tour bus and hire car to scramble over them later in the day.
Los Roques de Garcia with Pico Viejo in the background
 Turning away from the display of ‘rock-art’, I set-off on ‘sendero 23’ following a vague line of cairns across the lava in the direction of Pico Viejo, my objective for the day. At this point in the walk, my attention was dominated, as is every visitors’, by the towering presence of Teide, dwarfing Pico Viejo and reducing it to an insignificant protuberance on the western flank of the giant volcano.
Looking back along the path into Las Cañadas
 Initially, the path was fairly easy going as it climbed very gently across the lava fields but soon, it began to steepen, and I could already feel the rarity of the air caused by the altitude. I lost the path briefly, seduced by some erroneous cairns but soon found my way back onto the path as it climbed steeply over a ridge of sharply jagged lava before descending into a valley. The ascent out of this was very steep, on a path of loose, deep volcanic grit and I found myself staggering backwards as the ground gave way under me.
First view into the summit crater
 Most of the ascent was like this, as each ridge was conquered, so another appeared and the upward slog began all over again. At one point, the path vanished altogether as it crossed an area of huge lava boulders but I soon regained the path on the other side.
Pico del Teide
 After three hours of ascent in ever thinning air, I reached the path between Pico Viejo and its more illustrious neighbour, the climb from here to Teide’s summit looking impossibly steep. After another half an hour’s climb, I sat on the summit of Tenerife’s second highest peak, which turned out to be simply a high point on the rim of the large summit crater.
Altimeter reading over 10,000ft
From the top, the views were stunning, encompassing four islands, as well as the Teno Mountainsin the north-west, the north coast, and standing silently overlooking it all, the brooding presence of Teide’s towering peak, decorated with frozen fingers of lava, like icing on a badly decorated cake.
Looking down to the north coast
The summit crater on Pico Viejo is far more impressive than that of Teide’s, which tapers to such a point that it has only a small indentation on the top.  Here, however, the crater is an impressive sea of lava surrounded by rugged cliffs that would dominate the scene but for Teide’s presence.
Summit crater with Teno Mountains and the island of La Palma 
 After over half an hour exploring the summit, I turned and headed back downhill and mentally filled in the gap in my list. It had been a long but worthwhile wait. 
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