Introduction"Soon it began to descend rapidly and they guessed that it must actually be heading towards the Withywindle valley: not at all the direction they wished to take. After some discussion they decided to leave this misleading path and strike northward; for although they had not been able to see it from the hill-top, the Road must lie that way, and it could not be many miles off.
But after a time the trees began to close in again, just where they had appeared from a distance to be thinner and less tangled. Then deep folds in the ground were discovered unexpectedly, like the ruts of giant wheels or wide moats and sunken roads long disused and choked with brambles.
Each time they climbed down they found the hollow filled with thick bushes and matted undergrowth, which somehow would not yield to the left, but only gave way to the right; and they had to go some distance along the bottom before they could find up a way up the further bank. Each time they clambered out, the trees seemed deeper and darker; and always to the left and upwards it was most difficult to find a way, and they were forced to the right and downwards..
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Old Forest in The Lord of the Rings
There are times when nothing wants to work as designed and though you made a whole set of plans you get deflected into some completely different direction. On Christmas Eve 2006 I couldn't stop thinking about Toliken's lines as we somehow always ended up in almost the same spot though having taken different detours each time. All routes seemed to lead into the midst of Barranco de las Arenas and while we didn't have to fight blambles we found ourselves closed in by insurmountable lava rocks. Three times we reached that spot and at last we finally gave up. When we did, a fully evident path revealed itself, leading in the right direction. Though we felt cheated we took it and reached a destination, though not the one we had planned for.
But then - the plan had called for great things - maybe too great on the first day of a Christmas vacation...
What The Plan Called ForBarranco de las Arenas on Tenerife is a long valley on Tenerife which runs south from the giant Caldera of the Cañadas del Teide towards the southern coast of the island. It starts beneath the south face of mighty Guajara, Tenerife fourth highest summit. Since it runs through an area of pumice and tuff sediments the occasional water torrent which washes down the slopes into the valley has carved out a small canyon at an elevation between 1600m and 2000m. At both mouths of this canyon bizarre erosion structures have been left standing, the famous Paisaje Lunar to the south and the Paisaje Lunar Negro to the north. Both moonscapes (for that is what Paisaje Lunar stands for) are worth a visit but only the former is popular among the tourist hikers on the island. It consists of a set of beautiful white towers which resemble the minarets of Arabian mosques. Consequently they feature on every other picture postcard.
While the Paisaje Lunar is quite remotely hidden in the natural park Corona Forestal it can be reached quite easily by a dirt road and a 45min hike. For us it was supposed to serve as the first stage to the summit of Guajara, 1100m above it, a goal we knew to be very challenging on the first day of our vacation. Therefore we decided to go as high up as possible and tick off Paisaje Lunar, Paisaje Lunar Negro, Degollada de la Guajara and Guajara itself on the way. There would always be the possibility to turn around and get back to the car but the route seemed to be crystal clear. Our guidebook described it - though in reverse order and in a short footnote. This kind of guidance often has lead us astray and we should have taken more care.
But we didn't and so this story ensued:
Starting outYesterday we arrived on Tenerife exchanging the foggy German winter for the Canarian sunshine. We had spent our first afternoon shopping for groceries and sitting on our veranda, discussing the tour for today. Amazingly there had been instant agreement when one of us proposed Paisaje Lunar. We had been to Tenerife five years before in May but during that time the island was shrouded in clouds at elevations between 1000m and 1700m and visting the pumice towers wouldn't have made sense in the fog. We had decided to head for the trailhead and since that meant going via the Cañadas del Teide higher above we would have multiple alternatives. The Cañadas rarely see clouds making them a perfect hiking ground.
Now it is 7:30 a.m. amd I am opening the door of our apartment. It is still dark outside but the stars shine brightly. The day promises to become a good one - perfect maybe. It is cold outside - maybe 8°C but I don't care too much. We're on one of the islands of everlasting spring and it is sure to heat up during the day. Closing the door and heading for our car we see first glimpses of light on the tip of Teide, 3500m above us. Yes it's bound to be a perfect day.
Driving up the mountain is a bit awkward - we still don't know the roads and have to pay attention at each intersection. But we make it past the town of La Orotava above which only villages follow. But wait! The ground to the side of the road is grey - and as I recognize it for rime the car starts to slither through one of the many curves. Drive slowly! We're at about 1100m and still have 1200m to go until we reach the highest point of the Cañadas. Will we be able to get there at all?
Driving gets more dangerous by the minute. Luckily the road isn't very steep. It crosses the northern slopes of Teide and the Cumbre Dorsal Range in wide sweeps. Still, the switchbacks are very tricky. I seriously consider returning. But then - as immediately as it set in - the rime stops. The road gets dry again though it is well below freezing now. Maybe this day won't be that perfect after all. At least it might be chillingly cold. Anyway, the rime probably was caused by the eternal trade wind clouds which permanently hover around the Islas Canarias at these elevations but which rarely climb up higher. Lucky for us!
After an hour we reach the Cañadas del Teide and quickly drive through them - but not without admiring this gorgeous landscape - one of the most beautiful ones on earth. It shimmers in all shades of orange and red in the early morning light and I almost propose to remain up here. But no the plan calls for Paisaje Lunar and Guajara - and if we reach the latter we'll have the most perfect view across this beautiful crated. And we will reach it, won't we?
Those Canarian Pines!
We cross Llano de Ucanca and reach Bocca Tauce, the south-western gateway to the Cañadas. From here the road turns southward in direction of Vilaflor, at first a breathtaking mountain road through bisarre rocks and with gorgeaous views of the western canarian islands of El Hierro and La Gomera. But soon it dives into the Corona Forestal, the forest encircling the Cañadas, which is mainly made up from Canarian Pines. These pines grow soft needles as long as 25cm (10 inches) and offer a great contrast against the deep blue Canarian sky and the reddish volcanic soil. These pines will be our companions for most of the rest of the day. Only we don't know it yet...
Right above Vilaflor a dirt road turns off to the east and we follow it for some 11 potholed kilometers. Finally we reach a signpost "Paisaje Lunar" and are not surprised to be the first ones to get there. However, as we pack our things and put on our boots a second couple arrives. So this will be a crowded day, right? But this also turns out otherwise.
There are two paths to the Paisaje Lunar, one direct one, which we plan to return and one heading down the road to an encampment, the Campamento Madre del Agua, which is located on the slopes of Barranco de las Arenas already. From there we will only have to follow the valley until we get to the moonscape. Quite easy.
It actually is as easy as we thought it would be. The road naturally is no problem and the path from the encampment to the Paisaje Lunar is marked. It leads directly through some of the most beautiful large pines and we walk on a carpet of soft needles. However, we already learn that these needles can be very slippery, even in dry conditions as we have them today.
We reach the Paisaje Lunar - and take a breathless rest. The moonscape is smaller than we thought it would be - the minarets are located to both sides of the barranco - but it is every bit as beautiful as the picture postcards showed. White pumice towers form a great contrast against the deep blue sky and the dark green pines. As we walk through the area views change with every step. Wow!
We meet the other couple who came by the other route and take a short rest to eat and drink something. At this point everything has run as designed. Next step: Paisaje Lunar Negro!
Barranco de las ArenasHowever, now our Withywindle experience starts. First we take a (deep) look at the footnote in our guidebook. We have to climb up along a clearly visible path, then turn right, traversing into the barranco where we will find Paisaje Lunar Negro. Then a scree ascent to Degollada de la Guajara and the ascent to the summit plateau. Sounds easy. Very much so.
Even the first steps are ambiguous. We step back and forth but after a while we find something that could be a clearly visible path. It crosses a black lava slope upwards and we feel we are on the right track. After several 100m there is a path turning off to the right, a path which is marked by a white dot. Here we go! Easy! There is a secon white dot and a third, then an intersection with a white dot straight ahead and a clear path to the right. What do we do?
After a heated (low heat) discussion we take the path to the right. but that leads back to the Paisaje Lunar. We come out directly amidst the upper towers. A nice experience. But the guidebook didn't tell us we should pass through again. There must be something wrong. We go in a huddle and another heated discussion (moderate heat) ensues. Judith claims we should have taken the path straight ahead - it was marked. My argument that we are on an evident path and that the one straight ahead was barely visible is voted down by the majority. She heads back with me mumbling behind her back.
You can't say I didn't warn her - the path - though marked - vanishes after a few steps. She scrambles on bravely and I follow. Further on up the slopes you can imagine the path gets better and I console myself. The Scramble is real steep, the turf slippery and there are the pine needles. Maybe those pines are not as beautiful as we thought. We reach a ledge which turns right , into Barranco de las Arenas. Is this the slope traverse? Might be but the guidebook would have mentioned a ledge - if only to scare inexperienced hikers away. And then - a dead end. We are on a platform hovering above the barranco and while we might climb down into it there is no path. This much is evident. We could try to scramble on along the slopes we are on but this looks as wrong as the barranco itself. The next discussion is rather subdued. Probably I was right after all and we should have taken the path through the Paisaje Lunar. We decide to descend again.
Somehow we manage to lose the path. Come to think of it - the path was nearly invisible anyway so why care. We stumble down the sandy slopes and finally reach the upper towers of the moonscape again. Now we turn left along a trail which leads directly into Barranco de las Arenas. This clearly is a trail but again it doesn't look like in the description of the guidebook. But finally we traverse a slope - so much for that - we're on the right track and enter the canyon like part of the barranco. Tough to admit, but the trail suddenly stops. Evident in one place, a step further and it is gone. Still we struggle on, along and across lava blocks which lie strewn around the barranco bed. And then - dead end. Again you could struggle on but here brushwork and rocks close the valley and we don't want to go on.
Deeply frustrated we decide to have lunch. Maybe afterwards we feel better. While munching away on our sandwiches we notice that we are only steps away from the ledge we had turned around from an hour ago. Damn that guidebook! Probably it's best to return to the car - we have been at Paisaje Lunar - more than once actually - and that was the main goal. We can stop in the Cañadas on our way back and do something there.
So we return and for the third time pass through the upper pillars of the moonscape. They are getting familiar by now, like brothers - though nasty ones. Here is the trail intersection - I decide to ignore it and then we're back on the main trail. Should we try to go up? It looks like a well trodden path. Why on earth did we leave it in the first place?
Oh My!After a few steps it becomes apparent that we are right on track now. This is the correct path and we have wasted hours in and around Barranco de las Arenas. We are feeling very foolish but then we remind ourselves that we have been in places and have seen views of the moonscape that only few people see. There's got to be something, hasn't there?
Yes, the path is evident, so much that our minds go on automatic. But wait - it gets steeper as we clamber out of the Barranco. There are some easy climbing sections but again the rocks are covered with pine needles. I'm afraid our descent will be rather slippery. We lose the trail once more but soon we hit a dirt road and now all uncertainty is gone. We have crossed the timber line and right in front of us are Montaña de las Arenas and the Guajara south face. Also, we are above the canyon like part of Barranco de las arenas and from here on we will walk on cinder scree. After a few steps a breathtaking view opens up: the Island of Gran Canaria, hovering above the Tenerifan pines.
We regain Barranco de las Arenas and wonder about the blackness of the slopes of Montaña de las Arenas which drop into it from the western side. We struggle towards the eastern banks of the valley and suddenly there it is: the Paisaje Lunar Negro - pillars and walls carved oout of the black cinder of Montaña de las Arenas. Certainly not as impressive as the white moonscape at the lower end of the canyon, but well deserving its name. We take a break but the wind is cold and fierce up here. There has been no shelter since we crossed the timber line.
While we certainly could go on it is doubtful whether we would be able to reach Degollada de Guajara, our next planned destination. At least not in time to get back to the car in daylight. So we decide to return the way we came. It is disconcerting to see how short a trip can take if you do it right. We slide down the slopes on the soft carpet of pine needles and in some places actually take a fall or two. But the carpet is thick and soft so that nothing serious happens. After little more than an hour we are back at the Paisaje Lunar where we meet quite a number of other hikers. Yes - this is a popular place but thanks to our lack of pathfinding skills up to now we have spent our day in solitude.
For the remaining hike back to the car we take the direct route and again we meet lots of other hikers. The small parking lot is packed full and thanks to the dust on the road our brand new rental car has aged by years. Since it is still rather early we decide to go back to the Cañadas where we take another long break admiring the scenery. Come to think of it the Cañadas are much more worthy of the name "moonscape" than anything else on earth. They look barren and foreboding with barely a sign of life (but for the cars and coaches going up and down the Cañadas Highway).
It is Christmas eve and there are only few people left up here at 4:30 p.m. Time to go down to the coast to our apartment again and time to think of Christmas presents. We return as the sun is setting behind Teide so we have been on tour from dusk till dawn. However, I'm not quite sure if it was a day well spent.