How I came to look at the Canary Islands, I'm not sure anymore, but somehow I did. I had heard a little about them, as a hiking destination that is, but never paid close attention, thinking the Canaries were mainly for beach type holidays. However, that changed as soon as I started reading about them: I quickly learned that there was some great hiking to be had on several of the islands, and as icing on the cake, there was Pico del Teide, a huge volcano that was just begging me to come and climb it!
So, I booked a flight, packed my bag and by the end of September I was on my way to Tenerife.
The high point of the trip was to be climbing Pico del Teide. However, I wanted to save that for last. And so started my long detour.
The first week I hiked on the neighboring island of La Palma. A beautiful island, especially when the weather cooperates - which it did on some days anyway. The peaks are just over 2000 m there, so that helps a bit with acclimatization.
Back on Tenerife, it was all about Teide national park. Not to overdo it, the first hike was in the forest on the northern slopes, with the occasional view on Teide, and a visit to La Fortaleza.
Hiking las Cañadas del Teide
Hiking for hours on end sure brings home the size of the crater. This volcano must have been gigantic! In comparison, Pico del Teide, at 3718 m, a new volcano on what must once have been the north side of the crater, is just a baby.
Sure, the Parador is a bit expensive, but I wanted to sleep high one more night before aiming for Pico del Teide.
Roques de GarciaThe unexpected added bonus of staying at the parador, was being around Roques de Garcia at sunset, taking pictures like there was no tomorrow!
The parador was really luxurious, and dinner excellent. Not my natural habitat, but nice anyway, for a change.
Refugio Altavista, which is conveniently located high (at 3270 m) on the slopes of Pico del Teide.
High up at the refuge, the size of the huge Cañadas del Teide hits home once again. And this picture doesn't even show half of it!
Sunset on Las Cañadas del Teide, Tenerife
With 25 people or so, the refuge was about half full, so there was plenty of room. About half of the guests belonged to a guided hiking group. Of course, everybody in there had the same goal: the summit of Pico del Teide by sunrise. There was a nice atmosphere and I chatted with several other hikers.
Summit dayGetting started isn't my strong suit. Although I actually woke up even before anybody got out of bed, I ended up being the last one to leave the refuge. Is it my fault that I like to take my time for a proper breakfast? Anyway, I was late, and wanted to reach the summit before sunrise, so I set a good pace right from the start. Being acclimatized soon paid dividends as I passed the guided group. Of course, a group only goes as fast as the slowest member...
At 3550 m, the trail reaches the terminal station of the cable car, La Rambleta. According to the rules, hiking to the summit from the refugio is allowed only when you're back at La Rambleta before 9 am, when the cable car starts running. If you want to be on the summit for sunrise, that's no problem at all.
As I was on the summit, waiting for the sunrise, other hikers joined the club, however, much less than there had been in the refuge. From some of the others I learned that the guide of the group decided not to hike the last bit, because there was too much wind, and some of the independent hikers followed suit.
I totally respect that decision. As a guide, he has the responsibility for the whole group. At the same time, I was really glad that I was not part of that group myself, because I would have been really disappointed. And, yes, it was windy - and well below freezing too - but it didn't feel as if I might be blown off the mountain and I was comfortable with that.
Pico ViejoThere is only one trail to the summit, from La Rambleta, and from there, there are but a few trails down. I had decided to take the long way down, passing by Pico Viejo - which, despite its name, is actually much younger than Pico del Teide. I teamed up with several other hikers I had met the previous night. In retrospect that was a good idea, because the trail proved to be very rough, and you wouldn't want to be alone in case of a problem. Carefully we descended the sharp rocks.
Down from Pico Viejo, the trail wasn't too bad. Not very clearly marked, mind you, but the terrain on the west side of the park wasn't all that difficult.
To the coastI was hoping to reach Masca, but that just proved to much for one day. In the end, I managed to reach Santiago del Teide with very tired feet, only to discover that there was no hotel or room for rent of any sort there! There was only a very bleak looking camp ground just next to the town, quite unappealling. I ate something in the local cafe, and was advised to try Puerto Santiago on the coast instead. So, I took the last 'guagua' of the day and found myself back in civilization late in the evening. Puerto Santiago turned out to be a bit of an upscale beach town. Eventually, I found an affordable place to stay and relax.
The day after, I couldn't just do nothing. My feet were all right again, and to loosen up my leg muscles, I hiked down Masca canyon real leasurely, and that was it. Time to fly back home.
Adiós, Islas Canarias, hasta la proxima!
Red TapeThere are strict rules in the Teide national park, and they are enforced too. Some that I had to contend with were:
Even though I carried a tent - I needed it on La Palma - pitching it in the park is not allowed, so I didn't. It's possible to camp outside the park, and while I'm not sure that that's allowed either, being in the pine forest, you won't damage any fragile environment. Finding water will be a real problem though. In fact, I didn't use my tent at all on Tenerife, only on La Palma.
Stay on the trails
From looking at the map, I figured that going off trail at a certain point might make for an interesting hike. So, I popped into the visitor center at El Portillo to ask about that. The rangers were very clear: it's not allowed to leave the trails! And so I complied - until a few days later, when I found myself in the sandy western part of the Cañadas, where the trail got more and more faint until it finally just petered out! From that point, I just went by map and compass for an hour or so, until I reached a clear trail once again, shortly after I saw the first tree. That part of the Cañadas is relatively flat, sandy with a few rocks and even fewer shrubs, so going off trail won't cause much erosion.
Climbing Pico del Teide
Normally, to climb Pico del Teide requires a special permit. Without it, you're not allowed higher than La Rambleta, the summit station of the cable car at 3550 m. In 2008, this permit had to be collected in person in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Most inconvenient of course, especially if you were to find out about that only when you just got to La Rambleta. I guess that this inconvenience is not accidental: it drastically limits the number of people climbing to the summit, thereby protecting the mountain from erosion.
A notable alternative to climbing with a permit is to climb Pico del Teide real early: as long as you're back down from the summit to 3550 m, that's fine. The best way to do this is to sleep at Refugio Altavista and get up well before sunrise. The added bonus to that is that you can get to experience the sunrise on the summit, and that's always a special occasion to witness!
And, by the way, it only takes a phone call to make a resevation at the refuge. How's that for red tape!