Neighbours Pico Grande and Pico do Cerco are the highest points on a south-to-north running ridge, which can be defined as the centre of the island of Madeira. The ridge towers 1400m borth above the Curral das Freiras Cauldron to the east and the Ribeira Brava Basin to the west, ensuring some of the best views of the island. However, reaching the mountains can turn into a full day epic unless you start from the closest trailhead at Boca da Corrida.
The route described here is one of these long routes - some 21km in length with roughly 1400m elevation gain. It starts at the lowest point of Madeira's weather divide, Boca da Encumeada, a road pass which can be easily reached by car or by bus. The route heads out east in a long bend, which finally reaches the Pico Grande north face. It follows the face, turns south, gradually rising as it turns the mountain. Finally it reaches Boca do Cerro, where it joins the normal route for a steep ascent of Pico Grande, which culminates in an UIAA I scramble to the small summit block of the mountain. Pico do Cerco lies to the east and can be easily reached un unmarked terrain.
Boca da Encumeada is a popular lookout point on the ridge between Pico Ruivo and Paul da Serra. It can be reached by car even though the regular highway uses the Encumeada Tunnel underneath. At the saddle you'll find a restaurant and a souvenir shop as well as a small parking lot.
- Take highway R101 until its end at Ribeira Brava.
- After the long last tunnel turn right onto ER104 to Serra de Água.
- Just at the entry of the village turn left onto the pass road which heads up to Boca da Encumeada.
- Start altitude: 1007m
- Summit altitude: 1654m / 1620m
- Prevailing exposure: west
- Type: Hike with UIAA I scramble on to Pico Grande
- Protection: Withered and torn ropes at the Pico Grande summit
- Start altitude: 1007m
- Effort: 4 - 1450m elevation gain both ways
- Power: 3 - Long and strenuous
- Psyche: 2 - Slippery traverse above Boca do Cerro, UIAA I section to Pico Grande
- Difficulty: 2 - Still Easy
- Orientation: 1 - Marked and easy (Pico do Cerco would fet a rating of 2)
The route starts about 400m beneath Boca da Encumeada on its southern side. There a dirt road turns off to the east from ER104 in one of its switchbacks. The road quickly ends and turns into a path which descends towards a giant water pipe, which itself heads down to a power station in the Serra de Agua Valley. Cross underneath that pipe, negotiate your way around one of the maintenance buildings and soon the path levels and turns into the Ribeira do Poco Valley.
The path runs through dense vegetation along the north slopes of the valley, staying more or less level at first. It crosses several small creeks before reaching the end of the valley, where half a dozen abandoned (?) farm houses can be found. Cross Ribeira do Poco on a concrete bridge, now heading back out of the valley on its southern side. The path now runs underneath the huge Pico Grande north face and gradually rises the further you get back west.
Finally you turn a corner and find yourself underneath the west face of Pico Grande. Formerly this part of the route - up to Boca do Cerro - was overgrown by thorny gorse bushes, which fell victim to a huge forest fire in 2003, however. While much of the path lies barren now it is much easier to negotiate than in former times.
You head for the next corner at Fenda do Ferreiro, a good three-way lookout to the south-west of Pico Grande, where the path turns east again. Some steep sections take you among a few towers before you reach a long ledge, which follows the Pico Grande South Face almost up to Boca do Cerro. Look out for marks leading east to a small plateau several metres above the hiking route. If you miss them you'll be hiking all the way to Boca da Corrida without a chance for the summits.
On the little plateau the path splits: the right hand branch leads down to Curral das Freiras, the left hand one heads up to our two summits. It quickly leads to the first crux - an exposed , steep and narrow ascent through a soth facing face. There are cables to protect you to reach a small platform with astunning view across the Curral Cauldron.
Turning left, the path now leads north between Pico Grande and Pico do Cerco. Stone cairns lead the way - but there are two possible routes here. Either follow the valley between the two mountains or steeply climb the slopes underneath Pico Grande. The latter is the more common route, better equipped with more and larger cairns. Finally you reach an intersection: turn left for Pico Grande, heading up towards the plateau beneath its summit block. Here a few climbing moves take you to a small crevice coming down from the summit proper, which you follow to reach the top. There used to be ropes protecting this section but during our last visit none remained.
For Pico do Cerco return to the aforementioned intersection. Turn left, heading towards the saddle between the two mountains. A good way to reach Pico do Cerco is to follow a low wall to its south which rises gradually towards the summit, while partly circling it. The final ascent heads towards the summit from the east.