A two week relationship with Calima

A two week relationship with Calima

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 28.10976°N / 17.24838°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Dec 31, 2014
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Winter


Los RoquesLos Roques, former volcanic plugs in the centre of La Gomera

“… 2011 it was Gran Canaria, 2012 we were on Madeira, last year there was Tenerife. I think we’ll go to La Gomera this time.”
The boss has spoken! Actually I agree with her and my reminiscences of the two weeks we spent on the island in winter 2007 / 2008 actually make me look forward to the vacation. I remember big rock towers, a huge section of cloud forest, wonderful walls of red basalt and one of the wildes, though smallest mountain ranges I have ever come across. After two weeks we had seen most of the island but as far as I remember there were still some blank spots left. So yes, let’s go to La Gomera!

To my surprise Judith does the booking all by herself and I’m only asked for consulting. That's a welcome change and I don’t intend to complain. Quickly (it’s still August) everything is booked – flight, apartment, rental car. There’s not much more to be done. I find a new topographic map on the internet and realize that there is a new edition of our guidebook, detailing more than 60 instead of 50 tours. I order them and sometime in September we’re all set to go. But first we’ll visit the Dolomites after which 8 weeks will be left.

Travel Day

We’re bound to fly on Christmas day so December 24th is spent packing our stuff. While I grab everything to carry it downstairs to be stuffed in our suitcases Judith tries to do the web check-in with Tuifly. First she realizes that they changed their baggage limits to 15kg each. For an additional 5kg there is a fee of €5. She pays it for each of us, then checks whether there is an option to buy 5kg more, jjust to make sure. There is – but it will be €16 so she refrains from buying it. And anyway – after I have packed everything we’re exactly on 40kg. No need to worry.

Now getting our boarding cards is a different matter. We can check in and they offer aisle-seats. Since we prefer to have at least one window seat, she tries to change the booking. Result: €16 per person and a booking fee of €14. No thanks – we’ll get along fine without the window.

As it’s Christmas Eve we split to visit our respective families. A meal, exchange of presents but soon I’ll have to go to pick up Judith. After all we have to get up early as the taxi will pick us up at 6:30 a.m. At 11:30 p.m. we’re in bed starting to dream of the Canaries.

Next morning two alarm clocks go off and we’re out of bed in a hurry. Time barely suffices for two showers and as we open the door our taxi has just arrived. It’s early, it’s Christmas Day and there is no traffic so that we get to the airport much earlier than we intended. The baggage drop is open and there is no queue, again we gain time. Even though there were warnings about the security check in Frankfurt (“Come 30 minutes early!”) we’re through in a breeze and are among the first ones to get to the gate. However, the gate area is still closed and we have to settle down in front of it. We have to queue twice before we can enter the plane but finally we are in our seats. The vacation can start now. Or can it?

About an hour into the flight we have realized that there won’t be any inflight entertainment. We prepare for four boring hours but after all be brought our ebook readers. Then the crew announces breakfast – but only those for whom it was booked. Naturally our boarding cards tell us we’re not among the lucky ones and feelings of apartheid are making the rounds. We buy some sandwiches and two bottles of water – an additional €12. I’m wondering, why they don’t ad €50 to the prize tag and everybody would be happy. It’s not as though anybody who pays more than €500 for a flight is not prepared to pay an additional €50. But probably they’ll claim that this on-demand model fits customer expectations.
Calima Weather conditionCalima Weather Pattern as forecasted on Jan 2nd 2015

But every flight has an end and we touch down on Reina Sophia Airport on Tenerife only 15 minutes late. Baggage is fast and soon we get a hand written voucher for the ferry to La Gomera. There is a bus but the driver is nowhere to be seen. After he arrives some 30 minutes later he questions our documents but finally decides it’s not worth the hassle and lets us board his vehicle. Another 30 minutes later we start for the port of Los Cristianos, which we reach 20 minutes later. We realize that it is incredibly hazy. This is Calima, the weather condition with eastern winds or storms, which picks up and deposits Sahara dust across the Canary Islands. We witnessed bad Calima conditions on Lanzarote and Furerteventura but never as bad as this on any of the western islands. Let’s just hope the wind will turn.

Ticket counters are closed and will remain so for the next two hours. We walk around the port and I try to take a few pictures. But my polarization filter has become stuck and I decide to take my first pictures without adjusting it. Later, as I attempt to loosen the filter I have to realize it is broken. Not the best of starts, is it?
Los Cristianos harbourLos Cristianos Harbour and a cracked polarizer

Finally we can exchange the voucher for our tickets but we have to wait another 45 minutes until the ferry actually arrives. 10 minutes later we can board and another 30 minutes and we are on our way. I’m still trying to get that polarizer off the lense and finally I do but by then we have put so much distance between ourselves and Tenerife that the island is barely visible. The same holds true for La Gomera, which we reach after 45 minutes. Only the shoreline is visible, the central parts are hidden in dust.

A lady is holding up a sign with my name (why? Judith did the booking) and we get the key to our car. She wants to join us in a few minutes, which again sum up to about 30. Finally we are on our way. A short detour in San Sebastian but then we hit GM-2, the highway across the very centre of La Gomera, which will take us to our final destination, Valle Gran Rey in the south-west. We have to drive up all the way (1400m) until we reach Garajonay, the island’s highpoint, then drive down all the way to some 100m elevation where we’ll find our apartment.

This turns out to be a simple one. I’m a bit disappointed at first but later realize that it's not as bad as I thought in the beginning. We unpack, cook a simple lunch and settle down to relax. Judith picks up the guidebook. “In 2007 we started with Tequergenche. Why shouldn’t we do the same tomorrow?” Indeed - why shouldn’t we?

Dec 26th 2014: Tequergenche

There are several reasons why Tequergenche is such a good way to start the vacation. First of all we can start from our apartment. The trailhead is just 200m up the road and there is no need to drive anywhere. After yesterdays’ 18h travel day this sound perfect to us. Then the mountain is located at the VERY end of the eastern wall which bounds Valle Gran Rey. Its summit towers 500m above Barranco de Argaga, it’s southernmost spot towers almost as much above the port of Vueltas and thus above the Atlantic Ocean. There are two hiking trails to Tequergenche, which both are considered difficult by our guidebook and they can be neatly combined into a loop trail. We did both separately in 2007 and know that we’re bound to have some fun.

Having said this, I must admit that we got lost on Camino de Leche, which we tried to use as descent route. We got stuck in some barranco and while I tried to climb out of it the rock I pulled on broke apart and big chunks landed on my left leg. Judith could jump aside quickly enough but we are wary to repeat the experience. On the other hand, this time we do have GPS tracks to guide us so we figure we should be safe.

We start in the dark but as we reach the trailhead the first spots of sunlight appear on the western rim of the valley. We hike to Ermita de los Reyes (which will be featured in this report multiply) and soon head up the steep slopes above it. While discussing where we’ll have to leave onto Camino de Leche we realize we’ve already gone too far. We missed the path again! With the help of the GPS track, however we descend some 200m and finally get to the intersection.
Looking down onto La Playa
On Camino de Leche
The mouth of Valle Gran Rey

Camino de Leche
hugs the eastern wall of Valle Gran Rey, following each dent in the terrain but eventually heading up towards the crest. It turns out to be less difficult and exposed than we thought (or the guidebook claimed) but it is also not outright easy. Some sections appear ledge-like some others are very steep. And the rock is as brittle as you don’t like it. There are hoodoo-like tuff formations as well as caves but once we reach those we’re almost on top. We reach the crest in Degollada de los Bueyes, the saddle which separates Montaña del Advino from Montaña de Guergenche. We hike towards the latter without climbing the summit and reach the high plateau Las Pilas. There are ruined farm houses and the whole plateau is covered in terraces. Today there is no farming up there anymore but quite obviously this must have been a fertile place.

We descend across those terraces towards Tequergenche and reach the summit across a broad saddle. Views are imperfect. Again there’s dust in the air and it appears as if conditions are worsening. We head towards the southern end where we stand 500m above the sea. The drop appears to be vertical even though we know it isn’t.
Summit View Montaña GuergencheSummit View Montaña Guergenche

We return to Montaña Guergenche, this time taking the path along the western rim of Las Pilas. We have lunch on the summit. Descending we get lost but the GPS tracks lead us back to the path. From Degollada de los Buyeres we head to Degollada de Cerrilal, almost reaching the top of Montaña del Advino in between. A few steps onwards we reach another unnamed saddle, where our (“difficult”) descent route starts.

The route runs along a ledge in the west face of Lomo de Harinero, above which large walls of basalt pillars tower. It is rather beautiful than difficult, especially as the ledge itself is rather broad. The wall is curved and looks a bit like an amphitheatre, albeit a tall and steep one. Views across Valle Gran Rey are famed but today Sahara dust spoils them. We can see the other side of the valley, but barely. Thanks, Calima!
Lomo de Harinero South Face
Lomo de Harinero west face
Tower during the descent to La Vizcaina

Where the ledge ends, the path turns westward negotiating a sequence of very brittle gullies. Again, I wouldn’t call this section difficult but it contains some hazards, rockfall being the most serious one. Above the gullies, to both sides, there are towers, themselves a testimonial to the poor rock quality of the face. Still they look very impressive as they tower beside and above our descent route. Finally we reach the palm tree groves above the village La Viscaina and later the village itself. Here we turn on the rarely frequented road through the village and later on a camino which leads us back to Ermita de los Reyes and our apartment at El Guro. In the end the altimeter reads 970m. Not bad for a first vacation day.

Dec 27th 2014: Cumbre de Chiguerè

It seems like Calima has subsided a bit and we decide to go to Vallehermoso in the north of La Gomera to take one of many possible hikes there. We’re keen on hiking one of the ridges which will certainly offer wonderful views towards Teide on Tenerife. As we reach our destination we agree to hike out the sunny side of Barranco del Valle which will take us to Chorros de Espina, where we still can decide in which direction to proceed.

We start and immediately decide on the wrong path, which leads us to a dead end near a farm building. Taking a look at the GPS track we realize that we have to go back all the way to be able to leave Vallehermoso by steep staircase-like paths. As soon as we head above the houses, the presence of Roque el Cano makes itself known. The huge rock (one of the former volcanic plugs of the island) towers high above the east side of the little town, attracting all of our attention. As we climb higher, however, Teide rises above its right shoulder and Roque el Cano is all but forgotten.
Vallehermoso underneath Roque el Cano
El Hierro above Cumbre Tejeleche
Tenerife Rising

The rest of Tenerife soon joins Teide in the vista and as we reach the topmost part of our hike, La Palma and El Hierro add themselves to it. To the south-west the small but wild Cumbre Tejeleche rises beneath the islands, a future hiking goal as well as Lomo del Carreton to its east. We now head north-westward on a trail, which is beautifully overshadowed by palm trees. We hike through groves of them, realizing that there is no single tree which escaped being tapped for the famous Gomera palm honey.

We cross Espina and find ourselves high above Arguamaul the westernmost hamlet on La Gomera. Reaching a dirt road intersection, we follow the western road until it reaches a picnic area near Ermita de Santa Clara high above the west coast of the island. The upside: we find benches where we can have our lunch. The downside: there are half a dozen guys with motocross bikes, revving up their engines on the parking lot near the chapel.
Palm Trees in front of Cumbre TejelechePalm Trees in front of Cumbre Tejeleche

Naturally we hasten through our lunch to get away from all the noise but we also realize that the bikers are racing up and down in the direction we have to go. Luckily, for the first 1.5 km we can switch to the other side of the ridge but later we get back onto the dirt road and exactly when we do three bikers head down towards us. Luckily they notice us and pass real slowly, but start to speed off right afterwards. As we have to stay on the road for some distance we pick up speed, quickly passing the wonderfully colourful plateau of Cumbre de Chiguerè.

We also hike out to the abandoned village Chiguerè and beyond to get to a lookout for the famous rocks of Los Organos, which rise directly above the ocean. Made up from basalt there are hundreds of organ pipe pillars on the sea side of the rock, which we, however, are unable to see. Instead we get a nice view with La Palma hovering above Los Organos.
Erosion area on Cumbre Chiguerè
La Palma above Los Organos
Playa de Vallehermoso

The next section is the most beautiful one of the day. Leaving the bikers behind we head on a narrow path, which winds down a narrow ridge, directly heading for Playa de Vallehermoso. There are good (but still hazy) views of Tenerife and La Gomera’s north coast which only leave us as we have to leave the ridge to head down into Barranco del Valle. Turning south directly as we reach the valley floor we still take about an hour to return to Vallehermoso.

Dec 28th 2014: Los Roques Round Trip

Roque de la Zarcita, Roque de Ojila, Roque Carmona, Tenerife in the backRoque de la Zarcita, Roque de Ojila, Roque Carmona, Tenerife in the back

Having seen Los Roques, the big basalt towers in the centre of La Gomera you naturally feel attracted to them and if your guidebook tells you about a difficult but beautiful round trip amongst them what can you do but follow this suggestion? So we park our car at Cruz de la Zarcita, a road crossing right inside the cloud forest where it is darkest, and start hiking towards the towers. The Carretera del Centro, the central highway of La Gomera, winds between these towers and our trailhead is right close to where it does. Even though we hike only a few steps beside the highway, all we see are the cloud forest trees which stand so densely in this location that traffic can be heard but not seen.
Roque de la Zarcita
Roque de Ojila
Roque de Agando

The hiking trail, however, heads for Mirador de los Roques, a lookout on the road so that eventually we return to civilization, which offers a stunning view of three of the four towers with Tenerife as a backdrop. It is still early and the road is free so we are able to cross it several times to reach the best spots for views. A few steps down the road we reach the next lookout, Mirador de Agando, from which we have a perfect view of Roque de Agando on the other side of the road. We descend towards it, again reaching the road which we follow for a couple hundred metres. Here a path steeply heads up towards a broad ridge, from which we take a final close-up view of the whole setting.
Ermita Virgen de las NievesErmita Virgen de las Nieves

Following the reach we soon reach Ermita Virgen de las Nieves, another one of the white chapels of La Gomera, which comes with a huge terrace and perfect views over the east and south of the island. There’s ice on the terrace – and we thought we’d come to the islands of everlasting spring! Must be a cold spring then. We follow a road for some metres, then turn back onto the crest which takes us to the endpoint of the first stage: Degollada de Peraza.

The saddle is one of the important passes on the island, which in former times connected the San Sebastian area with the south coast. Today there still are several paved caminos, even though parts of them have been paved to make way for the highways GM-2 and GM-3. Our next stage, however, will take us deep into Barranco de las Lajas and there will be no asphalt for the next hour. It is still early and Since we encountered ice already we carefully descend into the shadows. The old camino heads down in narrow switchbacks and we quickly lose elevation. After an intersection (the path to San Sebastian) we step back into the sunlight and suddenly Los Roques reappear at the upper end of the barranco. To the other side the image of Tenerife appears to be etched into the sky.
Los RoquesLos Roques seen during the descent to La Laja

Finally we reach the village La Laja, where we take a detour through and around the upper houses to avoid going all the way down into the barranco bed. We end up on the village road right where the village ends. The pavement turns into dirt and we hike on until we reach Embalse de la Laja. Here we settle down for lunch underneath a lava wall with Roque de Ojila high above us.
Embalse de la Laja
Lava walls
Roque de Aganzo, Roque Camona, Roque Ojila

Now a very steep section takes out of the barranco towards its north-western end. We have to climb some easy sections but most of the time there are handholds and steps carved out of the tuff. Later we hike across narrow ledges and finally reach Mirador de Bailadero, one of the famous lookouts towards Los Roques. Before we do we sidestep towards another lookout, Mirador de Hermigua, which offers good views down the Hermigua Valley towards the north coast.

Above Bailadero we enter the cloud forest and again almost all light is sucked up before it reaches us. The ground is slippery so that we have to take great care and we are glad each time we get to a sunny spot. In one place the canopy opens and we get a good view of Los Roques from their backside. Then we’re back among the trees and in a few minutes we reach our car at Cruz de la Zarcita.

Dec 29th 2014: Cumbre Tejeleche and Lomo del Carreton

Today’s idea is to go to Hermigua in the north but as we drive up towards the centre of La Gomera we realize that the only cloud free corner is in the west of the island. Here, somewhat at the end of the world, there is the hamlet Taguluche, which is wedged between the wild Cumbre Tejeleche to the north, Lomo del Carreton to the east and La Merica to the south. There are huge walls reaching up to almost 1000m and we intend to do a loop, touching all three mountains.

But first we have to get to Taguluche, which turns out to be quite a journey. The narrow road is potholed and it winds along the west slopes of Lomo del Carreton forever. But finally we drive down to the village and though we can plainly see Ermita de San Salvador, our trailhead, we miss the side road twice, finding ourselves on different roads to the coast instead. But finally we take the right turn and end up in the small parking lot at the Ermita.
Lava wall and Punta Gallion
Colorful ledge on Cumbre Tejeleche
A warning sign

Here in the west of the island the sun rises very late and everything is still covered in shadows. We hike into Barranco de Guarane on a messy, chossy trail which suddenly vanishes. We grab our GPS systems but inside this narrow barranco they cannot be trusted so that we are left to our own devices. We head down into the barranco bed on UIAA II terrain, made even more difficult by scree and cacti. There is little water in the creek bed at the bottom, so that we can easily follow it up until a cairn indicates we are back on track. We ascend the barranco along a long lava wall, crossing it in one of its broken sections. Finally we climb out of the valley and reach a saddle, which separates Cumbre Tejeleche and Lomo del Carreton.

From here we could take a direct attempt at the Cumbre, however the easier path heads for the overhanging north face, where it negotiates a system of ledges. We hasten along as it turns chilly thanks to the long shadows cast by the Tejeleche summits. Finally we reach a deep cut through which we scramble, only to find ourselves on the Tejeleche Plateau. Like the barranco, the cumbre also is made up from chossy rock so that we try to keep from the overhanging edges. We climb to several of the summits, then head out west towards the range’s end above the Atlantic Ocean. Where the trail ends we find ourselves on a 500m high summit, overhanging on two sides, a good place to have lunch.
600m above the ocean600m above the Atlantic Ocean

We return the same way – plateau, cut, north face ledges – to the aforementioned saddle underneath Lomo del Carreton. Here we cross the Taguluche road and head up the west face of the lomo. At first the trail is very steep but about 300m higher we reach a broad ledge underneath a huge wall of red basalt. We follow the ledge, switch to another, higher one and finally make it to the lookout platform at Ermita del Santo in Arure. We take a short break trying to decide, which of the two possible routes to take in order to reach back down to Taguluche.
Cumbre TejelecheCumbre Tejeleche

Both trails are pretty similar, one negotiates the north face of La Merica (a brittle affair), the other heads down the west face of Lomo del Carreton. We decide for the latter even though the guidebook claims it to be extremely steep. Which it actually turns out to be. At first we follow a lower ledge northwards but then the trail virtually drops away. There is the steepest staircase I ever saw (Cirith Ungol anybody?) heading down almost vertically. But after some 100m there is a platform and we realize that the remainder of the path jumps between similar platforms offering places to rest.
Red basalt walls
Combre Tejeleche
Descending towards Taguluche

Funnily the most dangerous section is the one where the path leaves the west face and heads down a slope. Here it negotiates a steep creek bed and we both slide right into the creek, ending up in thorny bushes around its base. Scrambling outside we take care for the remainder of the descent until we reach the topmost houses of Taguluche. Following the road (and taking the correct turn) we reach Ermita de San Salvador, where we started eight hours before.

Dec 30th 2014: Barranco de Guarimar and Lomo de Azadoe

Barranco de GuarimarBarranco de Guarimar

Today it looks like the south of the island will be cloud free so we drive to the mountain village Imada, where we plan to hike Barranco de Guarimar, a canyon, which leads to the sea in the south. The guidebook claims “that the hike rivals certain hikes in the Dolomites” which made us curious in the first place. Imada itself is a beautiful village but you can’t say it was created for cars. As wedrive through it looking for a place to park the car we wonder what might happen if some care came the other way. But in the end we find a decent spot and off we go.

At first we have to hike through fields to reach the entry of the barranco. Up here it looks like a regular valley and the Dolomite feeling does not want to develop. Sheep and goats graze on both sides of the path, the scenery looks tranquil and nice – but far from impressive. This changes after about an hour into the hike. Now the barranco bed drops away in front of us, creating a deep canyon with towering walls. Our camino leads at half height through the western of these walls, again one of those red basalt walls with pillars and overhangs. This particular one has a height we haven’t seen on La Gomera so far, maybe 500m from the barranco bed to the top.
Roque de Imada
In Barranco de Guarimar
Happy piggy

We hike along the well protected trail, which descends along a ledge through this wall. Unlike the Dolomites there are neither hazards nor difficulties. Still we are impressed with those massive drops beneath us and we stop at each opportunity to wonder at the views. But every miracle has an end and soon we leave this section of the trail with the path now getting closer to the canyon floor. On the other side we can see the houses of Guarimar – there is a road leading up to them through the barranco and we realize we have come to the end of the route.
Barranco de BenchijjiguBarranco de Benchijigu

For the return trip we decide to follow the ridge of Lomo de Azadoe, which separates Barranco de Guarimar from Barranco de Benchijigu. After a few steps on the road to Guarimar we step on a steep path which negotiates the slopes until it reaches the ridgeline of Lomo de Azadoe. At first we stay on the Guarimar side but later the path turns eastward, staying on the Benchjigu side. A wonderful view towards Roque de Agando opens. The clouds are forming a pattern which appears to have the rock as focal point.
Red basalt face
Cloud magnet
Roqe de Agando among palm trees

Hiking beneath palm trees we soon realize that the weather is turning for the worse. More and more clouds pile up above the mountains on all sides of us. We hasten back towards Imada but the clouds have already settled far down before we reach the village. We make it back to our car, we even make it back to Valle Gran Rey, but then a big thunderstorm hits the valley. Good timing!

New Year’s Eve 2014: Both sides of Barranco Juan de Vera

While last night’s thunderstorm promised clear skies for today, after getting up we realize we are back in the clutch of Calima weather again. The dust is back and it appears to be worse than the days before. Today’s plan calls for hiking from Degollada de Peraza to Playa el Cabrito on the south-east coast and back, using both sides of Barranco Juan de Vera. We had done the route in 2007 and it ranks among the best reminiscences of the vacation, mainly because of the views of red basalt, blue skies and green palm trees you encounter along the way.

We start from Degollada de Peraza following the same trail we descended into Barranco de las Lajas a few days ago but at the intersection switch to the San Sebastian Camino, which hugs a ledge high above the barranco. We’re hiking in the shadow again and as before it feels rather chilly. There are views of Los Roques and a hazy Tenerife hovers in front of us. We have to make a huge detour since the upper part of Barranco Juan de Vera is privately owned but this detour runs along a broad plateau-like ridge offering lots in terms of scenery. Hazy scenery to be sure.
Roque el Magro
Cave with tongue
Rocks above Barranco Juan de Vera

Again there are sheep all around us as we descend to the hamlet Ayamosna, where our detour ends. We cross highway GM-2 and descend into a shallow valley which we cross to reach the abandoned hamlet El Magro on the other side. It is located underneath red Roque el Magro on the eastern ridge which accompanies Barranco Juan de Vera all the way to the sea.

For the next hours our routine is to avoid the towers on the ridge by following ledges high above the barranco west of the towers, then regaining the ridge, heading towards the next obstacle and avoiding it by ledges to its west. There are quite wonderful formations; a huge cave which looks like the rock in question is sticking out its tongue at us; a catwalk, which extends for 100m out above the barranco; a rock hand, looking like it had been sculpted by Albrecht Dürer. And in between abandoned field terraces, palm trees and occasional ruins of huts.
The catwalk
Posing in front of the rock hand
Rock hand

Right after the rock hand the path turns from the ridge and heads directly down towards the barranco bed. We have to descend some 300m along an overgrown path, by far the most uncomfortable section of the day. Once in the barranco we reach what looks like an old dirt road, which we follow in the direction of the mouth in the south-east. After an hour we reach the holiday settlement El Cabrito, where signs tell us that hikers are not welcome and that we should pass on the outside. There’s no path and we have to scramble along the barranco bed but finally we make it to the pebble beach of El Cabrito.

After lunch I cool my feet in the Atlantic Ocean but soon we head along the beach to the barranco wall on the western side. Here a camino starts right behind the holiday settlement and we quickly gain elevation. In 2007 we had very nice views of Tenerife from this spot but today it is hidden from view altogether. Calima has worsened since this morning and is bound to get worse still. Much of the next two hours is quite uneventful. We follow the broad plateau not seeing much thanks to the dust in the air. On the few spots which offer a view of our descent route we barely make out the rock formations we almost touched on the way down.
El Cabrito
Roque de Berroga
Calima in Barranco Juan de Vera

Finally we head across the plateau towards the west, where Barranco de Chinguarime opens beneath our feet. There is an abandoned village of cave dwellings where we take a short break. Afterwards (and again) we follow ledges high above the barranco which lead us back north until we reach highway GM-3 coming up from Playa de Santiago in the south. For the remainder of the hike we follow the road, which heads directly towards Degollada de Peraza. There we meet two German hikers who did a similar tour today but who missed their bus to Valle Gran Rey. We pick them up and drive to our common destination.

New Year’s Day 2015: Valle Gran Rey, Eastern Part

Having slept through New Year’s Celebrations as usual we decide to forgo driving around the island today and start directly from our apartment. The idea is to hike the eastern half of the famous Valle Gran Rey Loop, however, not without extending it significantly at the start. Thus we hike down El Valle to the harbour of Vueltas where at least one New Year’s Party is still in full swing. Passing the harbour and ignoring the signs which warn of rockfall we quickly get to the narrow road beneath the Tequergenche south face, a face which extends vertically for 500m and on top of which we stood during our first day.

Beyond the face the mouth of Barranco de Argaga opens, which even down at sea level is a narrow canyon. However, the lower part is privately owned so you start hiking on a concrete road, which serves some three or four houses. It ends in front of a narrow gully, which Rio Argaga has cut into a short section of red tuff. The path is tricky to find and almost equally tricky to hike even though there are steps on the near side of the gully. However, you have to cross it for which you can choose among several options.
Rock Gate
Upper Barranco de Argaga

The canyon widens and we negotiate a batch of abandoned field terraces. We hike though 3m high reed until we reach a sort of rock gate in the barranco. Flanked by high walls on both sides, there is a reservoir right up to the gate from where a small waterfall trickles down to where we are. Following the path to the gate and scrambling up the right hand side we soon find ourselves on another abandoned field terrace. A scramble to the upper terrace, 200m along the broken wall, then a scramble down into the barranco bed – the going starts to get rough. The barranco narrows and quite obviously we have to follow a trail close to the river bed.

Or do we? It turns out we don’t though we only realize about 1km into the barranco when we suddenly stand before a dried-up waterfall. There’s no way we can climb out of here so we realize we have to turn back. It is interesting to see that there are still batches of fields (all abandoned) in this dark hole. In the end they are the reason we went so far. Getting inside the barranco wasn’t easy and getting outside is worse. The ground is brittle and you easily dislocate rocks.

But in the end we return to the terrace in front of the gate. And there they are – numerous cairns which point up the east slope of the barranco. If we thought the path would be easier we are disappointed now. It is extremely steep, the rock is extremely brittle and we have to step very carefully. After a while we stand high above the dried-up waterfall, which we pass on a ledge cut in the east walls of the canyon. For a brief time the barranco widens while our path flattens but soon we have to scramble some more. Up and up we climb, passing several caves meanwhile. The path appears to head out a side canyon, but before it enters it turns back onto a high ledge leading back into Barranco de Argaga.

Now the canyon rises up steeply to meet us and after some 200m we’re back in an area of field terraces. They seem to have been cultivated rather recently but now have been abandoned as well. We pass many palm trees before we hit the trail which leads out towards La Geria, a village to the east of the barranco. Again, the path gets very steep but luckily there are steps so that we don’t have to focus too hard.

In La Geria we are greeted by chicken – otherwise the hamlet seems asleep. Well, it’s the first of January so we don’t really wonder why. After a short hike on a road a path turns off to the north, leading us to the beautifully located Ermita de la Virgen de Guadeloupe. It’s one of the 30 official lookouts of La Gomera, complete with a signboard explaining the panorama and how the barranco was formed. A good place to have lunch
Ermita Nostra Senora de Guadeloupe
Waterfall into Barranco del Agua
Valle Gran Rey

Afterwards we hike along an abandoned irrigation channel which takes us in the direction of El Cercado, one of the highest villages of La Gomera. From here we cross over across Barranco del Agua until we almost reach the next village, Las Hayas. Here we turn onto a path which leads into the north face above Barranco del Agua and from there down to the village Los Descanderos. It is a long descent but we finally reach the village. From here, however, we have to follow the road to and through La Vizcaina from where a path takes us to Ermita de los Reyes and El Guro.

Jan 2nd 2015: The North Coast East of Hermigua

Today weather doesn’t seem to be our friend. The sky is overcast with dark clouds which pile up above the island centre. Thus we decide to go down to one of the coasts and since it’s been some time since we were in the north we decide on Hermigua. Our guidebook has two routes which can be combined and which will take about 5h to complete.
Punta San Lorenzo
The road to Taguluche

The first half of the hike is rather boring. We hike a narrow path towards a saddle, where a dirt roads passes. A side road leads to Playa de la Caleta but we don’t have any intentions to bath in this kind of weather. Instead we follow the dirt road to the right leading around the many barrancos which head out towards the sea. Occasionally there is a view towards Tenerife but most of the time there is not much to see.

After some 5km we reach the (abandoned) Casas de Palmar, where we leave the road which heads steeply up towards an unnamed saddle. Instead we hike towards the casas on a slightly overgrown side road, which passes the hamlet and heads out right above the north coast. We pass Punta San Lorenzo (we want to go there later in the day) but then ask ourselves whether we should proceed. A rockslide has barred part of the road but we step over the fallen rocks and head into a wide cauldron-like valley, in which we find the (also abandoned) Casas de Taguluche. It’s the end of the world here. There’s no way to scale the walls of the valley, there’s no way to get down to the sea, there’s no way to proceed further. All roads end here. We wonder, what made people lve here but presumably they found very fertile ground with lots of water.
Baja de la Caleta
Punta de San Lorenzo
Playa de la Caleta

We retrace our steps to Casas de Palmar and beyond we reach a well maintained trail which leads to Punta San Lorenzo. Following the trail we realize that maintenance is far from perfect. In many places the wooden railings have been destroyed by rockfall. This is especially obvious at the very end of the trail, where it descends towards the remains of an abandoned pier. Not only have 80% of the railings gone, the path itself has all but vanished. Still there is a good view of the coast and Tenerife across the sea.

Now we return, heading for Playa de la Caleta. We still don’t plan to go swimming but the little beach looks nice from above. Big waves roll in and there are only few visitors, none of them planning to stay. We pass the beach and hit the road some way above it. We return to the saddle above Hermigua, which we started from in the morning, then head down to our car near the coast.

Jan 3rd 2015: La Fortaleza and Barranco de Erque

Tours 18, 19 and 20 of our guidebook are located close together and in my mind I have been planning to join them together in a big loop. That way we would climb La Fortaleza and Garajonay and descend into one of the most scenic canyons of the island, Barranco de Erque. Having convinced Judith last night and waking up to a much better day we set out to perform the feat.

As we get out of our car at the trailhead at Pavon we realize, however, that it’s one of those stormy days of the Canaries where you have trouble standing without being blown from your feet. I get serious doubts whether we can really do what we came here for. These doubts are intensified as we reach Degollada de la Fortaleza 15 minutes later. Here the wind is so strong and cold that we empty our packs putting on every piece of clothing that we brought.
La Fortaleza
On the Fortaleza north-west ridge
La Fortaleza

La Fortaleza is the sole mountaineering objective on La Gomera. It is a table-top mountain but you need to climb a steep gully to reach it. Before you hit the plateau on top there’s a narrow ridge to be climbed, which in itself explains my doubts. Still we dare to attempt the climb. We get blown around a lot as we hike the short steep trail towards the chimney. To our relief (but also disappointment) we find that rough steps have been built inside so that we can quickly and easily get to the ridge on top. Here we both wait until the wind subsides for a few seconds to cross over to the plateau.

The storm drains us off our last heat reserves and we quickly do the “Tour de Plateau”. Highpoint with cross, then out to the south ridge, view across the impressive east face, even a few steps out on the south ridge – we barely take time to take a few pictures. Then it’s back towards and across the north-west ridge, down the chimney and over to Fortaleza Saddle. And still the storm is blowing, still we are freezing even though the sun does his best to shine on us.
La Fortaleza
La Fortaleza above Barranco de Erque
Descending into Barranco de Erque

In 2007 we didn’t find the descent route into Barranco de Erque and today we have the same problem. Luckily we have the GPS tracks and though there doesn’t seem to be a path we finally see a cairn and know we are on track. Or what we hope will turn into a track. So far we haven’t hiked such a steep slope and to make matters worse the “path” is overgrown by cactus. Every now and then a cairn reinforces our belief that we still are on the right track but we have to step very carefully in these conditions. In two or three cases we have to descend big walls but there’s always a weak spot we can use.
Yours truly on a lava wall in front of La FortalezaYours truly on a lava wall in front of La Fortaleza

After what seems like hours we reach the bed of the barranco but we’re still only halfway down our route. The barranco (and our path) moves over to the village Erque where we take a short brak to look at Fortaleza high above us, wondering, which way we actually came down. We get lost in Erque but not seriously and finally head out on the east hand side of the barranco. There are impressive lava walls, on the top of one of which I climb to have a better look. The path descends towards the village Erquito where we take a break in front of Ermita de San Lorenzo.

Again we get lost inside the village, heading out a long staircase – which leads in the wrong direction. We have to return, find the correct route and now start to head out of the barranco. At first we follow a road, then switch to a path, which turns out to be every bit as horrible as the one we descended from Fortaleza. It is steep, it is brittle, it is overgrown with spikey plants and there are rock walls to be climbed. But in the end we make it, reaching an intersection with the GR 132 trekking trail, which fortunately is well maintained.
Ermita de San Lorenzo in Erquito
Endless staircase
Clouds putting on a show above La Fortaleza

Thanks to big clouds above Garajonay we refrain from cimbing the island’s highpoint and return to Degollada de la Fortaleza instead. We have to hike through an area, which was devastated by forest fires in 2012. The canary pines – those which survived – sprout tussocks of fresh needles but the undergrowth around them has vanished. It’s a sad sight to see – even though we saw similar areas on Gran Canaria and Madeira these last years. Finally we return to Pavon and our car, utterly tired I must admit.

Jan 4th 2015: Casas de Cuevas Blancas

Today we drive towards the north-east of the island. A bit to the west of the island capital San Sebastian there is a tour (rated difficult by the guidebook) to Casas de Cuevas Blancas, cave dwellings carved out of colorful rock. In 2007 we attempted to go there but utterly failed ending up on Jaragan instead. So we’re curious what the difficult route actually looks like.

From the trailhead on GM-1 we directly head up a path underneath the Altos de Utezza, a ridgeline of minor summits, most famous for the rock window on one of them. The path heads directly towards the rock window but then turns right to pass underneath it. I scout the slope underneath the window and decide that it can be negotiated. Consequently I scramble on up while Judith waits below.

The window itself is small and covered in lichen, which tells a story about the weather you regularly encounter here. Today the skies are clear but another onset of Calima is building up. Los Roques in the island centre are visible but Tenerife seems to have vanished. Too bad, since the Tenerife view is famed. Heading towards the trail proper I slip and end up in a cactus but luckly I wear long pants and the pain is tolerable.
Los Roques in Calima conditions
Rock Window on Altos de Uteza
Casas de Cuevas Biancas

As we reach Deollada de Gerode we see where we went wrong last time, today choosing the left hand path. It is a ledge trail, secured by wooden railings. The path is in the shade, slippery because wet. This is the “difficult” part of the route, though it’s not even exposed. We end up on a broad plateau which head out north towards the sea. We pass a ruined hut, some colourful rocks, then we turn a corner and see the Casas de Cuevas Blancas.

At first they appear to be regular huts, abandoned and in ruins. But as we get closer we see the caves in their backs. The rock is tuff in colours red, yellow and white with all shades in between. A beautiful sight but notoriously unstable. Instead of returning the way we came we hike on, the path turning into a narrow ledge trail high above a profound barranco. Now this looks like something from the Dolomites.
On the ledges beyond Casase Cuevas Biancas
Colourful Rocks on Lomo de Ojoma
Barranco de Majona

The path ends in a saddle from where we are supposed (by the guidebook) to freestyle our way across a ridge towards the plateau we came from. At first our choice of path is steep and difficult but then another of the familiar ledges opens. Here we see very colourful rock, so red that it looks quite unnatural. Back up on the plateau we realize Teide has made an appearance. It’s still hazy but the sun has moved to the south and lighting conditions favour objects in the east.
Montaña Ismael and JaraganMontaña Ismael and Jaragan

We return the way we came. I often stop to take pictures which weren’t possible in the morning. When we return to the rock window a herd of goats marches by, accompanying us one floor higher. Since it is still early we make an eventless detour towards the village Enchereda but quickly return and descend to our car.

Jan 5th 2015: The Red Wall of Agulo

Lomo GordoLomo Gordo above Hermigua

We’re back in Hermigua to hike the famous loop across Lomo Gordo towards Agulo. Both ascent and descent are very steep, offering wonderful views towards Tenerife. As we start out from the trailhead the weather looks promising enough: blue skies with some decoration clouds over the island centre. We have to hike a road for the first 3km but it is a road with a view towards Lomo Gordo, the broad ridged Mesa we have to climb across. So the first half hour turns out to be more interesting than we thought.

We descend towards the upper parts of Hermigua before starting the ascent to Lomo Gordo. First it is a steep dirt road to Ibo Afaro, a village high above the valley floor. We hike through, reaching a long staircase which leads to the trail proper. Beyond the staircase we reach a collection of ledges, which are connected through switchbacks of the trail. In many cases the ledges are brightly red, matching the beautiful basalt pillars which tower above. The trail is very steep so that we gain elevation quickly.
Cave view from the top of Lomo GordoCave View from Lomo Gordo

In the upper part there is a protected section (think: ferrata) but much of the protective ropes and cables have withered or eroded. Near the top we come across a cave and I settle inside to try to take a shot out of it. I realize I need a four shot panorama, which in the end turns out quite satisfying. We reach the top and hike across it to to reach Barranco de la Palmita, a shallow valley which parts Lomo Gordo into an eastern and a western section.
Sympetrum striolatum
The red wall of Agulo
Looking down onto Agulo

Hiking through the barranco we reach the reservoir Embalse de la Palmita which we pass to head out towards the main attraction of the hike, the red wall of Agulo. It towers above the village Agulo, which itself is located on a balcony 200m above the north coast of La Gomera. The view from the wall across the village towards Tenerife is one of the most popular picture postcard views but as we draw near we realize that Calima is here to spoil it. We can see down towards the village but have to guess where Tenerife might hover. Indeed we can see the tip of Teide, but only barely.
Falco tinnunculus canariensisFalco tinnunculus canariensis

Since the red wall is a north face it is cold and shady and we hurry to get down to Agulo. Crossing the beautiful village centre (definitely a place one might want to spend retirement) we head down towards the coast, following a paved path, which used to serve a now abandoned banana plantation. There even are the remains of a cargo lift here. Crossing a barranco I surprise one of the endemic falcons (it’s an endemic subspecies of the kestrel falcon) resting on a pole and snap a few shots. We then head down towards Playa de Santa Catilina where we realize we can’t get back to our car without a large detour. An imperfect end to an otherwise nice day.

Jan 6th 2015: Valle Gran Rey, Western Part

There are only two days left and we still need to complete the western leg of the Valle Gran Rey Loop. Thus we decide to do it today as weather is forecasted to be fine. Starting directly from the apartment we hike to Ermita de los Reyes and on to the villages La Viczaina, Los Descanderos and Lomo del Balo. We hiked this stretch three times already so it doesn’t matter that it is still dark as we start. But once we reach Lomo del Balo the sun has come up on the walls which frame the valley.

Our ascent route to the mountain village Las Hayas is an old camino, which is rumoured to be the steepest thing this side of the island. But if you scaled Barranco de Argaga before it turns out to be interesting but not too bad. Anyway, we quickly gain elevation reaching the sunny slopes while El Valle is still covered in deep shadows. Shall I say that there are beautiful red basalt walls and colourful ledge trails?
The ascent route to Las Hayas
Colourful Lesge
Grandfather Goat

Finally we head out onto a narrow road which leads towards Las Hayas, one of the highest located villages of all the Canaries. Our path leads us through the outskirts of the village avoiding the centre. We hike up to the main road which we reach at the north-western end, follow it for some steps, then turn onto a dirt road which leads towards Casas de Acardece, a hamlet on highway GM-1 north of Arure. There’s not much to mention. We head in and out of the cloud forest, meet some goats including the great-grandfather of all goats on La Gomera. We pass a reservoir and hike up to the casas.
Cloud forest tunnelHiking through La Gomera's cloud forest

Up next is a section along highway GM-1 towards Arure. Part of the route now runs on the highway but the longest section runs through the valley beside. Weather looks a bit dubious: there is still plenty of blue sky but clouds are racing across it. And above Garajonay they pile up to form dark monstrosities. We hike through Arure and head down a side road towards the long stretched back of La Merica. The road runs along above e deep cut of Barranco de Arure which quickly drops down towards the centre of Valle Gran Rey.
Cumbre Tejeleche and Lomo del CarretonCumbre Tejeleche and Lomo de Carreton

As we reach the plateau of La Merica we are awarded with good views of Cumbre Tejeleche and Lomo de Carreton, both towering above Taguluche. The dirt road turns into a path right before we reach the highpoint of La Merica and we decide to have our lunch here, perched on a couple of basalt rocks, high above Barranco de Arure. Our trail follows the east hand side of La Merica and offers lots of views of the profound canyons below.
Valle Gran Rey seen from La MericaValle Gran Rey seen from La Merica

We ignore La Merica’s highpoint (went there in 2007) and descend the plateau instead. Right at the southern edge, after having descended 4 or 5 switchbacks we head over to the lookout summit, which is located at the south-western end of the plateau. We look down almost vertically towards the villages La Caleta and La Playa about 600m underneath. The islands La Palma and El Hierro are visible to the west and south, but barely. Calima is starting to lose her grip. Returning to the trail proper we start the descent. Numerous switchbacks later we end up in La Caleta village from where we return to our apartment in El Guro, some 1000m up the road.
Descent towards La Calera
Punta de la Calera
Red basalt wall

Jan 7th 2015: Punta de La Sepultura

Today is the last day of the vacation. We have decided to go to Vallehermoso in the north of the island again. Starting from Playa de Vallehermoso we hike along the cliffs of the north coast with Punta de la Sepultura as our first destination. Views towards Tenerife are good but it is a very stormy day. Up on Punta de la Sepultura we have to hide from the cold and gusty winds behind some rocks.
Playa de Vallehermoso and Cumbre de Chigueré
Tenerife seen from Punta de la Sepultura
Punta Sardina

Stage two takes us to Simancas, a village high on the slopes of the north coast, from where we have a first glimpse of Roque el Cano. As we traverse and descend to Tamargada the mighty rock becomes more and more dominant. From Tamargada we hike towards a saddle to the north of el Cano where we get hit by rain for the first (and last) time here on La Gomera. We cower underneath some bushes to have some lunch before we descend in direction of Vallehermoso.
Montana de AlcalaMontaña de Alcala

We pass terraced vineyards beneath Roque el Cano as we head down into Barranco del Valle. There our path ends and we have to hike a side road, which takes us to Playa de Vallehermoso. Big breakers roll down onto the beach and it becomes obvious why there is a pool on the beach.
Roque el Cano
Roque el Cano
Castillo del Mar

While Judith inspects it I hike out the road to Castillo del Mar, a castle-like building, where once was Vallehermoso’s jetty. It used to be a restaurant but storms destroyed the access road and the Castillo has been abandoned. Out there I have one of the best views of Tenerife and Teide that I had during those two weeks. Calima has left and we are soon to follow.
Pico del TeidePico del Teide

Jan 8th 2015: Back to Base

Travel day again. We get up before 5 a.m. And get ourselves ready for the drive to San Sebastian. The first half of the drive is ok but after we pass Roque de Agando lots of cars join coming up from Playa de Santiago. It’s a slow crawl down towards the harbour. Still we are early and hve to wait until the ferry comes in from Tenerife. When it does we are among the first ones on board and get ourselves a comfortable seat. Judith queues for breakfast and we have the most expensive one we have yet had during the two weeks.

At Los Cristianos we disembark, search for our baggage, then look for the bus. Naturally our bus is the last one to leave and there’s quite a traffic jam on the outskirts of the town. Finally we make it to the motorway and half an hour later are back at Reina Sophia Airport. Strangely enough we can check in immediately, even though we are hours early. As we stroll around the airport we get glimpses of Teide and Guajara up north. Weather is crisp and clear – no signs left of Calima. Teide seems to be snow-free – a first for these two weeks.
Pico del TeidePico del Teide

Finally we go to the gates and board the plane. Again no drinks and no food but this time we came prepared. The flight route leads us across Gran Canaria and along the west coasts of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. I try to snap a few shots of the islands with my mobile but later it turns out that quality is far too low. Hours later, as we step out of Frankfurt Airport, there’s much snow on the ground. Seems like Calima isn’t the worst of weather conditions after all…


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