Clouds rising from the north coast towards Pico Casado
Madeira is a small island with a length of 57km and a width of merely 25km. Thus, it comes at no surprise that the main mountains of the island, which reach between 1700m and 1900m are located very close to each other on three main ridges, which encircle the impressive valley / cauldron of Curral das Freiras. Two of the ridges run northward from the south coast and touch the big west to east running weather divide at their northernmost ends. At the western one of these intersections you can find twin mountain, Pico Jorge (1699m) and Pico Casado (1725m).
The twins, which stand out among the mountains surrounding them on the weather divide, are separated by a shallow saddle, through which runs one of the old caminos, which follow the mountain ridges. Moreover, to the east and west of the mountains, two more caminos cross the divide, old paths, which connect the north of the island with the south and which were in good use until road pass across Boca da Encumeada was built. Thus, Pico Jorge and Pico Casado can be eassily reached from a multitude of trailheads. However, thanks to their central location on the divide, hiking access is rather long and for both the final summit push is a pathless scramble.
Both summits are round-topped, still access to them is rather impressive, thanks to the basalt walls, which crisscross their slopes. On Pico Casado there are several particularly beautiful walls, which stand vertically and run down the slopes for several hundred metres. In some sections they block direct acccess to the summit, together with a dense undergrowth of gorse bushes, which cover the slopes. Due to the forest fire of summer 2003, which ravaged this part of the island in particular, much of the gorse has been destroyed. However, it is slowly growing back to cover the mountain again, which will turn the final ascent into a serious bushwhack again.
Pico Jorge and Pico Casado seen from the saddle between Pico Grande and Pico do Cerco
Madeira can be reached from any of the major European airports. There are almost no regular flights (with the exception of some portugese airports) but quite a lot of charter flights.
Since Pico Casado is located quite centrally on Madeira's weather divide, reaching it requires long hiking access. There are four trailheads, listed below. The hike from Boca da Corida may be closed due to rockfall, it runs along a narrow path on an exposed ridge.
Boca da Encumeada
Take Motorway R101 until its end at Ribeira Brava.
After the long last tunnel don't turn to Ribeira Brava but to Serra de Água (ER104).
At the start of the village turn left and go up to the pass.
Achada do Teixeira
Follow motorway R101 east towards its end at Machico and head northwest on the coastal highway R101 towards Santana.
In Santana turn left (filling station, sign: Pico Ruivo) onto a side street which after 14km leads you to Achada do Teixeira.
Curral das Freiras
Take R101, direction west.
Just before the motorway leaves Funchal take the exit towards Curral.
Follow the road towards Curral get on through and park near the Bus stop in the hamlet of Faja Escura.
Boca da Corida
Follow motorway R101 to the west.
At the exit Estreito de Câmara de Lobos get off towards the village.
Drive through but remain in the western part of the village (always going up) until you get to Achado.
Drive through there as well. The road ends at Boca da Corida.
Pico Casado is a hiking summit. There are four routes from the four trailheads, which converge in the saddle between Pico Jorge and Pico Casado. The last of the routes might be closed (signs on the weather divide "dead end" seem to indicate this).
Weather divide from Boca da Encumeada
Described elsewhere, this is the shortest and most direct route. Also very scenic and straightforward. Pathless scramble from the saddle between Pico Jorge and Pico Casado.
Weather divide from Achada do Teixeira
The route starts in the east of the weather divide and passes close by the summit of Madeira's highest mountain, Pico Ruivo. From there it basically descends to Boca das Torrinhas, from where a steep ascend takes you to the saddle between Pico Jorge and Pico Casado.
Ascent from Curral das Freiras
A long hike from the end of the Curral-Cauldron towards Boca das Torrinhas. Lots of steep switchbacks. From the saddle follow the weather divide westwards.
Ridge traverse from Boca da Corida
Very scenic hike along the risge which connects the south coast with the weather divide. It passes by Pico Grande and Pico do Cerco, which both can be climbed. From the saddle between these two mountains a path (hard to find) follows the further ridge to the base of Pico Jorge. Here it ascends towards the weather divide, reaching it just west of Pico Jorge. Turn onto the weather divide eastwards from here.
Pico Jorge and Pico Casado seen from the forest fire zone
There is no red tape. Parking lots are free of charge. However, take extreme care with fire. There has been a series of forest fires in the last years which destroyed much of Madeira's wonderful vegetaion, especially on the south side of the weather divide.
You can find a lot of hotel rooms and apartments on Madeira. Either visit the next travel office or do an internet search. The island is small, all trailheads can be reached by car in an hour from almost anywhere on the island. Most accomodation can be found in the south of the island near Funchal and Camara de Lobos.
Pico Casado seen during the descent to Boca da Encumeada
Weather conditions cannot be predicted accurately. Madeira is located in the trade wind zone. You almost always encounter northeastern winds which carry a lot of humid air. Being forced to climb to higher altitudes this moisture condenses into clouds. This in return means that most of the time the northern part of the island is covered in clouds from altitudes of 1000m through 2000m.
The mountains themselves - being of the same altitude -finally stop the clouds so that on their southeastern slopes the clouds "run out". Look at the pictures - it looks like the clouds creeping over the weather divide. Boca da Encumeada - being some 500m lower than the surrounding summits - is a gateway for the clouds from north to south. Thus it very often is covered in mist. Unfortunately all of the major peaks of Madeira lie around the weather divide, sometimes within, sometimes just out of the clouds.
The following table shows weather data for Funchal on the southern coast. Be careful with these data if you want to climb the summits...
My recommendation is a guidebook by Rother Verlag, available in several languages. The book is an excellent hiking guide covering all the interesting areas of the island. Since it comes with small maps for each excursion it might even be used without a map to support them.
ISBN 978-3-7633-4811-4 (English)
ISBN 978-3-7633-4274-7 (German)
ISBN 978-3-7633-4910-4 (French)
ISBN 978-3-7633-4297-6 (Portugese)
ISBN 978-3-7633-4708-7 (Spanish)