Monday, July 10, 2017

Ascent of Teide

The summit of Teide is small, so there is only a limited number of people who can fit.

This summer started well for me - I went up Teide, the tallest mountain of the Canary Islands, Spain, and the entire Atlantic basin. Sounds impressive, right? Though of course, as mountains go, it is not that huge - under 4 km. Still, I have never been anywhere over 2000 metres before, so... I am really quite pleased with myself and with the way it went.

It was all a bit sudden. I was studying the Arawak webpage for a while, thinking that maybe one day I should do it, while we live here on the Canaries. When on a walk with Arawak, I spoke to our guide about the indicated level of difficulty (3+/4 out of 5, that's pretty high). He said that in his opinion I had nothing to worry about, level-wise, but that if I wanted to do it in June, I had to book immediately, because there were very few places left (like, two). I nodded along, still undecided. Later, on the bus back to Las Palmas, he fiddled with his phone, turned to me and said "You know what, I've booked you just in case. You can always cancel it". That was a "волшебный пендель" (magical kick in the butt that speeds you along), and the end of my hesitations.

View towards the top from the upper cable car station. Not much left to ascend, but rather steep, don't you think?
In theory, you can arrange the whole ascent yourself, yes sir. If you wish to go to the very top of Teide, you need to get a permit from here . Don't know how long it takes, so you have to find it out yourself.

There are a few options, the obvious ones being:

Easy: get to 3555 metres by Teleferico (cable car). From there you can choose to get to the top (up 163 m, see the permit note above), enjoy the view right there at the observation platform or follow one of the two easy short and level routes (Mirador de Pico Viejo and/or Fortaleza). The cable car starts running quite late and stops early, so this option excludes watching sunset or sunrise if you go up and down on the same day. If from the cable car station you go a bit (well, about 300 metres) down to the Altavista refuge, spend the night there and go up to the top (about 450 m) in the morning, you will see both (save for when calima covers all). Permission to ascend before 9.00 am is automatically granted if you book your stay in Altavista.

Ascent to Altavista by Montana Blanca route. First there is a slow ascent by a dirt road (seen middle left), followed by a much steeper serpentine mule track (where you see people).
Semi-hard: what our group did. We went up to Altavista refuge on foot from the road, by the "Montana Blanca" route (I won't publish the route, but there is plenty of info around). We came to Altavista just before the sunset (about a kilometer of up), spent the night in the refuge and went to the top of Teide for the sunrise. Then we went down by the Pico Viejo route, ending the whole walk at the bar of Parador National Hotel by the amazing rock formation Roques de Garcia (~1700 m down).

Roque Cinchado, probably the most famous of all the Roques de Garcia. I was so tired by the time we got there, I didn't have any energy left to walk around it for the classic view with Teide in the background.

Hard: Start from sea level, go back to sea level, all glorious 3718 m of up and down. I was told some (crazy, IMO) people do it in one day. Well, I mean, some (quite possibly the same) people run supermarathons in the mountains too. I strongly advise against this option.

The beauty of going with Arawak was that I didn't have to think of anything, almost. You do have to bring your own food and as much water as you can reasonably carry. There are vending machines at the refuge and there is also some stuff to buy at the cable car station, when open; both options expensive (vending machines at the refuge sell .5 bottle of water for 3 euros, to give you an idea). Arawak advises about 3 liters of water for the two-day route; sounds about right to me. The best food will be something dry; I don't eat instant noodles, but they worked just fine as a stop gap. Some biscuits for breakfast and you are all set basically.

Triangular shadow of Teide on the clouds below. We almost missed it.
Before the walk I was mainly worried about altitude sickness, because I read that it can happen to anybody. Fortunately, we were all fine. I understand that some people don't even suspect that you can experience altitude sickness on Teide - well, you can, although it is not often that it happens, as the mountain is not that tall. Nevertheless, to adapt to the changes in altitude, the guides walk really, really slowly on the way up.

Blue gaps started to appear in the grayness of calima as we went up.
Photography-wise, we didn't strike lucky this time. A thick grey blanket of calima was covering the Canary Islands; when we started the walk, the sky was almost uniform grey. As we progressed upwards, blue windows started to appear. In the morning of the next day some stars were visible and the calima eased off somewhat; but still, we almost couldn't see anything - just the edges of Tenerife itself; none of the other islands made it above the calima layer. Well, I guess I have to come back some time.

See the dark stones on the light mountain? They are Huevos del Teide.
On both ascent and descent, our guide pointed out the big dark balls of lava, which are called Los Huevos del Teide (the Eggs of Teide or the Balls or Teide, depending of where within subphylum Vertebrata you want to place Teide). They were formed in a sort of snowman-construction fashion, when some solidified bits of lava started rolling on a semi-solid surface. They looked very striking on the light orange surface of Montana Blanca; we saw even more of them on the way down, but there they were lost against the background.
The south slope variation of the same theme.
We missed the spectacular Tajinaste Rojo of Teide flowering. The green tall inflorescence cones were still around, but they had lost their flowers (one more reason to come to Tenerife again). The blue Tajinaste picante flowers could be seen on the approaches from Montana Blanca and some of the white marguerites of Teide were also still in bloom.

Tajinaste picante
Argyranthemum tenerifae, marguerite of Teide
Lilac cushions of mountain scabious Pterocephalus lasiospermus, endemic to Tenerife, got more and more numerous as we approached the end of our walk.

Pterocephalus lasiospermu
The white-flowering high altitude broom species Spartocytisus supranubius (supranubius being "above clouds", isn't it cute for a Latin name?) was filling some of the ravines. It is almost scentless.


Now, for the bad(ish) bits.

Even before coming to Tenerife I got a piece of advice which I didn't follow "go down by cable car, the descent is hard". I didn't take it, because I always tend to think "what if it is the most beautiful route (place, town, beach, etc.) on earth and I will miss it?".

Overall, I am happy I went all the way down on foot, because I now KNOW how it goes. It is indeed beautiful, no doubt about it. But:

My very sincere advice to you - whichever way you come up, go down either by Teleferico or by the path of Montana Blanca. Honestly. Especially in summer. Feel free to take it or ignore it (as I did).

See the piles and piles of lava stones? The fist part of descent goes through something like this.
The descent by Pico Viejo is haaard. First, you go down by a leg-breaking lava badlands slope, then you start going up and down the small ravines, mostly down, of course. There was no wind at the bottom of some of them and the slope faces south, completely devoid of shadow. It was very hot. Plus, we woke up at 4.45 am; started walking at 5.30 am and finished at the Parador at about 3 pm, the sun going full-blast most of the way. How's that for a promenade? Sure, we stopped a few times, to have some water and snacks; to wait for the last ones to catch up etc. Still, a lot of very hot walking.

Surprisingly Fuerteventura-like orange badlands around Pico Viejo
BTW, at the end of the walk the last ones were still about an hour behind, even with all the waiting. That is of course a disadvantage of going with a large group - almost inevitably, you either have to wait or are being waited for. This time, I happened to be in the first group, but I intensely dislike both options.

Teide from the South
Another disadvantage is that you don't really have a chance to have an individual experience. The group was large - 26 people, if I recall correctly, plus two guides. We could sort of all fit on the top of Teide, just, with a lot of noise, changing places etc. And why do we need to all fit? To take a group pic of course. But of course. If you don't post it, you haven't been, right? And the last thing you want to hear going downhill on malpais, concentrating hard on where you are putting your feet is "Hey you down there, distribute yourself nicely and evenly along the path, I want to take a pic!" (we didn't of course).

Ok, that's my venting done. Overall, for the first ascent it's best to go with a group. If you want to come back for a top-up, you can always do it alone or with a very small group.

Aaanyway. I did it and now it is done and can't be undone :)

Photos of Tenerife on shutterstock - here

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