This was the “big one” as far as me and TJS were concerned.
An ascent of Spain’s highest peak and easily TJS’s most significant mountain. An afternoon start was all that was needed so a chance for morning in the sun by the pool to get ourselves “in the zone” as it were.
At 3718m El Teide is a significant eminence in anyone’s book. Much higher than I’d originally thought and even though you can ascend most of the way by cable car a major undertaking to climb if you do it properly. It needed some planning.
Interesting side story is that we’d have some company. My friend JB asked me somewhat pointedly and with a little more than passing interest where we going on holiday at Xmas, where we’d be staying, that sort of thing when met up a couple of months earlier. I told him while he looked back at me with a wry smile before telling me they were also heading to Tenerife, at exactly the same time and staying in the same area. Quite a coincidence since I didn’t know they were planning to go and visa versa. We’d made some plans to meet up for a walk but as I’m lumbered, sorry blessed, with two kids (one of whom hates walking) our paths didn’t quite cross (although we did go out for a very fine Tapas meal and they also cooked us a New Years Eve meal as I mentioned previously). However that changed with the El Teide climb
Anyway as I say climbing El Teide takes a bit of planning. Whilst a big mountain it’s relatively easy and you can drive to 2200m (still leaving 1500m though). Problem is that with a cable car to near the summit they operate a permit system to prevent hordes of tourist from trashing the delicate environment that is the summit crater. A check before we went revealed, probably unsurprisingly, that all permits were taken for about a month either of side of Xmas. Bugger!
I hatched plans to climb it one go through the night or arrive after the last cable car and walk down in the dark. Maybe even bivvy somewhere up near the summit. A little more research revealed a hut near the summit that if you stayed meant you didn’t need a permit. Even better was that there were spaces on January 1st, likely due to the fact people were recovering from New Years Eve excesses. I booked online within minutes and told J&A to do the same before places were sold out. Phew! We had a plan. In the event staying at the refuge doesn’t actually “waive” your need for a permit. It simply means that you are high enough and close enough to the summit to reach it before the day’s first cable car that carries the staff who police the permit. Also has the other major advantage that you can see the sunrise from this most iconic of mountains, well worth the effort as you’ll see.
So we had our plan and around 2:30 we were dropped off by TBF ready to begin our ascent
The start of the walk is along a broad track/road, easy of gradient and effortless under the warm sun. One thing about having to plan a walk a month in advance is that you are at the mercy of the weather on that day. Many anxious days were spent watching the forecast, hoping we wouldn’t get a poor day for our big day. Our luck held and the weather was as clear and glorious as it had for most of our holiday
The trail passes through a mixture of lava, ash and pumice as it wend its way slowly upwards. These dark round lumps are Los Huevos del Teide or the eggs of Teide. I think the technical term is Pyroclasts, lumps of lava blown out during an eruption. Turns out they form rather like the large balls of snow you make when building a snowman. Small balls of lava roll down over the molten stuff collecting more lava that cools and hardens as they continue downhill. This is one of the best examples or so the sign said
The views down across the caldera were stunning
We climbed the peak (well the rounded hump) of Montana Blanc form where we could see our objective for the night and the steep climb that preceded it. If you look very closely at the photo below you can just about make out the refuge on the skyline on the left hand edge
A stop was in order to take on food and energy for the steep climb to the hut
The views just got better and better as we climbed and the sun went down and played its winter light on the surrounding mountains
The setting sun gave us our first view of the dramatic effect of El Teide’s shadow cast onto the island. It’s the unique effect of such a uniform shaped peak with nothing else around to interrupt the effect. Great in the evening, amazing at dawn, more to come
The climb to the Atavista Refuge was easier than it looked, altitude only starting to affect us on the last few zig zags. We check in with the friendly warden, bagged a table in the small communal kitchen and spent the evening eating, drinking hot water and looking at the impressive views outside
As the sun set outside and El Teide’s shadow slowly faded we were expectant for the summit climb the next day and in my case quite excited to again be climbing a major high summit for the first time in around 20 years since my alpine climbing days of yester-year
It was a restless night, mountain refuges are almost exclusively noisy, stuffy and snorey if there is such a word. We were up a 5:30 and out walking 15 mins later while everyone else faffed about. It’s a well made path to the cable car station but rough and very tough to follow in the dark.
TJS was finding it very testing indeed, a combination of his first experience of high altitude and the fact that he was still recovering from his virus. At the cable car station he was in pretty bad shape and really suffering. We encouraged him to eat and press on the final few hundred meters to the summit and he gamely gave his all. He wasn’t going to fail at the last hurdle. In truth he coped well and in fact as we approached the summit he seemed to quicken as the older members of the group started to suffer. We made the summit before sunrise just as the first rays of light appeared over Gran Canaria
It was perishingly cold and we took a few obligatory summit photos before settling down to watch the show
The famous shadow appears just before the sun seems to pop out from behind Gran Canaria. It’s the largest shadow in the world projected onto the sea and its always triangular in shape even though the mountain is not perfectly symmetrical. Cool eh! I don’t think the photos do it justice as its a very surreal experience to see a mountain casting such a distinct shadow
The sun started to appear and all was glorious
The summit crater is pretty small only about 100 feet across and as you can see there are plumes of sulphur gas escaping from the ground all over. A stark reminder that things are still bubbling deep down there. The gas does give some warm, albeit rather smelly way to warm your hands in and the light effects are dramatic
I’ve been lucky enough in my younger days to have climbed a few alpine mountains and 4000m peaks. El Teide is very different as its on a island with nothing else around and its seems strange to stand at this altitude and be able to see a coastline and the sea. In the Alps all you can see are other mountains and valleys
More summit shots as the ever rising sun created images on my SD card and in my mind to last a lifetime. I was worried that the summit might be a bit of circus but the effort to get there is considerable so the numbers are relatively small. In the end, even though there were 50 other people on the summit it was a quiet, reverential and respectful atmosphere as everyone took the scene of wonder in, lost in their own thoughts. Or possibly it was 8am, we’d been up since 5 and it was freezing cold
As the sun rose, so it delivered what everyone wanted by now which was warmth. We had a very long way to descend and we needed to be off the summit before the permit police arrived. It’s a truly iconic peak to look at and to climb and we were all chuffed that we’d made the summit and seen the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean at New Year. I was pleased that circumstances had led me to Tenerife without ever realising I wanted to visit. Pretty glad I did
Rather than reverse the way up, we’d chosen a route to traverse Pico Viejo, the second of Tenerife’s “Three Peaks” on the way down. We stopped at the mirador that overlooks it for some food and to admire its shapely features
Topping out at 3135m it looks like something of a bump on the side of El Teide from below. From above however it reveals its true form. While El Teide has a small crater, Pici Viejo’s is massive. It was originally much higher with the highest parts you can see today the remains of a lava lake long since eroded. It’s truly an impressive site and another of those surprise features of Tenerife that I had no idea was there. I was looking forward to climbing it
Unfortunately between us and it was a massive lava flow, Los Charcos. We came to realise that crossing a lava flow, even on well made path was very trying and tiresome especially on tired legs. It seemed to take an age to descend through the maze of boulders down to the pumice below Pico Viejo although to be fair it was a good 1000 feet of descent. The novelty of walking through a lava landscape wore off pretty quickly but the views across Pico Viejo to the coast were stunning
It was with some relief we stepped onto the pumice and climbed to the top of the crater for a sit down and some more food
Its a vast crater and hugely impressive to sit on the edge. Walk around the rim and even down into the crater itself would be amazing were it not barred and out of bounds. Not a bad place to stop for a rest
The peak on the right in the photo below is Guajara that we climbed earlier in the trip which gives an idea of how high we still were and how far we still had to go to get down.
Looking back up to El Teide shows how far we’d already descended including the the tortuous Los Charcos lava field
1000m of knee-jarring loose descent followed. Much as I grew to love walking this bizarre volcanic landscape I had to admit it wore a bit thin on this day.
The way down takes you past these dark craters, Les Narices del Teide, quite literally “the nostrils of Teide” which erupted in 1798 creating the immense lava flow behind the crater where the roads forges its route through
I like the photo below for no reason other than everyone looks totally lost and out of place in this weird moonscape!
I like this photo as well. Captures the volcanic landscape and smaller cones below as well as being able to see all three of the western Canary Islands of La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma. Nice one to finish on.This was the last photo before my tiredness took over and determined that I couldn’t be bothered to take any more shots.
And with that we trudged the last seemingly endless miles through the lava to the car and returned back to Los Gigantes to collect the Funsters (they’d been on a boat trip to see the Dolphins). A tiring an exhausting couple of days but one’s of immense pleasure and fulfillment. There are only a few such volcanic peaks within reach of the average walker and it was a special moment to watch the sunrise from this giant of the Atlantic. Quite hard to be believe it shares the space with a heaving holiday metropolis no less than 30 miles away in both directions.
And that was our Tenerife winter break in the sun. Our last day was a chill down after the endeavours on El Teide. Breakfast and lunch in the sunshine at the villa and an afternoon on the beach
While I enjoyed the walking immensely, it’s what I do most of the time even through winter. There was just something extra special about sitting on beach in shorts and t-shirt in the warm sunshine in January. So very different from what that time of year brings at home and exactly what we’d all been looking for when we planned the trip
We had one final glorious sunset to enjoy and one more meal at our favourite restaurant before it was time to pack ready for an early flight back to a wet, windy and flooded UK
Goes without saying that Tenerife was a huge success for us. Pretty much the perfect destination. The temperatures were perfect, warm enough to laze in the sun, cool enough to enjoy walks without overheating. Endless walking opportunities, rocky peaks to climb, volcanos to watch the sunrise from, beaches to laze on. So much we wanted to see but didn’t have time. Next time