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Almost a week’s skiing in the Alps   14 comments

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January brings my little treat of a week-long trip to the Alps for some skiing.

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After a couple of years of less than perfect snow conditions this year was set to be a good one. Tonnes of snow right down to the lowest levels, cold sunny days with a top up of snow forecast for midweek. What could be better

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Not having the flu for the entire time I was out there would have been better. Instead of being out every day I had to try to catch a few hours when I felt well enough to crawl out of bed. For the first few days this was pretty much all the skiing I saw – the view from the apartment balcony

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It probably wasn’t the best idea to head out into -19C cold dry air with flu but I had to try

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I managed a few half days in the first half of the week.

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My friends were the best, they never complained about sharing a flat with a seriously sad and ill-looking mate and were saintly in the way they encouraged me to head out, kept my spirits up and did all the shopping and cooking

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There are worse places to be ill I suppose and many, many people worse off than me so I put a brave face on things, savoured the great skiing that I did manage and accepted the long lay ups in bed to recover. Good company and many laughs still made it a great week

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On the last two days I managed to summon enough energy to ski all day. I paid for it in the evenings but the conditions were superb and as you can see the views magnificent

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The classic view of Mont Blanc to the north, showing just how much bigger than the rest of the Alps it is

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Some wonderful cloud inversions in the Isere valley

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And over towards the Ecrins

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I normally take videos but this year it was as much as I could manage just to get out.

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As I was trying to keep my exertion to a minimum I was skiing much more in control and strangely felt I was skiing better than I ever have done

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It would be easy to look back and be frustrated at how things turned out. seeing the photos now, makes me think of all the good days and half days I enjoyed rather than any regret for the days I missed.

I think I paid a hefty price with my health though. One week after coming back and I’m still not fully recovered although I’m hoping I’ve now seen the back of it. Today has been my first day without painkillers, headaches and a hacking cough. Time to plan some summer holidays in the sun

 

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Wet, Wet, Wet   12 comments

I think I’ve mentioned before on the blog about a day I spent in the Arans in my University days (1983 I think). It was the worst day I’ve ever spent in the hills. hours of heavy, pitiless rain and winds on a high exposed ridge. We got soaked to the skin and were likely hypothermic by the end. It has lived with me longer than many other days from that era. Since then I’ve had some pretty wet days in the hills but nothing have ever come to close to that one. Until last Saturday.

TJS had an open day and interview at Exeter University and we had plans for an overnight and then a days walking on Dartmoor to make a weekend of it. A bad forecast for Sunday put pay to that but Saturday looked ok. Rain in the morning but brightening up at lunchtime, so I thought I go for a solo walk while he was doing his stuff.

I planned a route from Belstone near Okehampton as it was close to the A30 so I could maximise my walking time. It was pretty grim when I set off but I thought it was worth a go as it was due to clear. Once up on the fells it was horrid. Driving heavy rain and strong winds. I pressed on as it was due to clear.

Along the edges of Belstone and Oke Tors and the rain got heavier. I pressed on as it was due to clear.

You can see the pattern emerging here. It was frankly atrocious and any sensible person would have turned around and gone back. I found a sheltered spot and had a bite to eat. I thought about turning back and then stubborn bloody-mindedness set in. I decided that seeing as I was already wet I may as well try to finish the route as a kind of endurance test. I pressed on as it might clear.

In the sheltered spots it wasn’t too bad and it had a wild and stormy atmosphere. On Steeperton Tor the wind was amazing. I was lucky there was an army shelter I could hide behind for a few minutes. I pressed on even though it seemed unlikely to clear. As I traversed around the Hound Tors it actually stopped raining cleared a bit and there was even some blue sky. I even managed a couple of photos.

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Then its started raining again. This time with a real vengeance. It did that to me on that Arans day. A flash of blue sky preceded heavy rain. I pressed on, it was definitely not going to clear. I walked past the Stone Circle on Little Hound Tor and managed another photo.

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The climb up to and over Cosdon Beacon was one of the longest I can remember. I managed to extract some perverse enjoyment out of the first half of the day but this stretch really tested my resolve, not that I had much choice. There was water everywhere although my feet were the only part of me that was dry (thank heavens I put gaiters on). I got off the hill as quickly as I could and headed down into the valley of the River Taw. Once off the mountains and in the deep dark woods, yes, you guessed it, the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the sun came out! Sometimes I think the weather has a malevolent, malicious streak

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At least the walk by the river was quite pleasant if muddy and I could emerge from my waterproofs

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When I reached the car every part of me (other than my feet) was sopping wet, right down to my pants. Luckily we’d planned to go out for some food on the way home so I had a change of clothes. It would have been a very uncomfortable drive home if not. A good leg stretcher at 10 miles, I still have wet stuff drying out around the house

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I’m now in the rare position of being fully up to date with blog. I’m off to France for some skiing next week so blog silence for a week or so while enjoy the snow in the Alps

A Proper Dose of Winter   12 comments

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Back to reality after winter sun in Lanzarote. First weekend back and we were in the grip of a really cold spell. Time to hit the hills. We wanted somewhere a bit different so we took to bagging a summit in the Fforest Fawr area we hadn’t done before.

We parked high up on the road through the middle near the standing stone of Maen Llia. It was bitterly cold, frosty air and a biting east wind

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Luckily the pathless, tussocky terrain is hard enough work to keep you warm – a bit anyway

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There was a light dusting of snow on the highest tops and the views were superb

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Looking across to the Black Mountain

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Up on the ridge at Fan Dringarth it was staggeringly cold. In fact it was as cold as I’ve been in the mountains for many a year

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Not that I mind. I love days like this, clear skies and a cold wind is invigorating and makes you feel properly alive

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These are soggy hills most of the time but everything was frozen solid. A bit slippery mind especially where the wet grass had frozen solid on the way down from the summit of Fan Llia

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It was definitely not a day for stopping. I wondered where we’d be able to grab shelter for lunch. Halfway round where the path drops to the road we found a surprisingly sheltered and sunny spot by a ford over the Afon Llia

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Even just about warm enough for a brew although TJS looked rather dis-chuffed at the protracted stop so I could have a cuppa

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Second part of the day was to traverse Fan Nedd back to the car

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After  a sheltered lunch it seemed even colder once we hit the wind again. The walking in the crisp snow along the broad ridge was sensational though

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Winter days are still the best for me. Nothing better than the crunch of snow under foot and views like this

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On the far end of the ridge we exchanged some very brief pleasantries with another hiker – it was arctic by now. I reckon taking windchill into account it was somewhere around -15C

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Even though it was still early, it was time to head down, too cold to linger and we’d had our fill of winter for the day

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The broad Senni valley opens up as you descend and its a real beauty

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A shortish route of around 6 miles but good one

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Cracking day. Cold day.

Lanzarote – The Final Day   13 comments

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Just one more post to do from our final day. We decided to head up north again and I was anxious for another walk. Finding a short walk that TJF would be happy with (never easy) was proving a challenge until I spotted a walk in my guide-book that started with a long walk up a road and a footnote that said it had been recently improved. If we could drive up the road we could have a short walk up another couple of old volcanic craters without breaking sweat. Plan

We found the road at the back of the village of Maguez and indeed it was now metalled and easy enough to drive. We parked up at 520m to leave us a monumental 71m to climb to the top.

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We were heading up the twin volcanoes of La Quemada and Los Helechos. This is the crater of La Quemada

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And this is Los Helechos with Montana Corona in the background

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They are perched high above the cliffs of Famara with superb views over the coast and the island of La Graciosa

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It was a splendid easy stroll to the top (not easy enough for TJF to be honest)

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A view over the crater of Los Helechos and Montana Corona behind

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Looking south along the spine of the island. In the middle ground you can see the road we drove up zigzagging across the hillside

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Family shot on the top

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Montana Corona – one of the 600m peaks and one for the next trip

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More superb views across the high valley of Guinate to la Graciosa

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A short drive away and we were able to walk to edge of the cliffs. It’s a sensational spot. the cliffs plummeting 400m down to the sea

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The photos just don’t do justice to how exposed it was. It made me feel giddy looking down

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Lots of interesting looking walks along the cliffs and farmland up here. Looking forward to a return visit

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We went back to one of our favourite restaurants of the trip in Orzola for lunch. We had hoped to spend the afternoon on the beach for a final swim but it turned a bit overcast and cool for that. Instead we took a look around one the other big resorts of the island. Costa Teguise. Its a huge place and as one of the older resorts it does look a bit tired and dated. It much more “Brits abroad” than Playa Blanca and needs some money spent to bring it back up to scratch although we didn’t see it in the sunny weather. It has a nice beach though and we took a wander about before heading home

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Me and TBF found time for one last wander up Montana Roja in Playa Blanca (featured in an earlier post)

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Not a bad finish to a superb couple of weeks away from the Xmas madness

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A chance to see the sunrise on the last morning before we headed off to the airport and back home to winter

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Lanzarote is a superb place and if you make a small amount of effort there are untold, unspoilt corners to discover. In reality its nothing like the holiday brochures and for the outdoor types like us a wonderful, almost perfect place for a winter break. From one extreme to the other in the next post

Lanzarote – Montana Blanca   14 comments

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Time to bag another volcanic summit. We’d had another leisurely morning of poolside lazing and strolls along the seafront so an afternoon hike was in order. Today’s outing was on the far side of the Timanfaya National Park to Montana Blanca, or Caldera Blanca. The name seems to vary depending on which map or guidebook you use. It’s obviously quite well-known as the parking area was very busy when we pulled up and its obvious to see why once you reach the top.

First things first, we had to reach the bottom that involved a path carved through one of the lava flows from the Timanfaya eruptions

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The fact that someone has decided to drive a path through this stuff is extraordinary. You only have to walk two or three paces off the path to realise how impossible it is to cross without help and how much effort it must take to build

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They are interesting with features that form like “rivers” albeit from lava rather than water

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They are pretty hard going however and you soon long for easier ground

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On the way to the main summit you base the smaller sibling of Montana Caldereta, itself not exactly insubstantial

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These volcanic relics of much older eruptions are very reminiscent of the Auvergne in France at least in shape. Those are much older and now covered in grassland and forests

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The main summit looks loose and hard to climb from below and you expect it to be a loose pile of dust and rubble. In fact it was quite hard and rocky and a decent path takes you onto the rim of the Caldera. It’s striking and the base of the crater is pretty deep, good few hundred feet I’d guess

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This is Montana Caldereta from above. These older cones are called Isoltes (Isolates I assume) and are the older relics that the more recent lava simply flowed around. You can see it quite clearly in this shot

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The weather had changed with a bank of cloud rolling in and a pretty ferocious wind blowing. The rim is narrow enough to make it interesting without being dangerous but I was glad the wind was blowing away from the drop into the crater

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We reached the top at 461m without incident and in fact just a couple of feet below the summit marker all was calm

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The views across this particularly remote and uninhabited corner of the island were amazing

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The panorama shot below got a bit interrupted mid-flow as it were (hard taking one in a strong wind) but gives an idea of the massive size and depth of the crater

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One of my favourite shots of the day, bright sunshine and moody clouds

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I think the big peak on the right is Guardilama that we climbed a few days earlier

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Looking out over the Atlantic

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Time to head down and continue around the crater rim. There is a path up to the next summit along, Risco Quebrado but we’d started late and still had a way to go, so took a rain check on that one

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As with most days as the sun lowers the light highlights the volcanic summits to greater effect

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I think (not 100% sure) that this is the Aloe Vera plant that seems to thrive in these landscapes. There are lots of dedicated museums and shops on the island to this little plant and its various unguents and potions

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We found a nice traversing path down to the base on the far side of the crater taking in the last of the sunny photos before it started to set

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It was a long walk back through the lava fields to the car and it was pretty much dark when we reached it. We were only one of two cars left

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Another stunning walk on this strange and beguiling island

Lanzarote – La Graciosa   8 comments

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Why visit one island when you can visit two. From Orzola at the north end of the island you can take a boat trip around the Punta Fariones to the island of La Graciosa. Of course we had to give this a go.

The boat trip was rather excellent if a little cool and breezy

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The views of Punta Fariones were superb

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And the island of la Graciosa came into view (the island we’d seen from the top of the cliffs at the Mirador del Rio a few days earlier)

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The highest point on the island, Agujas Grandes

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And the harbour of the main town Caleta del Sobo

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We took a little wander around the town before lunch. All the roads are sand and there are few vehicles

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It’s a pleasant sleepy little place with a few shops and a handful of restaurants

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After a fine lunch we went off for a walk. There are some small peaks to climb and some stunning beaches. TJF is not the keenest of walkers so we wandered down the coast to the nearest beach

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The island is dry, dusty and peaceful and I really enjoyed the walk along the coast

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The dark summit of Montana Amarilla dominates the southern part of the island

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While the views back across the water the cliffs of the Risco de Famara on Lanzarote were superb

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We reached our destination at Playa Francesca and its a beauty

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Golden, sand, clear water and overlooked by a volcanic remnant

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Being the main organiser I’d packed the water, snacks, towels, beach rugs, snorkel stuff and everyone’s swimming gear – except mine. Can’t turn down a swim on such an idyllic beach so pants (discretely covered by a rash vest) were the order of the day

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There were a few day trippers from the big catamaran but they departed not long after we arrived and beach was wonderfully peaceful

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We spent a happy hour sunbathing and pithering about on the beach/rocks and admiring the views

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The walk back was equally fine. As on most the days the late afternoon delivered a wonderful light that highlighted the stark landscape to perfection

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There is a lagoon that holds water at very high tide but today it was bone dry

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We timed our walk back perfectly to catch the last ferry back to Lanzarote

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The light was fading and the cloud building on the way back so photography was a little challenging

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I liked this slope of what looked like soft earth eroded by water over a matter of days

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It those clouds look dark enough to drop some rain you’d be right. We had a few spots on the boat (and a brief shower on the drive home), the only rain of the trip

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La Graciosa disappeared into the distance

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Another fine day out and we were finding so much quality stuff to do. When I return to Lanzarote I’d like to spend a couple of days on La Graciosa, there is some quality walking and more great beaches to explore and its wonderfully peaceful

Lanzarote – Hiking a High Point   12 comments

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Time to get back to more serious walking. After a morning of lazy strolls and chilling by the pool me, TJS and TBF headed out for a walk in the afternoon. The weather was still stunningly clear and we wanted to bag one of the higher summits.

We started from another of the small quiet villages of the island, Uga. Heading out of the village and along a wide track into the hills

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We crunched our way along the ash track, reminded me of walking on snow in very strange way

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This is the valley of La Geria. It’s close to the area that erupted and was devastated not by lava but by ash. The area was quite well farmed and verdant before the eruption but after it happened most people left and never returned. More recently the area has been turned into a vast collection of vineyards. Each of these small hollows surrounded by a wall contains a single vine. Rather than protect from the wind the construction allows the dew to collect and trickle down into the hollow in miniscule amounts but its enough to sustain the vines. As you’ll see from the rest of the photos they dominate the landscape in such number as to be a marvel of effort to create that many. The unique pattern they create is one of the abiding memories of the island

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Back to our walk and we were heading for the peak in the centre right of the photo, Montana de Guardilama. Its one of the “Three Peaks” over 600m I mentioned and had supposedly stunning views

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We caught a glimpse of one of the Timanfaya tour buses traversing the slopes a few miles away

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The panorama shot gives a feel for the width and desolation of the uncultivated parts of the valley

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This lone palm tree caught my eye

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Our target peak getting closer

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As we reached the col the views along the east coast towards the resort of Puetro de Carmen and the capital Arrecife opened up

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All we had to do was climb to the top. Hard work on the loose rubble slopes and took far longer than I thought

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Fortunately the views from the top were stunning

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TJS struggling to keep up with the old man

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Couple of panoramas taking in 3/4 of the island

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We had an extended stay on the top. The air was stunningly sharp and clear. An absolutely perfect day for walking

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Looking south towards Playa Blanca

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The National Park where Hell was unleashed a few hundred years back

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TBF providing some foreground

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We’d started late and we had another summit to climb and a few miles to go so we had to push on. We slithered down the slippery slopes and I waited for the others to catch up. While I was there an old German man walked up and abruptly asked what the climb was like. I gave him the low down about how long the climb might take etc but that the views were well worth it. He then set off just as abruptly without another word or a thank you. Some people!

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We headed back up towards our second summit of Montana Tinasoria. Much lower and less steep it was an easy climb. We passed these ruined buildings, an area heavily used for paragliders as a launch site

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As the sun was starting to go down the shadows and the golden light on the islands dusty brown summits was just mesmerizing

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One of the things I loved about the island were the smooth sinuous curves of its volcanic cones. The low angle of the sun highlights them and the vine hollows perfectly

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It is the age of the selfie

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Reluctantly we headed down. I didn’t much fancy loose volcanic ash slopes in the dark

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We passed through the crater of the much smaller Montana Mojon. These Prickly Pears providing a welcome splash of green to the landscape

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There was a shallow crater rim so we wandered along it for some bonus views. By now the light was just sensational

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As we reached Uga again the sun was catching the white houses perfectly, picking them out against the black lava and darkening blue sky

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One final treat as we drove home and saw the sun setting as we crossed the col at Femes

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from the walking on Lanzarote but its magnificent, fascinating and surreally beautiful. This half a day walk was amazing and one of the highlights of the trip. Boxing Day sales in a retail park or a walk like this?

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