El Teide (3718m - 12,198ft), Tenerife, Spain
- Climb by the main permitted route around Montana Blanca
- Starting height 2300m approx
- Height climbed 1400m approx
- Estimated distance there & back 16 km (10 miles)
- Time taken to top 4 hours
- Time for descent 3.5 hours
(possible to descend via cable car with 2km walk back to car)
Although most people go to Tenerife to enjoy the sunshine, beaches and nightlife, the island has some magnificent volcanic scenery inland, culminating in the peak of El Teide, the highest mountain in Spain. It rises above the remarkable vocanic basin of Las Canadas fringed by other rugged peaks. Rising out of the basin are the dramatic Roques de Garcia, providing spectacular views with El Teide in the background. You can take easy walks and tough hikes, from the route around the rocks to the climb of El Teide itself.
There are many other hiking routes on the island, in the wooded hills and deep gorges to the north and west, and over the barren hills in the south. El Teide, however, remains the ultimate challenge, yet it is relatively easy to climb if you can cope with the altitude.
The main points to know about hiking up El Teide are:
- although the highest mountain in Spain, the actual height climbed is about the same as climbing Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain
- the volcanic scenery is wonderful, colourful and dramatic
- although it will probably be sunny throughout the climb, the view may be obscured by clouds lower down
- there is a clear path all the way to the top, presenting no difficulties underfoot except it can be slippy on the descent
- the summit is the edge of a dormant volcanic crater, but it is safe to climb with care
- you need a permit to climb the last 200m from the cable car station, obtained from the National park office in Santa Cruz, and numbers are restricted
- the entire area is a National Park, and you must follow the marked paths
- although it can be climbed comfortably in a day, the altitude makes it much more difficult especially in the latter stages
- there are only normally 2 places to get drinks (and the Altavista Refuge is being refurbished) so you need to take plenty of water with you
- it is cooller at this altitude, but the sun is strong and you should protect the back of your neck, legs and arms in particular
- most of the climbers seem to be Spanish or German
- you can go up most of the way by cable car and enjoy some spectacular volcanic scenery without much effort, from a path running around below the summit
- getting to El Teide - it's about 50km from the main resorts of Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas, along a main road which winds its way up through the hills and forests, about an hour's drive.
Background to the Climb
I was staying with the family for a week at Villa Mandi in October 2006, next to the Golf Course Las Americas, on the edge of Los Cristianos. As well as doing the usual family holiday things, I was keen to do some hiking, but time was limited. There are hikes through various barrancos (gorges) and over bare rocky hills within easy reach of Los Cristianos, but my main focus had to be on El Teide itself. It's the highest mountain in Spain, and one of the biggest free-standing volcanos in the world. It dominates the entire island, and is visible on a clear day from the other Canary Islands.
It would be good to compare the climb with that of Mount Fuji 3 years earlier. Fuji-san is slightly higher (3776m) and we started from lower down, but a daytime climb of El Teide would be a similar achievement in terms of effort.
Getting a Permit
First I had to get a permit, and this involved a 75km (47 mile) drive to the main city of Santa Cruz to the National Park office, then back again. It's a motorway all the way from Los Cristianos, so even with the congestion in the city itself it only took an hour each way. However, I had to stop and ask for directions as it's rather confusing knowing where to go to in the heavy traffic in Santa Cruz. It's probably best to take the first exit to the harbour area and just follow the main coast road past the impressive curved shapes of the Auditorio de Tenerife (a smaller variation on the Sydney Opera House) and on another kilometre to the main square - the Plaza de Espana. When I went, it was under reconstruction, but there's a clear sign to an underground car park. Although I was immediately stuck in a slow-moving line of cars, these cleared gradually and I was able to find a parking space on the 2nd level down.
The National Park office is at Calle Emilio Calzadilla 5, immediately behind the Plaza de Espana. It's on the 4th floor I think, in an office block, so don't expect to see a big shop frontage. And don't turn up in the afternoon. It's only open from 9.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. Monday-Friday. If in doubt, you can phone them on 922 29 01 29. If using your UK mobile, add 00 34 at the start. You need to take your passport and a photocopy of the page with your photo on it, which I had got from our hotel reception.
I was in a hurry to get back in time to take Frances for an afternoon scuba diving visit to Abades, down along the south-east coast 30km from Los Cristianos [this is another story, but it was organised through Easy Blue World, and it's highly recommended for children or adults - see http://www.easyblueworld.com/ ]
As a result, I dashed out of the car park and caught my toe on a concrete kerb that had been left sticking upwards, and went flying.
I had to get to the permit though. I hobbled around, shaken, looking for the right street and asking a couple of people, before finding it. Then I located No 5, and climbed the stairs to the office. I had to wait for someone else to get her permit, then requested mine. All I had to do was provide the passport and photocopy, and fill in a few details on the permit form, including an estimated time to get to the top. I put down 1.00 p.m. which I thought should be reasonable. This was accepted, I got my permit and my passport back, and left.
Once back in the car, I was delighted to have found my way to the office and got my permit, but worried at the same time about my foot. It became more and more painful as I drove back to Los Cristianos, and by then was badly swollen and the purple bruise spread around the toe and across the foot. It looked like I wouldn't be able to do a climb in 2 days' time, because I was in too much of a hurry to get the permit. How ironic!
But luckily the toe improved. I bought a bag of frozen chips at the hotel supermarket to try and chill it beside the swimming pool, and this may have helped (they didn't have frozen peas or sweetcorn!) It was less swollen and painful after a night's sleep, and better still the next day when I set off in the car just after 8 a.m.
The journey to El Teide
The road from Los Cristianos goes under the motorway then winds its way up past the attractive towns of Arona and Vilaflor, then through the "Corona Forestal" (Forest Crown) before reaching the El Teide National Park. You turn a corner past jagged mountains and emerge into a wide open basin, with a flat stony floor, and the typical volcanic shape of El Teide beyond. There's the first of several parking areas with information panels explaining the geology and vegetation. Then the road straightens out for the final 10 km, turning past the dramatic Roques de Garcia, north to the cable car station.
A couple of km further on is another parking place and viewpoint, and a km beyond there's a smaller parking area at the start of the climb. When I got there, all the spaces were taken, and I ended up driving back to the viewpoint car park.
Start of the walk
I had several photo stops on the way so it was just after 10 a.m. when I started the walk, and I could have done without the extra kilometre along the road, especially with a sore foot. However the hiking boots made a difference, and this was the only section where I really had any pain - after that I didn't really notice the toe.
My attention was taken up more by the wonderful scenery - the contrasting colours and shapes of the different volcanic rocks all around me. There were dark brown lava flows that issued from near the summit of El Teide and ran all the way down into the basin, finishing in a petrified sea of brown waves of rock. Yellow and orange and lighter brown bands of rock spread across other parts of the landscape. There was only patchy vegetation, but beside the viewpoint carpark were the ghostly shapes of dried flower heads set against the mountains in the distance.
I set out on the mountain track itself - a vehicle track for the first hour, winding its way up between Montana Blanca on the left, and Montana Bajada on the other side of the dry valley. There was another party of walkers ahead, but although I pushed on at a good pace I didn't make any ground on them. The track climbed gradually and bent to the left, with views opening up over to the north and north-east across barren hills.
Then just after passing a National Park vehicle which seemed to be parked for a warden to make sure that walkers were keeping to the path, the track started turning through big wide bends to climb the north-east slope of Montana Blanca. Some massive dark boulders appeared - the "Huevos del Teide" or "Eggs of Teide". They had rolled down from the lava flows, picking up material like snowballs, and rolled onto the lighter coloured stones lower down to provide a vivid contrast.
The real climb begins!
After another couple of bends the vehicle track ended at the start of the real climb - a steep slope up the face of Teide itself. I had been walking for just over an hour.
It's possible to settle for the short continuation to the top of Montana Blanca (2748m), so called because of the pale yellow stones which cover it.
There were sheets covering something at the bottom of the slope - I realised later these were building materials for the renovation of the Altavista refuge, carried up by packhorses. Ahead I could see little groups of figures, some climbing and others descending.
It was a steep and arduous climb, but on a clear track, and I pushed on steadily, stopping just once for some water. I had taken three half-litre bottles with me, and should have taken more (or bought some at the cable car station later on).
There was quite a lot of scrubby vegetation - mostly a pale greet bush seemingly without leaves on the stems. At least it wasn't the kind of thorny bushes that make for difficult hiking in the hills of southern Spain and Greece.
I finally caught up with the group of walkers who had been ahead of me as they were resting in the shade of another "huevos del teide", and passed a few more walkers after that, including a German couple who stopped to enjoy they view. La Montana Blanca looked very distant now, and I wondered how I was getting on with my 1.00 pm target for reaching the top .It was a relief to arrive at the Refugio Altativista about 12.20. There were tapes up seeming to bar the way, but plenty of people sitting outside the refuge in the sunshine. A couple of horses were tethered nearby.
The refuge is at 3260m, so there were another 300m to go to the cable car station, and 150m beyond that to the summit. I should still be able to get to the start of the summit section by 1 pm, I thought.
I took a photo of the young German couple as they arrived, and then gave them a Walking Stories card, so they could see themselves on this website.
Through the lavafield
Then I pushed on again, on the track climbing behind the refuge into a brown lavafield. Again, the trail had been worked on to make it easy to walk along, but now I was beginning to feel the effects of the altitude. My pace slowed considerably, and I had to keep stopping for breath. There was no-one else around, and it felt the most isolated section of the route.
At last I caught up with another couple of walkers - two young German women - and stopped to talk to them. They were surprised that I had secured a permit as recently as Thursday. They had tried to get permits a week ago, by e-mail and fax, and had been told they couldn't get them in time. This business of going in person to the National Park office seemed very bureaucratic. They wished me well and I walked on.
Shortly afterwards I met another older couple coming down, and they were from Switzerland. They too had been unable to get permits for the summit, and asked if it was worth walking down to the refuge for the view. After I described the trek through the lavafield they decided not to bother, and turned back. They said that the cable car station was only another 10 or 15 minutes' walk.
Along the tourist trail
I went on slowly, and saw a line of walkers ahead of me; it was the tourist trail that runs around the south side of the cone from the cable car station. At the t-junction with this trail, I was confronted by a sign indicating that the summit was closed unless hikers had a permit, but it didn't give a phone number or address!
Turning left along the tourist trail, there were lots more people to bump into, but the friendliness of fellow hikers was missing. I trod on, painstakingly, exhaustingly, and wondered if I could even climb the last 500 feet to the top - it looked a steep slope above me.
The final climb to the summit of El Teide
I was relieved to turn a corner and see the cable car station ahead of me, and then the two men at the start of the summit path even closer. Some visitors were trying to persuade them to be allowed through, without success. Triumphantly I retrieved my passport and permit from my rucksack and was allowed through. It was 1.15 pm - just after my target time (for the summit or the start of the summit path, it didn't matter now), and 3 hours from car park at the start of the climb.
Once again I was alone on the path, and walked a short way up a gradual incline with a wall of rock on my right. Just before the climbing started again, I stopped for a drink and something to eat, to fortify me for the final effort. I spotted a lizard enjoying the sunshine on the path ahead.
Feeling fine now, I started climbing the stone steps and immediately felt exhausted again! Afterwards, I thought that it was like Superman stricken by kriptonite (not that I was likening myself to Superman, but the draining of my physical powers was so dramatic).
So I moved on upwards, step by step, with lots of pauses resting my hands on my knees, taking long deep breaths, still wondering if I could get to the top.
But 150m isn't a great height, and suddenly I was looking into a crater ahead of me and realised that I could see the summit on the far side. There was the sound of other hikers, and I clambered over the large rocks towards them. The first was kind enough to take a photo for me, but pointed out that the summit was still further round where two others were climbing down over the rocks.
Time at the top
These last few metres seemed so easy after all that effort, and I pulled myself up onto the big rocks at the top. Although my balance had been dodgy during the climbing, I felt able to stand on the top boulder and take photos of the panoramic view. The other people had left now and I was on my own, but didn't feel any sense of isolation, only triumph. I had reached the top at about 2.15 p.m., so the last short section had taken about an hour.
It was cool but sunny with no wind, and I settled down to enjoy my sandwich with the small crater stretching out below me. The basin was patched with different coloured sand and stones, some green and white where the sulphurous steam was rising up through small vents. Puffs of steam blew across from time to time, with its pungent eggy smell.
The view beyond the summit was disappointing, with a blanket of cloud over the sea to the west, and the peaks to the south and east looking hazy, but the view of the crater was impressive enough.
As I was finishing the sandwich another group of walkers were arriving (Spanish I think), and this time I managed to get a photo taken at the summit itself in return for taking one of the group.
They were followed by more people, and soon there was quite a gathering. Most of them seemed to be German, and they started to put their rucksacks down on all the best rocks! But they were a friendly bunch and after I had taken a picture for them as well I was offered a glass of the sparkling wine that they had brought with them to celebrate.
I could easily have stayed for longer enjoying the experience of this multinational summit meeting, but it was time to go, and I said "auf wiedersehen" and left. Having been at the top, and seen how quite a small number of climbers can take it over, I could understand the reason for the permit system.
The descent was much easier, but I took my time and stopped for more photos as I went inside the edge of the crater, then further down as others climbed up. Leaving the summit path I was ticked off the list and given back the permit. I wanted to walk around beyond the cable car station to see some yellowish-white rock formations that I had spotted on the way down, but I soon realised I didn't have the energy. I turned back the way I had come, along the tourist trail which was hard enough given the condition I was in.
I continued a short distance beyond the start of the downward trail, to a circular viewpoint at the end of the tourist trail. It had another information board and views of different types of rocks. A fellow solo-walker asked if I would take his photo with the summit behind him, and he took one for me.
The walk down through the lavafield was easier, and again mostly solitary, but I passed one man who was clambering over the lumpy outcrops of rock calling out someone's name. I hope he found whoever it was, as this was a real wasteland where it would be easy to fall and bash your head in a crevice. There was another Spanish couple walking back up the track as well.
Refuge out of bounds!
Then the refuge came into view, and as I had little water left I was planning to try and buy some. However, this time as I crossed the barrier tape to go round to the front of the building I was met by a workman who challenged me for diverting from the path. I think he was saying that the building was being renovated and was out of bounds until next year! There were two other workmen beside him, so I didn't want to argue. I just apologised and returned to the trail heading downwards.
More care needed on the descent
It was nearly 4.30, and I thought I might be able to get back down by about 6.00 pm. However as I picked up speed I almost lost my footing a couple of times, skidding on the loose gravel lying on top of large stones along the path. I'd done this earlier as well, just before reaching the refuge. It's easy to get carried away by the euphoria of climbing a peak like El Teide, especially when the oxygen starts to refresh the brain, but it's even easier to fall over if you're not careful!
So I had to take more care, but still went down at quite a pace and the distant shape of Montana Blanca began to rise up again towards me. Two other walkers came into sight, and as I caught up with them I realised it was the two young German women whom I'd met on the way up. They asked if I'd got to the summit, and I told them about it. Then I realised this was another opportunity to spread the word about the website, and gave them a card, telling them they'd be able to see themselves on the site when the story was posted. So here they are!
The long and winding road back
Back down to the foot of the steepest section at 5.05 pm, I was onto the vehicle track again and decided to jog along it, but my legs virtually gave way and I had to walk for a while. It was a long and rather tedious walk down the big wide bends, past the Huevos del Teide. For those going downhill especially, it should be possible to bypass these bends designed for vehicles, but presumably that would lead to erosion of the loose stones.
Turning onto the long stretch leading back round and down to the car park I passed another couple, and they seemed to know me. I think this was probably the other German couple I had spoken with at the refuge on the way up. They seemed to be examining their map and the view for a long time. Beyond them, across the desert of small stones, two other figures were trudging slowly along a faint trail up towards them.
I walked on, and began to enjoy the views again as the evening sun picked out the colours and the relief in the rounded Montana Bajada. The profile of the other peaks to the south could be seen at the end of the valley, and it was a long walk towards them (see panoramic view below). Then down the final section to the car park at 5.50 pm. Just over 7 and a half hours after I had left. There were just a couple of cars still there. I hoped mine was where I had left it, but had another kilometre to walk back up the road to find out.
The final highlight was spotting a multicoloured display of flowers at the base of some of the dried flower spikes which I had seen earlier in the day. Strangely they were both blue and deep pink, and the only flowers noticed during the walk. Probably in the spring there would be many more.
The car was still there, and so was the large bottle of water that I'd left in the boot. Not as cool as I'd have liked, but very refreshing, and it didn't last long!
The views had become mistier now but the silhouette of the Roques de Garcia still looked imposing across the flat plain, with the higher mountains behind. I drove round to them and stopped off to see the most dramatic example close up, the pedestal rock. My legs had begun to seize up already, especially the left calf muscle which had been compensating for the sore toe (it made walking very painful the next day). As I looked up at the rocks, a hiker appeared on a trail coming up from the plain lower down, with more jagged rocks behind him.
I'd had enough for one day - it had been a great day, one to remember.< Back to Spain page for links to other stories
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