Monday, March 28, 2016

El Pico del Teide or Snow on the Canary Islands

So, one of the reasons we decided to book a flight to Teneriffa was the all-year-long summery weather there. Initially, we have been talking about going to Corsica to go hiking on the legendary GR-20 but were informed that in March parts of it might be closed because of heavy snowfall and mud slides on the higher parts. Hence, after a bit of searching around our choice fell on Teneriffa for its aforementioned year-round summer conditions and its highest mountain, El Teide, with its 3718 m of altitude offering some training ground for the upcoming hiking (and climbing for Martin) season in the Alps. 
So far so good for our thoughts and considerations...however, when the clouds cleared off on our second day on the island and we got a glimpse on the peak from its northern face we were quite surprised to see it covered in snow. Heavy snow...

I mean, we were on the Canary Islands, usually associated with sunburnt people sipping sangria on its beaches in the south. Snow didn't really match the picture.

Well, we eventually found ourselves in the El Teide National Park at the starting point of the trek towards the summit where the snow gave a sharp contrast to the red volcanic stones and the blue skies. It was warm outside, the locals had brought up snow slides and pique nique gear and were spending their Sunday sliding down the snow covered hills in a t-shirt.

We started the trek at the designated point at around 2000 m of altitude and followed the footsteps in the snow on the presumed path. We quickly realized that the ascent was going to be hard work since most of the trail was covered in slushy snow. 

Again, who would have thought of that much snow in March on the Canary Islands? We were laughing at our ignorance, especially since Martin has all kinds of gear at home for such conditions and here we were in our hiking boots and a t-shirt (although we had brought jackets and long sleeves in the backpack), looking at about 60 cm of slushy snow all the way to the summit. 

In the beginning, where the layer of snow was not so thick, we could still see the landmarks on the ground indicating the right trek, but with every meter of altitude we gained, the snow layer got thicker, so we ended up choosing our own "path" towards the summit, only occasionally coming by signs that warned the hikers not to stray off the path....  :-D

Under the scorching sun it was quite a strenuous hike in that slushy snow, since every step forward also meant sliding back a little. Additionally, the altitude, slowly climbing up to about 3500 m, was also taking its toll. 
However, the views down on the volcanic landscape, the sea and the surrounding islands were more than rewarding.

In the end, we didn't make it to the very top, since the ascent in the snow took us longer than we had assumed. We stopped at about 3500 m for a pique-nique, taking in the views and eventually decided to take the cable car down since a descent in those conditions of slushy snow with lots of rocks underneath and no clear path visible did not seem like a sensible thing to do. 

Albeit the somewhat sub-optimal conditions it was a great hike and we had a really great day up there. Especially since we were almost the only people out there, we only ran into one other German couple. This, however, might be due to the fact that the path to the summit had been closed due to the snowy conditions as we learned a few days later, a fact we hadn't known at the time (and which, let's be honest, probably wouldn't have averted us from making our way up there...)

Escaping the grey and rainy German winter for the Canary Islands

So there is something really special about hopping on an airplane in your winter jacket knowing that sunshine and warmer weather are awaiting you. Especially since the way to that very plane involves getting up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a train to the airport at 4:30 a.m. (and starting an argument with the lady who checked the tickets on the train). Luckily, I packed up the leftovers of this wonderful vanilla cake ( which calmed the nerves and eased the transition into holiday mode. 
Upon arrival at Teneriffa airport, blazing sun was greeting us and a copious lunch at a local fish restaurant made us forget all the travel stress and set the right tune for the upcoming week. 

On the northern side of the island, around Garachico where our first hotel was located, the vegetation was a lot greener than in the southern more desert-like parts. However, with the trade winds hitting the northern shore, it was not that warm yet with clouds coming up most afternoons making the evenings rather chilly. This might be the very reason why most tourist attractions and hotel parks are located on the southern shore where some artificial sandy beaches invite the usual 60+ Canary Island tourist to tan to a healthy red color and sip on a glass of Sangria on the touristy beach promenade in-between. Fortunately, when you stay away from Los Cristianos and Las Americas, Teneriffa has a lot more to offer, from a moon-like volcanic landscape at Parque Nacional El Teide to cloud forest in the Anaga mountains, to hiking trails through stunning gorges or amazing restaurants on lost beaches.

We stayed on a rural finca in the middle of a banana plantation with views on the ragged volcanic coast line. A lot of flowers were in bloom in the gardens, sun was shining and we could even spent a few hours at the pool.