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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tenerife Highs

Sunrise from the peak of Teide
Living on the North West coast of Tenerife, its impossible to ignore Mount Teide. From Punta de Hidalgo through Tacaronte, El Sauzal and the La Orotava Valley to Icod de los Vinos, its vast presence looms like a monolithic Guardian Angel.

An icon of Tenerife and the Canarian archipelago, at 3,718 metres, Mount Teide is Spain's highest mountain, Europe's highest volcano and the third highest volcano in the world. To Tenerife's earliest inhabitants, the Guanche, it was the place where the devil lived and where the earth held up the sky. This year, Mount Teide gathered a new title to add to its CV when UNESCO awarded it National Heritage Site status, and last week, for the first time since re-locating to Tenerife, I took the cable car trip.

Less than 10 minutes after boarding the car, I was standing at a height of 3,555 metres overlooking Gran Canaria, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro all floating on the horizon like a satellite image. It was all a great deal quicker and easier than the last time I looked out over the neighbouring islands from above the clouds.

It was November then, still hot on the beaches at the coast as I set out from the base of Montaña Blanca at a height of 2,200 metres to begin the ascent to the Alta Vista Refuge where I was to spend the night before continuing onto the summit to witness sunrise from the peak.

The climb wasn't technically difficult at all, an easy ascent for a couple of hours before the thigh-stretching two hour climb to the Refuge. But the effects of altitude multiplied the effort required, lungs and muscles straining to work effectively in the oxygen-starved atmosphere. By the time the roof of the Refuge came into sight, I could barely put one foot in front of the other.

After one of the longest nights of my life at the Alta Vista Refuge where I lay in icy silence for six hours in a dormitory shared with 14 strangers; the altitude and my aching legs ensuring that sleep remained an unapproachable stranger, I stepped out of the Refuge into the pitch dark at 4.30 am for the final ascent.

After two hours of tortuously slow progress, every step a test of physical and mental stamina, I finally reached the summit and climbed onto the topmost boulder as the grey half light of dawn retreated behind the peak. Cloud floated all around like a halo of foaming sea and the horizon burned pink, then orange as the sun rose. The lower peaks floated in the cloud like a school of hump back whales riding the white surf; beyond the circle of cloud, the lights of the south coast and La Gomera burned like diamond shoes at the feet of the giant volcano. I had a six hour, nine kilometre descent ahead of me, my fingers were numb and my feet and legs were screaming. But just for now, none of that mattered; I was standing with the Gods on the top of the world where the earth held up the sky.

Taking Refuge

The Alta Vista Refuge sits at a height of 3,270 metres and offers basic shelter to those climbing the mountain. There are no facilities for cooking and no refreshments on offer. Theres a small gas burner available to heat water, but with only one burner and lots of climbers, a hot drink is just a distant dream.

Its essential to book in advance. Fee per adult: 12.00.
Tel. 922 010 440; Fax. 922 287 837.

Permits:

To climb to the summit of Mount Teide you have to apply in person to:

National Park Office
C/ Emilio Calzadilla, nº 5 - 4th floor
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Tel. 922 290 129 - 922 290 183 ; Fax: 922 244 788
E-mail: teide@oapn.mma.es
Office hours: from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., from Monday to Friday (take a photocopy of your identity card or passport).

However, if you stay the night at the Refuge, and provided you climb before sunrise and return past the cable car station before 9 am, you don't need a permit. You'll need a good torch, preferably one on a head band to leave you hands free.

Read more of Andrea Montgomery's personal account of climbing Mount Teide here ...



Copyright © 2007 Real Tenerife Island Drives. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of Real Tenerife Island Drives.

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