Warning: the following words and images will allow you to vicariously see the world with the eyes of Sultan. Read at your own risk. The name Sultan has many meanings, but derives from the peak Sultan Mountain in Silverton, CO!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Canary Islands - Mt. Teide 12,198ft

Summer adventures have taken me across the pond. I spent the last few days of June landing in the city of Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria. US Airways flys here, so this was my destination by plane. I then took a ferry to the island of Tenerife. Here I would rent a car and spend the night, resting and planning my adventure to the top of Pico de Teide (12,198 feet), a volcano, and the tallest peak of all seven of the Canary Islands, and taller than Mulhacen Peak (11,414 feet) in the Siera Nevada on the Spanish Peninsula.

I visit the mystical lands of Morocco year after year on a pilgrimage that sends back in time to ancient lands where Sultan's ruled. I could fly into Casablanca, but then again, I’ve done that many times over. So I find interesting routes to get to the lands of the ancient Berbers and Arabs of the far West. This time, the Canary Islands, some 180 miles off the coast of Africa, deep into the Sahara Desert was my approach. No visit to new lands can go without foot exploration and climbing to the tipy tops.

I started my day casually in Santa Cruz, and enjoyed a scenic drive on this magical island they call Tenerife. I made my way to San Cristobal de la Laguna, which is where I pit stopped at a supermarcado and stocked up on some hydration and calories and practiced my Espanol. I bought locally grown fruit, french bread, cheese, water, and a can of tuna.

I took off on the main highway and hung a left of TF21. Tenerife, like Gran Canaria, is very densely populated, about twice is populated as Hawaii. Many of the residents live on the coast, and very few live on the jagged mountains. This explains the miles and miles of high-rises in the major cities of Tenerife, and the 5 lane highway that climbs up to the ridge of the mountains and back to the other side of the coast. The summer time brings out many lobster pink European tourists which only add to the over population. This made me retreat faster to the hills.

The Island itself is less than 2,000 square kilometers, but has several different micro-climates that are evident. The North sees many clouds and keeps the island very gree, and the South is opposite, giving off a desert like arid climate. The West is very mountains, and is home to some Jurassic Parkish like views. Absolutly stunning. More on that below…

I reached the town of La Orotava and began driving up the steep windy roads until Teide was in clear view. The fresh mountain island air brought strength to me. The green quickly turned into black volcanic rock as I was climbing higher and higher. This terrain is harsh, dry, and arid. I parked my car at the trailhead, which is about 2km away from the gondola to the East. Yes, there is a gondola that will take you close to the summit, which is frankly ridiculous.

The Tenerifians have noticed that many want to reach the summit of this massive volcano, and now require you to file for a permit before attempting to climb. This reduces traffic to this delicate landscape, and it is a good idea to plan ahead if you dare to travel to the land of the exotic. My plan was to also stay at the Refugio Altavista, and I had reserved a spot here. Not know what to expect, I figured a place to spend the night high up on the mountain would be called for.

The first 3 miles up this hill was on a dusty double track jeep road that switched back and forth and had a light brown sandy color. I ran and hiked up this section, until I reached the single track volcanic rock, which is where I took my time speed hiking uphill. I passed many, and greeted all with an “hola, Buen-Dia!”

I reached the Refugio faster than I thought, and climbed a bit higher and took a lunch break. The views of the Atlantic Ocean on both sides of this mountain, with La Orotava and the entire North coast of Tenerife from 11,000 feet was absolutely fantastico. I was making good time, so I headed for the summit.

The entire time I was on trail #7, and when I reached high above, near where the gondola would terminate I hung a left onto trail #11 which took me to a gate that was unlocked, and then turned right onto trail #10 which climbed up steeply. Sulfuric steam oozed out of this active volcano which last erupted in 1909, not very long ago. From here there was about 750 feet of climbing to the top. I reached the summit at 6:10pm and spent 15 minutes or so soaking up the views, which again were plentiful on both sides of the Atlantic. I stood on top of Spain, and paid respects to the summit with a loud coyote howl. I did not suffer any altitude issues despite being at sea level for several nights before.

I then ran back down all the way to the car in less than two hours, passing the Refugio and letting them know I would be taking a pass. I was in the car by 8pm, and drove West thru the road that takes you to black volcanic rock all the way to the town of Los Giganties, and as the sun set, I saw the Giants.

Los Giganties, the Giants, are massive Cliffs that rise over 2,500 feet straight out of the Atlantic Ocean. This view is mesmerizing, and as such, a resort town has flourished. German and English speaking pink people swarmed the beaches. So after breakfast I fled to the town of Masca. After passing thru the town of Santiago del Teide I turned left on what appeared to be a one way road up a steep mountain that switchbacked several times. This road was very narrow, and any mistake would take you down a steep cliff and your life would end. The views were again, Jurassic Parkish.

A tour bus raced down this road right at me! My life was going to end, as there was no way the bus would pass. Had I made a wrong turn on a one way road? I slammed my brakes, and reversed to car to a wider patch of asphalt and the bus roared down the mountain. I proceeded with caution, and realized that the road was very narrow, but was intended for two way traffic. I reached the ridge, and enjoyed a café con leche at the top, just looking around in all directions seeing ocean, and steep mountains and cliffs. The village of Masca is home to 150 inhabitants, which is in the Teno Mountains, ranging in heights of 600-800 meters, and extend up to the northwesternmost point of Tenerife. The village in the 1960s was accessed only by paths and was inaccessible by roads. The centre of the village features a small square and a small church.

I planned to hike down the Barranco de Masca (Masca Gorge), and hike back up to the car, a total of 9 miles round trip. It was hot, and dry. Every step my feet took, I could hear lizards dash away, they were everywhere. I took my time running down here, making sure I would be able to find my way back. I passed two Spaniards that were lost. They were clearly unprepared to go down this gorge, one in flip flops, both with no food or water. They asked for directions and water. I gave them an apple to share, and 8 ounces of water, and kept pushing thru the gorge. The streams and bamboo shoots were a change of scenery. I paid attention to my time, ensuring to budget enough of it for my return. The gorge winded around many times over and I saw massive cliffs with layered rocks resembling many sections of the Grand Canyon. I finally reached the Atlantic ocean. I walked over to a small pier and met two local Tenerifians and two German chicas. I asked them if they would take a photo of my jumping in the Atlantic, I needed to cool off.

After drying off, I asked them if they were too going to return up the Barranco de Masca. They thought this idea was crazy, surly they didn’t think they had enough time. They were waiting for a boat to pick them up, and take them to the resort town of the Giants, and offered me a ride. We saw many dolphins along the way. We all had dinner, and then I hitched a ride to Masca, and drove all the way back to Santa Cruz, and catched the ferry to Las Palmas the next morning.

I spent the entire day of July the 4th touring the Island of Gran Canaria and was able to see much of the mountains, and very little of the coast. I sipped on some cafe con leche in the small mountain village of Tejeda, and saw views of Teide on Tenerife in the distance. A smaller island compared to Tenerife, but just as densely populated. Tourist flock to the south...

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