It was not my idea. I thought that this time I would finally manage to travel to the Canary Islands without winter clothes, gloves, caps, warm hiking boots, etc. But on the last week before leaving to the Winter School, I got an e-mail from Ádám, who works at the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest (Hungary), that he would really like to climb the Teide, but he needs someone to join… And of course I could not say no to such an idea :) So I even packed in my hiking sticks (the ones I bought in Andorra) along with my full hiking equipment (GPS, headlamp, etc.). This probably meant an extra 3 kilograms at least… There was only one problem at the beginning: the permit. Because you can not just walk up to the very top of Spain, you need a permit for it. As the volcano lies in a National Park, they want to protect the caldera from erosion by not letting up all the thousands of tourists, who take the cable car all the way up till 3550 meter ASL. The cable car runs from 9 AM till 4 PM, and you can apply for a permit online for these hours. Also, if you sleep in the Altavista refuge (at 3270 m ASL), then you can go and climb the peak – if you leave the restricted part before 9 AM – with a stamped document which proves your previous stay in the hut. Now, to make it complicated, we planned to make the climb during the night, but without sleeping on the mountain, so it was not clear how to proceed. I tried to get information from the National Park (via e-mail), but with no success. We had no 100% secure information on Saturday morning, less than a day before the planned ascent, so as a last idea, we went to the info point of La Laguna, where we asked the lady – who gave us the guided tour in the city an hour earlier :) – to find out what do we need to do. It turned out (after she spoke with someone and mentioned that two astrophysicists wants to climb the peak ;D), that we can go without a permit, if we leave the peak before 9 AM. We were really happy about this!
We spent the rest of the day with shopping (food and drinks for the climb), and – as I already told about it yesterday – with a scenic ride through the Anaga Mountains. Then Ádám went to sleep early (he is not crazy, I should have done the same, but you know, I am crazy :D), and I went for dinner (and had one of the best pizzas of my life in a very nice restaurant). My original plan was to sleep at least three hours, but at the end, I only managed 40 minutes… So you can imagine how painful it was to get out of the bed at 1 AM… So after a long and quiet drive to the National Park, we parked the car in the parking place at 2350 m ASL at 2:15, and started the hike at 2:30 (five hours before Sunrise), under the light of the magnificent full Moon.
It was so bright, we could have walked all the way up without headlamps. The route was very easy during the first 4.5 kilometers, meandering through volcanic ash, sand, and rock formations, and the “real thing” started after this part, somewhere at 2750 m ASL. Then the next 3.5 km brought more than 800 meter of elevation gain, on a steep, but not at all technically difficult path (no use of hands needed) through the frozen lava-flows of the Teide. The only difficulty was the less and less air to breath, so we became quite slow above 3000 meter. Luckily, we had a lot of time, so there was no reason to rush. Then there was a ~700 meter long almost flat section leading to the mountain station of the cable car at 3550 meter ASL, where the restricted path started towards the peak. Of course at this hour there was no one at the checkpoint asking for permits… The last half kilometer with more than 150 meter of elevation gain was really slow, and steep. The Moon was (still) surrounded by a full halo ring, and we started to smell the sulfur gases of the volcano. We arrived at the very top at 6:35. We were not the first ones to arrive, but far not the last ones either. And we were the only ones who started from the parking place, and not from the refuge… It was very cold on the peak (which is the highest side along the rim of the crater), somewhere around -5°C with strong winds, so it felt like -20°C…
We took cover between the rocks, but it was far from perfect. It was so cold, that I had to put on another top layer (a thermal ski underwear), but to do so, first I had to get rid of everything from my upper body except the my T-shirt… (For the best effect, I should have put on the ski thing as the very bottom layer, but getting of the T-shirts was really not an option at that moment.) Man, the 10 seconds I had to stand there like that was terrible. By the time I was finished with this operation, I really did not feel the end of my fingers (as I had to get my gloves off too, to be able to change clothes). Luckily with everything back on, the situation started to feel much more comfortable.
At this point, the dawn was already underway, coloring the sky above the eastern horizon with shades of blue, yellow, orange and red. After waiting three quarters of an hour, the Sun started to rise, casting the shadow of the mountain towards the island of La Palma.
As the Sun climbed higher on the sky, the triangular shadow became more prominent, and covered the sea between Tenerife and La Palma. The other hikers left the harsh peak as fast as they could after they all made their pictures, but we stayed much longer.
It was so beautiful, that I wish we could have stayed even longer. And – to say something positive about the freezing cold wind -, finally the Hungarian flag flew as a flag always should! It was also very interesting to see the gases coming up from the crater…
At the end, we started the descent after one hour and 15 minutes on the peak, and we left the restricted path behind 30 minutes before the deadline.
The walk down felt very long and tiring, but now – thanks to the daylight – we could at least see the surroundings too :)
The view was of course magnificent, with the whole (visible) world below us. I especially like the reflection of low clouds on the mirror of the sea…
The last kilometers seemed like an endless walk in the desert, it was hot, dry, and sand all over the place.
We arrived back to the car 9 hours and 30 minutes after we started the climb. I was so tired (after 1400 meters of elevation gain, several hours spent above 3000 meter, and basically no sleep for 30 hours), that I did not manage to stay awake while Ádám drove us back to the Hotel. Luckily he did :)
It was a wonderful climb, highly recommended! (GPS details here.)