Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tenerife, Spain: Day 2 - Above Aguamansa

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On the way along the long, slightly hilly, traverse that would take us over the organ pipe escarpment. The trail is superb and although there is a drop off it isn't too vertigo inducing.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

The day dawned seemingly overcast but that was an illusion of the dawn light. As the sun rose it became clear that there was not a cloud in the sky and we were going to at least start the day with fine clear weather. Everyone piled into the bus and we spent the next 40 minutes winding our way into the island uplands to the village of Aguamansa (about 3,500 feet above sea level) where the people doing the easier walk disembarked. The bus continued on for a few more kilometers and a couple hundred feet of additional ascent to drop those of us doing the harder walk off at La Caldera. It was just before 10:00 and the air was brisk and the temperature in the shade had a decided nip to it. Still considering we were going to be climbing a cooler start is hardly a bad thing.

Cathy led our group of a dozen hikers and we first took a quick glimpse into the forest sloped La Caldera which is a small crater now covered in grass and sporting picnic tables around the edge. It's not particularly deep and I expect it is quite old. If you did not know it was a crater you might just think it some depression in the ground. I wonder if it was ever used for outdoor events like sports or maybe an impromptu amphitheater. We began our climb along a mountain road (think forest service road if you are from the States and you'll have a good sense of what we were walking along) and soon we were climbing steadily and warming right up. We ascended through forests of Canary Pine and once in a while a view of the organ pipe cliff face of the escarpment we were going to traverse presented itself for inspection. Perhaps if the sun had been in a different location the cliff face would look more organ pipe like but to my eye it was certainly nothing terribly obvious. We passed by a quarry that was extracting water and continued up the mountain road. Cathy told us that the forests manage to gather in about 2,000 liters of water per square meter per year just by pulling the mist condensation from the air (four times the amount gathered by just rain). The water that is gathered is shipped all over the island via aqueducts. I've no real sense of just how much water that is.  We soon came to what could charitably be called a trail shelter (a roof sitting atop a few big posts) where we took a break from our steady, though reasonably gradual, ascent, for a quick bite before we set out on what would turn out to be the real meat of the hike.

We stepped on to a pine needle covered forest trail that would rise and fall, sometimes steeply, along the cliffs eventually taking us to easily over 5,000 feet above sea level. The trail is excellent and barring a few spots very well maintained. The vertiginous drops that we had been told about really weren't that big (OK, a fall could really hurt you but they weren't the stomach clenching drops I think some of us were imagining, just your average drop into a valley below). To be sure if you stepped off the edge you would fall a long long way but the trail was easily a meter wide and footing was never a problem. In a few places there was stout 4x4 wooden fencing on the outer edge and sometimes even heavy cable or pipe embedded in the rock of the cliff. I don't think the heights bothered anyone.

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In early afternoon clouds started to roll in from the coast. They formed an impenetrable layer several hundred feet below us obscuring the village from our view. We could hear sounds of village life, dogs barking and a rooster crowing now and then, but nothing was visible below the cloud floor. The clouds hit the rock face and stayed there. They never rose to meet up and did not dissipate. When we reached the village the clouds became much less interesting to look at: a solid light gray overcast.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

One standout feature of the traverse was glimpsing Mount Teide off in the distance. Today we could easily see this 13,000 foot mountain rising into the blue sky. Nothing obscured the view today. In fact , the clouds that were present were below us presenting us a view of their puffy pillow soft seeming tops as we worked our way along the traverse above the organ pipe cliffs and beyond. That traverse did take us quite some time and it certainly felt like we climbed more than the expected 2,100 feet (to say nothing of the 2,500 feet we would descend). But I think that can be put down to the fact that often it was a bit steep in spots. When you consider that the vast bulk of the climbing and descending was probably done in far less than the 7.5 mile total length of the walk this is no surprise.

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Mount Teide is a volcano that rises over 13,000 feet. We saw it often today as we worked our way along the traverse. The day before it had been shrouded in clouds (as I suspect it often is).

At the start of the hike the temperature was perhaps about 50 degrees. As we gained altitude the temperature dropped some so that even when the sun was high in the sky it was probably still only about 50 degrees in the shade. But though we were tromping through forest of pine with splashes of ground cover thrown in here and there we were often in sunshine so it was hardly chilly.  We took our lunch breaks on rock outcrops that not only afforded us fine views but let most of us soak in some of the warmth from the sun. By 14:00 we had reached the trail junction that would take us down to the village of Aguamansa where we would meet the people who were doing the easier walk. The notes suggested that the trek would take about 90 minutes. As we began the descent I lagged behind with Dad as the rest of the group pulled ahead moving down the pine needle covered trail down some steep bits that gave me a bit of pause. But I don't think they were ever too far ahead of us. Far enough that they could take rest breaks, but only short ones. We had a couple points where Cathy had to take a few minutes to figure out exactly which way we needed to go but she did that without any fuss and we never went the wrong way. At some point as we dropped down the last 1,200 feet of elevation we walked thorough the cloud layer (you never would have noticed except for the fact that all of a sudden the sun was gone) and the scenery changed markedly. It became cooler and grayer but hardly unpleasant.  In due time we reached the first of the dirt roads below where the long heard sounds of dogs barking and roosters crowing was considerably more noticeable and then further down (at our low point) we came to paved roads that would lead us back uphill into Aguamansa proper. That last mile (maybe a bit less) felt like a slog because though it was generally a gentle climb in a few places, especially as we entered the village  proper, the climb became quite steep indeed. It was a reprise of the final climb of the hike from the day before. We reached the bus, sitting outside a cafe that had just closed for the day, right at 16:00. Had we not had the bits of confusion about which way to go I expect the harder walk could have finished with just enough time to get a coffee at the cafe. Instead we piled into the bus for the fast drive down the curving roads back to the hotel.

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