Pico de Tiede (Spain)

In High Places

By: Burton A. Falk

Question: The high point of Spain is located in A.) the Pyrenees, along the country's northern border, or B.) the Sierra Nevada, east of Gibraltar, fronting the Alboran Sea.

Answer: Spain's highest point is neither the Pyrenees' 11,178' Pic d'Aneto, nor the Sierra Nevada's 11'418' Mulhacen. Rather, it is Pico de Tiede, a 12,198' dormant volcano located in the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Mainland Spain lies 650 miles to the north-east, the nearest continental land mass is Africa--Caps Juby, Morocco--sixty miles to the east.

Yes, it's true, In spite of their distant location, the canaries are a full-fledged part of Spain and proud of it. The archipelago, in fact, comprises not one but two provinces of the Iberian Country, and the islanders enjoy all the benefits of Spanish citizenship.

In terms of geology, the islands are of volcanic origin and quite mountainous. Whether they were once part of the African continent or if they arose from submarine fissures on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean is subject to conjecture. Although most geologists now favor the latter theory, some botanists dispute the idea, pointing to the similarity of plant life found on the islands and the African continent.

Pico de Tiede is located near the center of 795 sq. mi. Tenerife (ten-er-ri-fay), the largest of the seven main Canary islands, The volcano lies on the north rim of a large, 7,000' high caldera, which itself is entirely encompassed within the boundaries of Las Canadas National Park. From the coastal cities, access to the area is provided by an excellent paved road that bisects the caldera from northeast to southwest. Within the Park, rugged, barren volcanic formations drenched in hues of green, violet and red make for splendid views.

On a warm, sunny August morning, my two companions and I stood at near the base of Tiede anticipating a pleasant day of climbing. We had parked our car at the 3,935' elevation, next to a locked gate at the Hontanas Blancas roadhead, 2-1/2 kilometers east of the Teleferico (a popular tourist attraction), just off the main Las Canadas N.P. Highway.

An hour's stroll up the well-graded Montanas Blancas road brought us to a trailhead, where a sign indicated that the Refugio de Altavista lay above. We paused for a drink of water (remember to carry plenty, there's none available on route), then began our ascent of Tiede's extremely rugged eastern flank. It took us an hour on the veil-built, switch-backed trail to reach the Refugio, situated at 10,690', a substantial building with a spectacular view. Climbers who wish to spend a night at this lodging may arrange to do so in advance at the Park Headquarters, which are located near the base of the Teleferico.

Setting out again, we soon came upon a short side trail leading to an ice cave, Hello Cueva, which in mid-August contained only a small patch of ice in its deep, dark recesses. It took us another 70 minutes to reach the wrought Iron crucifix at Tiede's summit, where we were content to rest and enjoy the superb vistas for nearly an hour. Below us, barren slopes dropped away to forests of Canary Pines, then to fertile terraced gardens and vineyards, and finally to the villages and resorts along the shoreline. The islands of Gran Canaria, to the east, and Gomera, to the west, appeared to be floating on a shimmering silver haze. It was gorgeous. We also noticed an occasional whiff of rotten eggs, which reminded us that it was an eruption in 1492, observed and commented upon by Christopher Columbus on his way to the New World, that formed the 600' summit cone upon which we were standing.

Our descent was swift and spectacular. As we sped down the trail, we could see, ten thousand feet below, an afternoon fog beginning to roll onto the north shore of the island, The most exciting part of the day was our discovery of a shortcut--a long scree slope--located a quarter of a mile beyond the end of the trail, just off the Hontanas Blancas road. We flew down this incline, keeping our speed under control only by plunging our heels deep in the loose aggregate. It was the best scree I have ever run; my only regret Was that I hadn't brought along gaiters to keep the gravel out of my boots.

Four hours should be allowed for the ascent of Tiede, plus another 2-1/2 hours for the return. If one includes an additional hour to be spent on the summit it is still easy, with an early start, to make the climb and be back on the coast that evening, enjoying a dinner at one of the excellent shoreline restaurants.

If a member of your party--say a long-suffering spouse, for instance--is not interested in the fine, wholesome sport of climbing, there is an alternate means by which that person, too, can enjoy the wondrous views from the top of Tiede. The Teleferico. a gondola, which lies out-of-sight of the Rufugio trail, can in 10 minutes whisk your non-climbing companion to a terminal 600' be1ow the summit, leaving only a half-hour hike up a well-trodden trail to complete the adventure. On the day of our climb, we found the Refugio trail to be virtually deserted--until we came to the junction of the trail leading from the top of the gondola, that is. At that point we encountered a small mob of tourists, most of whom were dressed in light-weight resort clothing and fragile footwear, Struggling up and down the final rocky portion of trail. They looked quite uncomfortable in the cold, thin air, where the temperature was at least 30 degrees cooler than at the beach resorts they had left that morning. They, on the other hand probably thought that we dusty, sweat-stained climbers were crazy for going to such unnecessary effort when the gondola was so readily available.

The gondola, it should be noted, is frequently closed, even in moderate winds, due to swaying. When a closure does occur, climbing is the only way to reach the summit. No matter how one reaches the top, however, the view from the summit is well worth the effort.

Las Canadas National Park offers several other fine hikes and climbs, including a day-long traverse of the south-eastern caldera wall, The Parador Nacional de Las Canadas, a government-run hotel located near the foot of Tiede, is a convenient and hospitable spot to base any exploration of the area.

Pico Tiede can be climbed year-round, although occasional snowfalls do occur in the winter months.

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