Tenerife, day 3: Hiking Pico del Teide at night

The Orotava valley and Puerto de la Cruz just before dawn

The Orotava valley and Puerto de la Cruz just before dawn

The alarm clock had gone off, it was 1am and our Teide adventure had just started.

For those who missed my previous posts about my trip to Tenerife, the Pico del Teide is at 3,718 m Spain’s highest mountain. It caps off a huge volcanic crater in the Parque National del Teide on the island. As we hadn’t managed to get a permit to access the summit during the day, we came up with an alternative plan for a hike up to the top.

And so, there we were up at 1am quickly eating our breakfast having had less than three hours sleep. We were tired, but also very excited about the prospect of our first night hike and the chance to have a go at the Teide after all.

At 1:35 we pulled out of the parking bay at Vilaflor and set off for the Teide National Park. Driving up the hill and then through the Teide caldera towards the Montana Blanca parking lot (2, 350 m), we hadn’t met a single car.

There were three or four other cars when we pulled in to park. They probably belonged to people staying at the Altavista hut, but a flash of light just above the road was a clear sign that at least one of them had only just arrived. At 2:20 we started hiking.

From the caldera to Refugio de Altavista

It was dark, but not too bad. The full moon was high up in a completely clear sky. It was nearly possible to walk without a headlamp, so we used just one to save the batteries. Despite the full moon we could see plenty of stars: the Cassiopeia, the Plough, Orion … and that’s everything I can name.

night sky on the Teide

The night sky at full moon at the Altavista hut

It was relatively cold when we started walking, but once we were moving we felt warm.

The first roughly third of the hike to a junction at the Montana Blanca is easy. The path follows a wide gravel road, which ascends relatively gently to just over 2,700 m. There, the narrow and much steeper trail up towards Refugio de Altavista starts.

Determined to stick to our plan and maybe even win some time we hiked up to the junction without a break. It took us 1 hour 5 minutes – we were winning time, even compared to the guide! We had a quick bite of a Twix at the junction and carried on up towards Altavista.

For the next hour and a quarter we steadily navigated the zig-zags of the rocky path. A lot of the island underneath us was shrouded in cloud, but we could see the lights of the Orotava valley and of Puerto de la Cruz. Santa Cruz on the other side of the Cumbre Dorsal shone through the cloud as an orange smudge.

Half way to the hut we caught up and over took the hikers ahead of us. They were three Czech guys. From somewhere around 3,000 m (my guess), the ascent got markedly more strenuous, as I started feeling the thin air. The trail also changes to a path across an old lava flow at somewhere around the same altitude.

At 4:45 we arrived at the Altavista (3, 260 m) hut. We were 5 minutes faster than the book and 35 minutes faster than our plan. We could enjoy a long break at the hut and would still have a chance of making it to the summit in time for sunrise!

When we entered the hut’s common room, it was already full of sleepy hikers getting ready for the hike up to the summit. There was a large French speaking group having their breakfast (probably the cause of the full house so early on), a few other smaller groups and two serious looking chaps propping the entrance to the kitchen. We suspected them to be rangers.

Being unsure of the permit business we tried to keep a low profile in the hut. We had some food (breakfast, lunch, who knows what you call it) and made ourselves a cup of tea in the kitchen – amazing.

After an hour’s break we set off for the summit again. By then there was already a large number of lights flickering up along the trail ahead of us.

Up and up to the summit

It was fairly cold and the trail continued up at a relatively steep incline. Now at over 3,200 m we had to lower our pace to cope with the thin air. However, we could keep on walking without the need to stop and so soon caught up with a number of people who had left the hut before us.

It wasn’t always entirely clear where the rocky path over the lava flow continued. Earlier on we strayed off the path twice, but quickly realised and returned back. Now we were quite alert not to stray off and started using both headlamps. Quite a sizeable group of hikers was less fortunate and ended up climbing about half of the section to trail no. 11 at the Rambleta along a parallel lava ridge.

When we reached the Rambleta (3, 555 m) we were surprised to be there already. It took us 40 minutes from the Altavista hut.

It wasn’t even 6:30 yet, it was dark, but we were still a little bit nervous about what would happen at the turn off towards the summit. Will there be park rangers? Are we going to be able to continue to the summit without a permit?

They weren’t there!

We slipped through the metal gate and walked relatively quickly away from the check point, still a little bit apprehensive. When we were far enough, just where the final, very steep ascent starts, we had a final short break. Two bites of a Twix, a little bit of water and off we were again.

The darkness was slowly lifting and the clouds on the horizon were turning red. The last steps were demanding, now even my light pack felt pretty heavy.

At 7:05 we arrived at the summit. We had made it in good time and had plenty of time to wait for the sun to rise. We spent an hour at the summit watching the sun rise and the Teide shadow unfold over the sea in the West. At 8am we couldn’t bear the cold and wind anymore and descended to the cable car station at the Rambleta.

Defrosting

We spend the next hour waiting for the first cable car, hiding from the wind and trying to warm up in the sun. A couple of cable cars came up before 9 bringing staff (and rangers?) to the top station. By the time we were finally let into the station we were half-frozen.

It took us some time to defrost over a coffee at the cafe at the caldera station. After that we hiked along the road back to our car at the Montana Blanca.

At 10:30 we were back were we started in the middle of the night. We were absolutely knackered, but very happy that we had made it through the night all the way up to the highest summit we’ve been to yet.

All that was left, was to drive down to the coast at Puerto de la Cruz and lie on the beach.

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