This is a rough impression of our route today. If you follow this link, you can click to satellite view, and then you can roughly see the terrain — also interesting, I’d say.
[iframe http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&t=p&msa=0&msid=212454888926572938696.0004a173123cab71923d5&ll=28.273317,-16.635962&spn=0.007559,0.022488&z=15&output=embed 460 220]
The Italians in our room woke up at 5. AM. There should be a law against that. The first two or three tried to be quiet, and I could’ve slept through that. Then more woke, and more, till they were all awake and any pretense at silence was a distant memory. There should be a law against that, really!
Naturally, at 5.30 in the morning, it takes you a while to admit defeat. The bed is warm, you are still half-snoozing, so no, you have no intention of getting up. In the end, common sense prevails, and a not-so-sleepy part of you is aware of this, but your sleeping self just pushes this notion away. Anyway, after fighting this losing battle for a while, I figured to take a bathroom break. Perhaps it’d be better afterwards? I washed a bit, brushed teeth and came back. It was better! A lot! almost all the Italians had left the room. Except for one old guy, who was lying there sick and … yes, he just threw up. K-bye-thx!
So, by 6ish, we were getting dressed. There was a bit of confusing and milling about, the usual indecisiveness when there’s a large group. Or maybe people were just reluctant to leave the warmth of the shelter for the harsh coldness of El Teide at 3200m up in the night. I got bored waiting inside (you know my attention span? Exactly), so I went outside. The reluctant people had the right idea, I decided, but it was too late. We were leaving. Aga bravely turned on her headlight and told me to follow her, while she followed the bombaderos.
I did. For the first 100m. And then reality bit us in the … – going uphill at these heights, I was faster than Aga. So I took the lead, following a bombadero. It was dark, it was cold, there was more snow than before on the path, and I didn’t have a light. Heck, I didn’t even have mountain shoes! Nor gloves! So, I kept close to the guy I was following. When I looked back after 3 minutes, I noticed Aga was a little over 50m behind. Crap.
Reality sometimes slaps you hard in the face. Reality came looking for me then and there, and smugly pointed out the following:
- It was very, very cold,
- I didn’t have anywhere near the proper equipment,
- Aga is a big girl, with more appropriate equipment.
Basically, the way I was going worked: keeping up with the firemen was (relatively) simple, and being in a group of about 6 people made the whole thing seem a lot less scary. I could just tag on, concentrate on stepping, and get there. Ditching the group and waiting for Aga… hmmms. We already knew we were accustomed to hiking up at vastly different speeds. Moreover, we didn’t know the route. Neither did the firemen, but somehow, in a group it’s okay.
So yeah. I looked back once, blew a kiss, let out a heavy sigh and marched on. Not a happy moment, but I saw no way I’d get to the top unless it was exactly as I was doing now.
The views on the way were great. The lights from a village in the distance (Puerto de la Cruz?) were beautifully visible in the serene vista. There was this pre-dawn calm to the world… you could see the hills surrounding Teide in the moon/starlight, the observation post far off on top of a hill, clouds over the sea… It was gorgeous. Too bad I missed most of it.
You see, I was climbing. Climbing my ass off, actually. Oh, the slope wasn’t too steep — physically I kept up splendidly. But there was this tiny thing: the absence of light. I didn’t have a headlight. I had no light. So I kept real close to whoever was in front of me — usually stepping directly in the place he vacated. I was rather focused with that. Not that it was completely dark, far from it. But we were on a mountain. There were rocks all over the place. This was not nice asphalt. In daylight, you’d keep your attention to the ground while walking here. And this wasn’t daytime. So I kept my eyes on the ground, instead of the wonderful views.
Soon, we encountered vast patches of ice and snow – far larger than any we’d seen on the way to the shelter. Too large to go around, and moreover, the firemen were all plodding along straight over them. At first, it pissed me off. I really didn’t have the proper equipment (shoes) for this. My shoes were fine for hiking up rocks if there was a path, but this was brutal. Ice all over, and next to no profile on the soles. Somehow, the shoes managed fine. Might’ve had something to do with the extra weight of the backpack. Plus, I was very, very committed. No clue where I was, no clue how to get down, not really a clue how to get up except to walk straight up to the highest point… yep, I was definitely committed to this group.
And that worked out nicely! In the beginning, we didn’t chat so much, but my three words of incorrect Spanish broke the ice and they happily rattled off something back to me. Well, when we stopped, that is. Which was infrequent — only twice for a break, and a few times to guess the direction. Once or twice, I overtook someone who was taking a break. A “Todo Bueno, Amigo” I could easily manage — I had energy to spare! Just not really grip with my feet. Or a headlight.
But I could see sufficiently well. I did, at one point, suddenly saw my right leg vanish rapidly into what seemed a solid surface. Snow covering a gap between rocks. I was a bit startled, but less so even then the firemen. After all, nothing bad happened. I don’t even think I was bruised.
All in all, I even began to feel a bit cocky. Look at all them macho men here! Wearing gloves, wearing real shoes, walking with hiking sticks… Pfffft!
Naturally, at that point we encountered the steepest plane of ice yet. Going up wouldn’t be easy. But we weren’t going up. We were crossing it horizontally.
Now to make this perfectly clear: this was at an angle. A rather steep angle. My sneakers had hardly any grip. There was no path on the ice whatsoever. And the men before me didn’t create one either. I was walking, and every step I feared I’d slide down. Which was not a dead drop, thankfully, but it would most assuredly not make it to my list of “happy moments”. Again, after 40 meters of slip-free, careful hiking, I became cocky. This time, I actually became overconfident. There is only one punishment for that: pain.
So my foot slipped, and I caught myself with my bare hands. On the ice. The words “not pleasant” might be a trifle understated. I was angry with myself (for becoming overconfident). Stupid. Smart would’ve been to focus fully on my steps. In other words: soon my hands had a rendez-vous with the ice for a second time. This time, I could feel them throb afterwards. Nevertheless, no skin broke, so I was still good. I kept closer attention, made it across, and eventually, we found something akin to a path again.
That was such a relief at this juncture. It meant we weren’t hopelessly lost. Of course we’d get to the top, and it would be magnificent, but I was already dreading the way back. Up on ice is a lot easier than down. However, the path was quite a bit simpler. We continued the climb up, and finally we found ourselves on the top roughly an hour after we started! Hooray!
There were the obligatory cheers, celebratory hugs and group- and individual photos (as you can see). Moreover, I did what any self-conscious Dutchman with a slight familiarity with Dutch music would do: I danced. After all, El Teide is a volcano! :)
That made me happy for a bit. But then the battery of my camera ran out, and I felt the cold. And it was cold! So far, we had been steadily climbing. Moreover, I had been carrying a backpack of a good 10kg. I really wasn’t cold before. Sure I felt it, but as long as we were out of the wind it was okay. Wind, that was the main problem here. The funny thing is, that El Teide is really quite a bit like a pyramid. There is one top, and everything around it just drops away further and further. So if you’re standing on the top, you’re exposed. And there’s wind. Because there is nothing stopping the wind, no matter where it is coming from.
I realise it’s a straightforward observation – it’s obvious! Trust me, being confronted with it at 7.45 and getting colder and colder is different than an armchair observation in a warm house. Luckily, slightly below the very top, the path turned behind some boulders. There was some relief from the cold wind there. I went there, rubbed my hands and waited a bit to warm up. Then I switched my simcards (necessary since my phone had been accidentally on, and an incorrect pin had apparently been accidentally entered three times…), and send a text to my girl. Darn, now that the exhilaration of making this insane climb had worn off, I realised how worried I was. I just hoped she had hooked up with another group – there were plenty of people leaving. I huddled together with Warren and the Polish guy (and the Polish guy’s girlfriend), and while they were enjoying the sight of the sun rising over the horizon, I was fretting and playing with my phone. Oh I did glimpse eastward, don’t worry, but still.
10-15 agonising minutes later, Aga showed up. She seemed cold and tired (or was that just in the eye of the beholder? Probably a mix of both :), but I was happy to see her there, and proud of her to have made it up. I know it must’ve been hard for her, but she made it. She even posed for a picture in the cold winds on top, as you can see. Afterwards, we went back down. The firemen were going back to the shelter, but there was no way I was going to go down over all that ice!!
We went down to the top station of the cable car, to warm up a bit and find a route onwards. There, we learned that the path to Picco Vecchio was still closed due to snow. They would check it later today, and perhaps open it today, perhaps later this week.
We politely declined, and decided to take the cable cart down and have a rest and breakfast in the restaurant. By the time we got down, it wasn’t even 10 in the morning!
What happened afterwards you can (eventually) read in the next entry.