Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

December 24, 2011

Hiking Anaga Rainforest, Tenerife

A late flight out on our last day on the island meant we could squeeze in one last walk, and we choose to head over to the rainforest.  I'm not really sure why, as we normally live in a damp, drippy enviroment (!), but it sounded fun...and more importantly, not too strenuous.  We were pretty tired from a week of walking and the path over Chinobre was more flat than anything else.  We hoped.  We did have a plane to catch, after all. 

Walk #53 from the Tenerife Rother Walking Guide

The sun was just rising as we drove up from the coast into the Anaga mountains. We missed the unmarked parking area on the first drive-by but caught our mistake within a few minutes, and from there the trail was quite straighforward.  It went up a bit, enough to take us up and into the fog, so unfortunately the views from the summit of Chinobre lookout were non-existant.  The winds were also rather cool and strong on the small exposed rock cairn.   However, back in the rainforest, the only sounds were of dripping trees and swaying branches.  We slipped our way down the narrow mud path between ferns and mossy plants encroaching into our trail.  The descent dropped us below the clouds, so at the Cabezo del Tejo viewpoint we could see all the way to the tiny rocky island marking the northernmost end of Tenerife. In the other direction, we could just make out the flat terraces of Punta del Hidalgo where we had hiked earlier in the week. 

From there is was an relaxing walk back to the car, on a wide level gravel road.  It meandered in and out of the hillsides much like the level water canals had, but this time we were covered in deep forests that seemed to swallow up sounds and provide us with plenty of pure oxygen. 

December 23, 2011

Hiking Los Gigantes, Tenerife

Barranco Seco
So far in our visit to Tenerife we had been hiking in every section of the island except for the northwest.  Yet the Teno mountains might just be the steepest, most rugged area of the whole place, and considering what we’d already seen, well…steep is the norm here, that’s for sure.  The narrow roads barely cling to the hillsides and passing a bus is an all-day affair.  Luckily for this hike, we wouldn’t need to drive into the area, as the circular path started in Los Gigantes on the southern end.

Walk #32 from the Tenerife Rother Walking Guide

We parked at the viewpoint overlooking the marina and the cliffs (we’d be getting a VERY close look at those later), and began walking through the banana plantations to start our hike.  At home we love to eat a lot of banana smoothies as part of a whole, fresh, healthy diet, so it was great to walk through the dense forests of banana trees.   The banana clusters were so heavy on each tree that each one had been carefully propped up with sticks, and covered with mesh to keep the birds away.  Now that’s dedication! 
"The light at the end of the tunnel"
After several miles of bananas and cactus trails, we reached the first mine tunnel.  This was the mother of all tunnels.  1.2 kilometers long, with a dilapidated, rusty train track running down it most of the way, the tunnel was wide and high enough I didn’t have to worry about hitting my head or arms.   My standard travel packing list always includes a small headtorch…however, it’s more for emergencies and I hadn’t planned on needing it to guide us through a pitch-black tunnel!   Needless to say the batteries weren’t the freshest and all it really gave out was a dim light, which we used to not trip over the tracks.  After about 15 minutes of steady walking we turned a corner and finally saw the light of day. 

The tunnel brought us out into the Barranco Seco or “Dry Canyon”.   This seems to be a popular and appropriate name for Tenerife canyons, as we had already found one with the same name in the Anaga Mountains in the north.  Immediately the trail was more of a short controlled slide down some loose scree (very glad I wouldn’t have to go back up) until we hit the dry creekbed, and then we could pick our way down the rocks.  The trail was marked by rock cairns and meandered along both sides of the steep valley, selecting what seemed to be the only navigable passage down the canyon.  We passed more evidence of mining and old water channels before arriving at our next tunnel, which would bring us back through the mountains and out onto the cliffs of Los Gigantes. 
But first we took a worthy detour and continued a kilometer or so down the canyon to arrive at our own private beach for the day (we only saw two other people the whole hike).  The surf was crashing on the rocks and the only way out was back up the narrow creek bed.  It was noon and we appropriately stopped for a leisurely lunch and a nap in the sunshine. 
The walk back up the canyon seemed easier, I guess climbing up rocks IS somewhat simpler than picking a way down.  Soon we were back at our second tunnel with a really dim headlamp.  This kilometer-long tunnel was straight as an arrow, and a welcome tiny speck of light marked the other end. However it was lower and narrower than the first one, with the water flowing in the tiny canal right next to us adding a bit of dampness to the air.  We hunched over to keep our heads from getting a nasty rock surprise, and used the faint bit of light from the lamp to check the floor and the walls for jutting rocks.  The total darkness made it hard to keep my balance, and this was a glimpse of how hard it would be to be blind. 
Stumbling our way to the other end, we emerged high above the waves on a steep cliff feeling somewhat like Indiana Jones.  Another dusty trail led steeply downwards, crossing a narrow canyon, and then we were out on the cliffs of Los Gigantes, with nothing but the crashing blue waves beneath us.  What followed was a nervous hour of vertigo-inducing narrow trails, and even I started to get a bit wild-eyed at the poor footing and constant focus we gave to each step.  It didn’t help that we lost the cairned trail for a few steps and came to a sheer cliff where the trail appeared go nowhere.  That was not a pleasant feeling as we had just a few sips of water left and a high desire to be back on solid ground again. 
  It was a relief to finally get off the cliffs, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see a sign at the trailhead warning that the cliff path was dangerous and, more importantly, “closed”!?!?!   I suppose that could be the Spanish version of “hike at your own risk”?   My walking book seemed to grossly understate the sheer dangerous side of this grand-finale across the cliffs from the tunnel.  Although they did use words like airy, exposed, and breath-taking, the cautions were less strong than for the (relatively) much safer path in the Anaga mountains we had done a few days before.

All-in-all, I was happy to make the walk through town to the car on normal sidewalks!


Los Gigantes

Ice plants...my favorite!

December 22, 2011

Hiking Anaga Mountains, Tenerife

The dry creek is a steep descent below me
Waking up to another day of very hazy sunshine, we knew a day on the beach was out, and opted for another day of hiking on a (hopefully) fog-free north coast.  I had naturally picked one of the (supposedly) hardest hikes in the book, and Rob was up for what sounded like a really wicked canyon scramble.  With hike descriptions such as "The vertiginous path across the rock face" and "This should only be attempted by experienced mountain walkers...." and "This nail-biting stretch last for 10 minutes...."  I was anticipating a marathon's worth of danger, but the actual trail was less horrible than expected (and only 7 miles), so mere mortals shouldn't be afraid to try it.  The views, however, were stupendous.

But I digress.

Walk # 41 from the Tenerife Rother Walking Guide, Barranco del Rio and Barranco Seco (7 Miles)

It was a beautiful but curvy trip up into the north mountains, which at times are so steep that roads are a big challenge.  Hence there aren't many of them, and the small villages feel very isolated.   We were delayed slightly in our drive by the crossing of runners in the 2nd Annual Anaga Marathon...darn, if I had only know about that race! 

Finally, going in the right direction!
 We had our own trail to conquer, and started out from the tiny village of Batan, me with my nose in the guidebook, but not quite deep enough as it turns out.  I knew the walk was in a canyon, I read enough to see where it said "downhill for 5 minutes", and blithely set off into the cultivated terraces with Rob trailing behind taking photos.  On our way down we heard the most beautiful echoes coming up the canyon from a loud radio playing in one of the terraces...it was somehow unearthly, and made my huge avoidable navigation blunder big mistake seem worth it.

It was only after 20 minutes and a dead end over a steep-walled canyon waterfall that I went back and realized that our first mile should have been up and over a ridge!  Doh!  Rob was a good sport and followed me back up the steep terrace steps, and we were both sweating more than we would the rest of the week when we ignominiously arrived....back at the car.  Whoops.  We set off again.

In my defense, the trail was not marked (perhaps to deter less strapping specimens from attempting it?), and finding the right trailhead was another few minutes of dithering, plus a few more wrong turns into terraces ending in steep cliffs.  But we persevered, as we could clearly see where we were meant to go from the ridge (uh, down, hello!) and soon found ourselves on the "dangerous" section.  With steps cut into the rock ridge, and dry conditions, it was just another flight of stairs, really. 

Don't lose your balance here...

Now we were in the bottom of the Barranco del Rio (River Canyon), picking our way for a while down the stones of the dry creek bed, and I missed another clue "Ascend to water canal and follow for 30 minutes".   What?!?!  We could see it above our heads, and snaked our way between cactus plants to get back up to it.   Running nearly level (but of course slightly downhill), the tiny canal twined around the deep canyons like a snake, and we followed it.  Now high above the canyon floor, we had no choice but to stay in the canal and definitely not fall off (or out of) its airy confines.

Around the bend, the ocean came into view, and slowly, every so slowly, the water channel got closer to the canyon floor again.  At a big water tank, we were finally free of it and back on solid ground again.  There we saw the last of the Anaga Marathon runners pass below us, heading up what I hoped was a more realistic trail than what we had just descended. 

Dropping into the tiny village of Punta del Hidalgo (it really was at the end of the road) we climbed steeply back up the trail into the Barranco Seco (Dry Canyon).  This actually was a signposted trail for a while, until we deserted it again to jump back on another section of water canal.  The channel was dry, as it hadn't rained in a while, but clearly was still in working order, and showed the extraordinary lengths that the locals go to in order to provide fresh water to their fields and families.  This water canal was even spookier, taking us through a couple of short tunnels and looking over a lot of empty air of the canyon. 

The circular hike concluded with a relaxing stroll through another quiet village, capping it off at the end with views over our earlier descent route.  With our wrong turns we were happy to have finished in daylight, and not as tired as we had predicted.  Cue up more walks in our future....

More photos are posted on Flickr

December 21, 2011

Hiking Los Organos, Tenerife

Our second escape to Tenerife (Canary Islands) saw me arrive armed and dangerous with a walking guide, as it is difficult to find walking information or trail maps once there.  Conversely, there are tons of wonderful, signposted hiking trails on the island, but without a map it's hard to know where you'll end up!  With a good trail map in hand, I've decided that Tenerife might just be my new favorite place in the world to hike...shhh, don't tell New Zealand, ok?

Normally the northern side of Tenerife is bathed in fog, and the southern side has abundant sunshine.  The island is only about 60 miles long and (sometimes much less than) 20 miles wide.  Along with a 12,198 ft. volcano in the middle, this makes for quite a lot of ecosystems mashed together!  This means you can feel hot desert winds blow across cactus in the morning, and be cooling off in a rainforest fog in the afternoon, with time in the middle for some sunbathing on the beach! 

Hike #6 from the Tenerife Rother Walking Guide, Barranco Madre del Agua (4 miles)

On our first morning in Tenerife, there were high clouds obscuring the sun and limiting it to a dim yellow ball in the sky, so we figured this might be a good day to get a hike in on the north side while the fog wouldn't be forming.  Of course the haze limited the visibility as well, but at least it wasn't as dense!   From our hotel in Los Cristianos, we drove the winding road up and over the Teide crater, and then a long way down the other side.  I love this drive because it winds through forest of pine trees with impressive viewpoints (not to mention the crater itself with views of Teide), and we were excited because finally we would get to hike as well as drive through the forests. 

Our relatively short hike started from a small forested crater called La Caldera.  We followed the long-distance path GR 131 (red blazes) for a mile or so, which was wide and level and led us under an impressive rock formation called "Los Organos".  Then we turned off onto a short, steep circular hike (yellow blazes) through the "Barranco Madre del Agua", or roughly translated "Mother of Water Canyon". 

This was our first introduction to the elaborate water collection techniques used on Tenerife to gather and store the limited amounts of rainfall.  The constant fog in the area meant that the trees were covered in moss and the foliage was dense and green.  However the sun was shining weakly on us, and we were excited to be outdoors in warm, dry conditions and temporarily away from cold, rainy England!  Covered water channels, bridges, and water tanks were showcased along this recently restored path, which eventually brought us back down to where we had started.   Retracing our steps up the GR131 led us back to the car afterwards.

P.S. The entire week I was hankering for a real map of the island (finally found one in a bookstore on our last day!?!), but between the free driving map that came with our rental car and the small maps in the walking guide, we were able to find the staring points ok.  There aren't that many roads on the island so it's hard to get lost, although we did have to backtrack a few times....