Climbing Mt. Teide in the Canary Islands

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Tenerife’s Mt. Teide emerges from the morning mist. (©Melanie Radzicki McManus)

For the umpteenth time, my young guide stops to text. It’s starting to tick me off. I want to learn as much as I can about the hardscrabble volcanic mountain we’re climbing, not watch his orange hoodie-clad head bent over his flying fingers. As if sensing my irritation, he suddenly looks up.

“Sorry I’ve been texting,” he says sheepishly. “But my boss is worried you’ll have trouble with the climb, and keeps checking to see how you’re doing. I just texted him to stop worrying, because you’re doing fine.” A rush of pride sweeps through me. Everyone’s been so concerned I’ll have trouble climbing this volcano, I was starting to doubt myself. Now, I’m more determined than ever to conquer the summit.

Pedro Adán, my guide, is leading me up Mt. Teide (TAY day). The dominant feature on the Canary Island of Tenerife, and the star of Teide National Park, Mt. Teide is a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1909. At 12,195 feet, it’s also the highest point in Spain — which seems odd, because the Canaries sit in the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles west of Africa. (Spain conquered the islands in the late 15th century.)

In Your Bucket Because …

  • Teide National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the way it clearly showcases the geological processes involved in the creation of oceanic islands.
  • Mt. Teide is the highest point in Spain.
  • Good for hikers, adventurers and those who love the outdoors.

Teide’s height didn’t give me pause me when I signed up for the climb. It’s only six miles from the base camp parking lot to the top; how hard could that be? But once I arrived and saw her majestic peak rising above the clouds, I felt a few tendrils of fear. It didn’t help when a local informed me that while Teide National Park attracts a whopping 3.5 million visitors annually — making it one of the world’s most-visited national parks — hardly anyone actually climbs Mt. Teide. Locals included.

The Trek Begins

The +4,000-foot ascent can be divided into three stages. The first is a gentle, winding climb around the back of Montaña Blanca. About three miles, it leads past enormous mounds of terra cotta and golden rock, including some volcanic bombs. “Those are chunks of basalt that came out of Teide when she erupted,” Pedro says. “They started out small, then rolled down her side, picking up lava along the way, just like a snowball.”

Starting the hike up Mt. Teide. (©Melanie Radzicki McManus)

Starting the hike up Mt. Teide. (©Melanie Radzicki McManus)

The second stage — the climb we’re in the middle of right now — is where the fun begins. Leading from the saddle between Montaña Blanca and Teide to a mountainside hut, it’s only about two miles. But they’re mean miles. Our wide, flat path devolves into a narrow, rocky scramble. My heart races from the altitude and the exertion involved in lifting my feet 12 inches or so with every step. My quads scream at this cruel and unusual punishment. But the higher we climb, and the more our path and surroundings are filled with black chunks of lava, the more evident it is that hey, I’m scaling a freaking volcano. And that’s pretty dang cool.

Pedro whoops when we reach Refugio Altavista, elevation 10,696 feet. People who want to summit Teide at sunrise spend the night here. After a short rest, we embark upon the final stretch, leading from the hut to the summit. “This is always where I start to get a headache from the altitude,” Pedro says ruefully. Minutes later, he abruptly stops and fishes a first aid kit out of his backpack to tape a hot spot in his heel.

“Maybe I’d better text your boss and tell him you’re having problems with the climb,” I tease.

Teide’s Summit Is Your Reward

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Guide Pedro Adán leads climbers up Mt .Teide. (©Melanie Radzicki McManus)

I don’t know or care whether this final segment is harder than the previous one. I’m too busy concentrating on lifting my legs, not stumbling on the jumbled rocks beneath my feet and keeping my labored breathing somewhat even. Pedro is tiring, too; his narration ceases. I know we’re nearly there when a ripe, eggy smell assaults my nostrils and a puff of warm air flows across my ankles. Sulfur and steam. The signs of a living volcano. A thrill shoots through me.

I spot Teide’s summit cone to my left. An enormous, jagged crater with one side shorn off, it’s an eerie whitish-green color. The trail winds around the cone’s back side to the top, and is so rocky and narrow I have to half-crawl up it. Suddenly, I’m there.

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Guide Pedro Adán and author celebrate their summit of Mt .Teide.

The view is magnificent, especially the north side and its famous “sea of clouds,” an impressive pile-up of white fluff that occurs because clouds are blown in off the sea, but can’t make it over the mountaintops.

I stand there awestruck for ages. Eventually a tiny voice says it’s really cold, and can we please leave? It’s Pedro, tucked behind a rock trying to stay warm.

As we head back down, Pedro’s fingers begin to dance across his phone again. This time I don’t mind. He’s announcing our conquest of Teide.

Practicalities

You need a summit permit to climb to the top of Teide. Click here to request one. The day you summit, you must present the permit and your passport to a guard stationed at the entrance to the trail’s final 650 feet.

Carry plenty of water and some snacks if you’re hiking from the base camp.

You can climb Teide year-round. April and May have the best weather.

If you want to summit in time to see the sunrise, book a bed at the Altavista Refuge (about 20€), where you’ll spend the night. The next morning you need to summit and return to the cable car station by 9 a.m. If you stay at Altavista, you don’t need a summit permit.

Not up to the climb? You can take a cable car, or teleférico, up to the guard station, reducing your hike to less than a half-mile.

For more information on Tenerife, go to www.webtenerife.com.

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Comments

  1. says

    I want to be Melanie when I grow up. She is probably a few years younger than me, but it doesn’t matter – I think she is amazing! And this trip sounds fabulous!

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  2. Barbara Radcliffe Rogers says

    Great description of the experience, Melanie! I’ve hiked all over and around Teide’s crater, but never climbed the cone. Now I want to!

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