El Teide & Christmas 2023 in Tenerife

For Christmas 2023 Bianca and I traveled to the Canary Islands and spent two weeks car camping around Tenerife, with a brief hop over to La Gomera. Dispersed camping is not allowed on the islands, but Tenerife has a great series of free public campgrounds to make up for it. We spent our two weeks there across of a mix of hiking, city visits, and beach days, with plenty of tasty food in the mix. We also went SCUBA diving for the first time which was a really amazing experience for both of us.

We put together a photo album covering our adventures there for these two weeks, and here I’ll write a bit more about the big hike that I did in the middle of our trip – El Teide.

At 3715m / 12,188ft El Teide is actually the tallest mountain in Spain, not just the Canary Islands. It is a volcanic mountain created by the same volcanic forces that gave birth to the chain of Canary islands.

As usual for our vacations, we did very little planning beforehand and so did not find out until last minute that there is actually a (free) permit system required to hike to the summit of El Teide. And of course those permits are sold out months in advance – but a little more research revealed a fun loophole. The permits are only required for the last ~200m of elevation to the summit, and are in place mainly because there is a cable-car which carries droves of people each day from the base all the way up to that point just before the final ascent. The fun detail is that these permits are only checked by a park official who rides the first tram up in the morning – at 09000 hrs. So effectively between the hours of 1700 – 0900 there is nothing more than a small unlocked gate guarding the last bit of trail to the summit…

Bianca was a bit less enthused than I was to take advantage of this early-morning loophole, so after one of our days in town we parted ways for the next 24hrs with her headed to a nice hostel on the beach while I drove up to the highest elevation campground I could find on the shoulder of El Teide (Las Lajas, 2110m / 6,922ft). After just a few hours of sleep I woke up at 1am and headed to the ‘Mirador de la Ruleta’ (2127m / 6,978ft) for a nice crisp 2am hiking start. The normal route up El Teide goes from the east over the shoulder of Montana Blanca, but we had just been hiking in that area a couple days ago and I wanted to see something different. Plus, starting from the Mirado de la Ruleta in the south offered to add a few km and meters on to the hike and looked to be the less traveled option, both attractive features.

(My route in blue, more standard route in red, tramway is crossed line in between)

My route was well enough lit by a half moon that on the flat sections I could turn off my headlamp and just watch the shadows of big rock formations pass by as I made my way across the desert. Serious elevation gain started a few km in to the hike and I quickly discovered that years of living at sea level in Belgium had rendered me more susceptible to the effects of elevation than I used to be. As soon as I passed 2000m/6500ft I started to feel more out of breath with more difficulty getting it back on the (sparse) flat sections. It may also have had something to do with having gone SCUBA diving the day before and spending 2hrs at 10-15m underwater. Not sure how that interacts with later effects of elevation.

On my way up I eventually saw one pair of headlamps following an hour or two behind me, and passed one guy already on his way down around 3am. But apart from that I had the trail entirely to myself until I reached the tramway station where I passed the gated checkpoint, still under cover of night :).

I eventually reached the top around 7am, with plenty of time to spare until the 8am sunrise and only three other people to share the summit with. The volcanic summit is not so well formed anymore, but is still recognizable as a caldera, complete with smelly sulfurous gasses steaming out of cracks in the ground. Over the next hour about 20-25 more people eventually showed up until we had quite a crowd on the summit for the beautiful sunrise. While watching the show I enjoyed a cold beer and heated up a pre-cooked spanish omelet for breakfast.

On my way down I made a small detour over to the peak of Pico Viejo, which is a massive caldera with a super classic and impressive shape to it.

I followed the same route down as I had taken up, now getting to see all of the scenery in daylight and appreciate it a second time. I made it back to the car around 1230, for a total hiking time of ~9hrs. For how the elevation had been getting to me on the way up I had been expecting a time many hours longer than that, but it turned out that just gritting through it and putting one foot in front of the other gets you there in decent time regardless.

Final stats: 19.8km / 12.3 mi distance; 1585m / 5200 ft gain

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