Day 17: First View of the Tallest Mountain in Spain
Monday, February 7, 2022 11:17 pm
Location: Tenerife: La Caldera (340.5 km)

Today, we hiked the long first segment of trail on Tenerife, from La Esperanza to the La Caldera recreation area, and stayed in the mountain town La Orotava.

CareFree and I left our lodging and started hiking right at sunrise, heading to the start of the GR131 on Tenerife, in a park in the center of La Esperanza.

A cool and windy morning, just walking up and down the streets of La Esperanza to get to the start of the trail warmed me up so well that I had to take off the bottom half of my pants legs in order to keep from overheating.

Start of Trail in La Esperanza
Start of Trail in La Esperanza

Once at the trail’s start, we were greeted with a set of steep stairs leading into a wooded park, and the trail funneled us west between two roads. Then, the park ended, and we were led on a roadwalk up a steep hill on one of those roads. A chorus of barking dogs behind many solid iron gates let everyone know we were walking past.

The trail followed a few more paved roads, and then branched off to a dirt road, taking us into well into a forest. At a crossroads was a small shrine. As we looked around, several bikers rode past, heading down a different trail than ours. Just past the shrine, the trees grew together and formed a short tunnel.

Once we got out of town and passed the shrine, the early part of the morning felt fairly nondescript. The dirt roads and gently rolling hills were nice, but they merely delayed the inevitable steep climbs and descents to come. Particularly notable was that many signs with distance to La Esperanza and La Caldera had distances scratched out, presumably by hikers who were annoyed at how inaccurate they were.

We took a break after almost two hours of hiking. Several mountain bikers passed. So did someone on a mountain unicycle. We were quite impressed.

One of the nice things about going to different places is seeing how the local plants and animals differ from elsewhere. The standout today was a kind of dandelion found only in the Canary Islands, but which grows up to five feet tall.

A Giant Dandelion
A Giant DandelionSonchus acaulis, a type of dandelion that grows only on the Canary Islands. It’s flowering stems can be 1.5 m (nearly 5 ft) tall.

From La Esperanza, the trail bounced up and down (though, more up than down), but the real climb of the day began once we reached a simple trail shelter located just on the outskirts of a pine forest. (The shelter had half a wall, a roof, and a couple of picnic benches; it was clearly designed for day-use only.)

For a substantial portion of the morning before reaching the pines, the trees weren’t all that tall (maybe 10-15 feet), and between that and it felt like we were always on a slope, I kept getting the sense that we were near the tree line and we should be summiting something “soon”. When this kept not happening, it defied my mental model of how altitude and trees and trails work, and it made the trail feel weird. The pines solved that problem.

Past the shelter, the trail began a steep climb up switchbacks. The copious pine needles on the ground made for a soft trail, and the trees kept the sun off and prevented it from becoming too hot, which helped a lot with the uphill. Aside from the steepness, it was an easy hike. Water drainage channels cut the switchbacks, and to make sure that hikers (or bikers) didn’t also cut the switchbacks, wooden railings had been installed at the top of each switchback to discourage passage.

Steep Pine Forest
Steep Pine Forest

The switchbacks brought us to a shoulder on the mountain, and an access road clearing, and we stopped for a lunch break. Free of the protection of the forest, it was quite windy, which helped to shorten our break and get us back to hiking quicker than we might otherwise have.

From the shoulder, the trail gradually became more rocky, which culminated in falling rock signs as the trail started winding around cliffs. (At one point, we had to step around a rock about the size of our backpacks that had detached from the cliff and fallen on the trail.)

Along this stretch, we got our first glimpse of Teide, the tallest mountain on Tenerife (and in Spain). Still a ways off, the peak was obscured by haze, and was barely visible; I actually missed it the first opportunity we had to see it. As we continued, we got some better views, some more and some less clear as the clouds and haze changed. It was great to finally see the mountain, though the haze made it seem less impressive than we knew it ought to be.

TeideTeide, the tallest mountain in Spain, overlooks the town of La Orotava.

Our feet starting to tire from the rocky up-and-down, we stopped on a tiny shoulder for another snack break. We were really glad we did there, because afterwards, the trail was more steep rocky switchbacks, and we wouldn’t have had a good place to stop otherwise.

The steep switchbacks eventually dumped us on a dirt road, and we were very happy to take the opportunity to pick up the pace, passing a few other hikers that were clearly only out for the day.

We reached the parking area at the La Caldera recreation area to find a bus waiting there: the bus we needed to get off the trail and down to La Orotava, where we had booked a hotel room during our planning session two nights ago. It was perfect timing, the bus left a few minutes later, and the next one would have been in another hour.

La Orotava
La Orotava

A very steep, switchbacky ride down the mountain brought us to the charming town of La Orotava. We walked down one of the steepest streets I’ve ever had to walk, and we’re not looking forward to walking back up tomorrow morning. (Thank you, charming mountain town!)

When checking into our hotel (an historic building from the 1600s), we were offered a choice between a room on the first floor, and one on the third. I was inclined to take the first floor, but we were offered to look at both rooms, and the third floor room was supposed to have a good view, so we took a look. After looking at the rooms, we also got to go out onto the roof, which gave us a view of Teide (now mostly obscured by haze) and the town around the hotel. The view was worth the climb up, but we picked the first floor room so we’d have fewer floors to climb, and also the first floor room was a little bit larger.

After getting our room, we went out to find food, and couldn’t find anything that was open, with outdoor seating, or with food we wanted. We instead found a grocery store (that was pretty poorly organized for how big it was) and got food for tonight and tomorrow.

We returned to our hotel to find that the WiFi barely worked and cell service didn’t work at all for me, most likely thanks to the thick walls from the building’s construction. Which was frustrating, but at least we had already planned the island so there wasn’t much that was critical to look up.

Tired from a long day, we ate desert — ice cream, of course — first, and then sandwiches, and went to sleep somewhat early.

Tomorrow: a relatively short (but steep) hike to El Portillo, the entrance to Teide National Park.