A conversation at 6,000 feet on a rocky path, just below the highest mountain on Madeira :-
Me : Are we nearly there? Tim : Yes, it’s just up there on the right Me : Are you sure, I still can’t the roof Tim : Yes, it’s not far Me : (thinking, oh my goodness I am sooo hot) Tim : Here you are have another sweet (passes me two), maybe some more water? Our Mountain Guide (asking me) : Do you feel ok? You’re not dizzy are you? Me: No, no I’m fine, just a bit hot (thinking – I’m at 6,000 feet, I’m melting I really am melting and yes I do feel a little bit light headed)
This is the third of my tales from Madeira and I hope I’m not over doing it but this particular trek is worth writing about. Only three days earlier Tim photographed the mountains from a distance – could we really do the walk we had planned?
Saturday 16th July 2016
Our guide picked us up outside the hotel in a minibus and we clambered on board with all our kit. Feeling like children on a day trip we greeted our fellow travellers with excited “hellos”. Mini buses have improved a great deal since our school trips though – well I suppose they would have done over the last 40 years!
Today we would be walking between two giant peaks on the island – Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo so it was definitely not the time to ‘muck about’ on the journey. Our ‘Madeira Explorer’ guide was strict with us at the start “if you haven’t got at least 1.5 litres of water don’t even bother getting off the bus” – that certainly put a stop to our nervous chatter and that of our Belgium/French/Polish fellow adventurers as we drove higher and higher towards the start. Don’t get me wrong our guide was a nice guy – he just didn’t want to be stuck with a small crowd of dehydrated foreigners on a mountain path miles from help……and who could blame him.
Our walk started, rather unusually (for us), at the top of Pico do Arieiro – at 5,965 feet (1,818m). There’s a visitors centre with restaurant and air defence radar station next to a parking area for vehicles. Visitors (non walkers) can saunter over take a few photos, then have a spot of lunch.
We, on the other hand, headed away from civilisation and into the most amazing view. I looked over my shoulder and photographed our starting point.
You may notice the cloud in the distance over the sea. Having studied this walk back at home we knew that these mountains often have cloud coming and going around the tops giving them a magical mysterious air. Today it was as clear as a bell and a boiling 25 degrees as we set off.
About 15 minutes in we were told us that if we felt unwell or uneasy this was the point where we could turn back if needed to. Our minibus driver would head off to the end of our route if given the OK. We all nodded solemnly so the driver was given the all clear, via mobile phone, to head off to the pick up point.
As you can see the views, from the start, were absolutely spectacular.
So our rocky path continued up, down, round and through this rocky landscape and wow the views…. There were 12 of us and we followed one behind the other not concerning ourselves with distance or time.
Before too long we came to the first tunnel which would be the longest and this is where torches were needed. It was cool in the tunnel, I mean it was nice to be sheltered from the heat. The child in each of us came out with whistles, shouts and general ‘whoop whoop’ noises.
Now Tim and I didn’t want to be trailing at the back of the team but found that if we lingered a little bit we could take the photos and film we always love to do. After all – we might never experience this trail again.
Here I am as a shadow in the corner.
After a short break for snacks and drinks we set off again to do the toughest stretch, Starting with a truly exposed section – this is me at the end of the line, camera in one hand, camcorder in another! Loving it.
And this is Tim with the view back to the bit we had already completed.
Down lots and lots of steps then up lots and lots of steps really tested us all. The upward section is so steep in places that metal ladders have been strategically placed. I could feel my breathing getting quite laboured.
At last, and with some relief, we stopped for a brief rest – having gone uphill for about 45 minutes. This is me at 5905 feet looking at Tim and at our little crowd behind him.
Phew it was hot (to say the least).
This was our final stretch but when we turned a corner the temperature went up another notch – it was truly stifling. It was at this point, where we walked through and around charred trees, going uphill again, that I began to really struggle. Maybe it was my dark pink floppy hat or maybe because it was just so flipping hot (am I repeating myself) I really really struggled. Keep going, keep going….
Those poor trees – charred remains of the 2010 fires on the island. They can be seen in the photo below. The photo looks as I am leading the team – infact I was just slowing everyone down to my pace!
Now this is the point, when I reach Tim, that I ask whether we are nearly there and our guide asks me the silly question about feeling dizzy. For about 10 minutes I felt ‘out of my comfort zone’ but finally, finally we reached our oasis – the Refuge Hut.
Here there was a water tap and shade and somewhere to sit and to eat the rest of our snacks.
So here we were just a stones throw from the top of Pico Ruivo and couldn’t go any further – up. I felt absolutely gutted. Tim said that we were here and had done the walk and that we should be pleased with ourselves. I know he’s right.
At this point lots of people have to turn back and return to the starting point because that’s where their car is but the bonus of being on a guided walk was that someone was out there ready and waiting to pick us up in a trusty minibus only 1.5 miles away.
So down we all went to Teixeira car park admiring the the green forested areas of the Santana mountains to our north and the ocean beyond. We finished our water.
This was one of the most incredible high level walks that we had ever done. In cooler conditions we would certainly do it again and maybe next time we could summit Pico Ruivo.