Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Conquering 'El Pico Del Teide' (Mount Teide) The Highest Peak in Spain, 3,717 Metres (12,500 feet) Summer 1977

Above: The certificate for conquering Mount Teide in Tenerife, Summer 1977 (Age 14).

In the summer of 1977, my mum and I had a weeks holiday in Tenerife. This was normal practice for mum and I as my dad would never fly. He was, and still is, simply terrified of heights.

Above: Mum and I arrive in Tenerife via "Los Rodeos" airport, where we were sold the very exciting action shot descending the aircraft stairs by a local photographer. Buying the photo was just one of those little holiday moments you just have to do!

Above: Mum and I enjoying the facilities of the glorious Hotel Atlantis in Puerto De La Cruz.

During the middle of the week, we booked a trip to visit Mount Teide. Mount Teide or, El Teide in Spanish, is an active though dormant volcano which last erupted in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the Santiago. The volcano and its surroundings comprise the Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide in Spanish) which was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on June 29, 2007. At 3,717 m above sea level, and approximately 7,500 m above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, Mount Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, highest point in the Atlantic Ocean, 13th highest mountain in the European Union, and the highest European mountain not in the Alps.

Setting off by coach, we eventually entered the Teide National Park, which was literally stunning. It's lunar style landscape was like nothing I had ever seen before.

Above: Stopping off for photos of the incredible lunar landscape at an altitude of about 2,000 Metres.

Above: The first view of the stunning Mount Teide with it's sulphur capped peak.

Arriving at a coach park some 500 Metres below the summit, we waited for the cable car to take us up another 200 Metres, where those of us who wanted to, could walk up the rest of the way to the summit. Even at this height, the air was very thin, and even though I was super fit from all of my swim training I was then doing, I was finding it difficult to breathe.

Above: The cable car which took us to within 300 Metres of the summit, before the slow walk up to the summit.

When we exited the cable car, I was taken aback at how difficult it was to breathe. There was simply no air. Looking up to the summit, it seemed a very daunting challenge to be able to get there. However, having left mum below at the coach park, off I set on my trek to the summit of the highest mountain in Spain.

Even being as fit as I was through my swimming training, I could walk no more than about 6-8 steps at a time, before having to stop and gulp in air, or what air there was. The sun was scorching down on me, and I simply could not get any air into my lungs. Half way up, another trekker stopped and took the above picture of me, looking back down the mountain into the Teide National Park. Eventually, literally exhausted, I made it to the summit, and gazed down into the mouth of the volcano.

Above: At the summit of Mount Teide, 3,717 Metres above sea level. To the left was the path I had just taken up to the summit. To the right was down and into the mouth of the volcano.

The smell on the summit, and in fact throughout the walk up, was very strange. All around was little plumes of sulphur smoke coming from the volcano. This was all you could smell. I picked up a piece and put it in my pocket. To this day I still have it somewhere in the house in a small plastic pot. The last time I looked at it some years back I remember it being black rather than the yellow it was when I took it from the crater.

Above: A view back down the mountain into the Teide National Park from the summit of Mount Teide.

Having spent about 15 minutes at the summit, I began the walk back down to the cable car. Although it was quicker than walking up, it was just as difficult as it was very, very difficult to breathe. When I finally did get back to the cable car, I have to say I was very relieved

Above: Descending down Mount Teide in the cable car. Mum was down there somewhere as was our coach on the left.

All in all, this was a fantastic experience, one that I remember vividly writing this text some 32 years later on June 17, 2009. I can still feel the difficulty I had breathing and the heat pouring down on my back throughout the ascent. I can smell the sulphur, and I remember the heat of the ground through my training shoes.

This experience, and it's memories, should put me in good stead for any future climbs I may decide to undertake.

Above: The path leading up to the summit from the cable car (bottom right) - Photo courtesy of "Google Earth" (click photo for larger image).