Wednesday, 9 February 2011


Before we start today's theme, a small announcement is in order:

Some of my friends have been asking questions about the plant adorning the lead picture in the last blog post. Good questions! This is indeed a spectacular specimen of the Canarian flora. Its flower, if straightened out, must measure almost 2 meters, I gather. This plant stems originally from the arid highlands of Mexico but is thriving splendidly in the heights of Gran Canaria. It is called Agave attenuata ("Swan's Neck Agave"). Given the pondus of its flower, you may understand that flowering is a one time event, occurring only after 8-10 years of the plant's life. After this glorious outburst the agave dies, but its drying skeleton will keep standing another year or two.

The flower in the picture is flourishing at the entrance to Café La Candelilla, located at about 1000 meters' altitude in the village of Ayacata. This café is the provisioning station for most hike and bike tours on the heights. Thus, the Swan's Neck has been wishing me well in the morning before, and welcoming me back after, many a strenuous day in the mountains. And this for the many years and hikes I have undertaken up there!

But did I not just say that the plant dies off after having flowered? "Yes", indeed, but the plant is too clever to let itself perish without a trace. During its long life, it is spinning off small brethren without interruption and a successor is ready to flower as soon as its forerunner is drying up. So there, all your questions have been answered, I hope.

After this it's time for the hike of the day, which deals with the impressive Roque Nublo. This is without question the most imposing top of Gran Canaria. It is placed on a badly eroded part of the Caldera de Tejeda, looking like a ship on the high see, standing as it is on an elevated plateau, with its utmost top  as chimney or lookout, or, if you prefer, looking like a fleshy red middle finger pointed by mankind at the Almighty in the sky.

Comparing the Roque to a ship on the high sea is not as far-fetched as you may believe. The trade winds are continuously chasing clouds over the island's crater rims and Roque is exposed to their strongest onslaught. If weather conditions permit, and you are standing on the right view-point, you can actually see the clouds crashing on its cliffs as if they were waves showering a large vessel. I have a picture here to prove my point, taken about two years ago.

Just like in the case of the Campanario, there a two ways to ascend this monument, the EASY way and the HARD way. The easy way is easy indeed, starting from a parking lot on the saddle between the two calderas, with a broad path winding up the hilly front. You want to locate the starting point on the picture above? You divide the photo into horizontal and vertical thirds, and the start lies where the lower and left dividing lines cross. People have been seen walking up that path in sandals or even barefoot.  THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED! (speaking as a former sandal wearer, in my younger days of course).

The hard way consists of climbing the mountain from the inside of the Caldera de Tejeda, striving ever upwards, broadly with the gradient. This means treading narrow paths along often rather steep inclines but provides, on the other hand, sweeping vistas over the western part of the island and, weather permitting, Teide reigning over the coastal foot ranges. This time, Dieter, our guide from Free Motion, of Campanario ascent fame, chose the hard way, albeit with a twist, to be revealed later on.

Weather conditions were close to optimal yesterday, with hardly a cloud to be seen on the deeply blue sky watching over the heights. The first hour of the exercise was demanding, forcing us to build up stamina for the continued hike. We really had to catch our breath after this climb! The picture above shows us getting our strength back, whilst looking back at the task accomplished.

The reward came when we had ascended a more slightly rising slope, or rather plateau, abounding with greenery and flowers. Below us a small lake could be glanced and small brooks were ever present with clear water purpling its way downward within the greenery. It is difficult to convey these marvelous impressions in two dimensional pictures, but let me at least give it a try and present to you a panorama of the lake, as it folded out before my eyes this splendid morning. 

After another hour's hike we reached more elevated and open slopes showing the promised vistas of the western barrancos of the Caldera de Tejeda, together with its flanking lower ranges. In the upper right quadrant of the panorama below you can glance the village of San Nicolas and, further out at sea, the Teide. Why not click on the picture to get its larger version, the better to admire the details in the view? 

I deliberately took the panorama so you could look at nature as the naked eye would see it. You are disappointed at the tiny size of Teide above? Well this is how it appears if the eye is sweeping across the horizon, taking it all in at once. But let me not keep you frustrated. As we continued climbing upwards, Dieter chose a beautiful picnic spot for us, with Teide in plain sight, so let me present to you this sovereign among mountains (it is Spain's highest mountain, after all) in a setting more appropriate to his serene highness.

Fortified by this interlude in splendid surroundings, we felt ready to face the final challenge, accosting and climbing the "ship" itself, as it appeared more and more luring in between the pine trees. 

But when we finally arrived at the "ship's" foot, Dieter had a surprise waiting for us. Instead of climbing straight up to the major plateau, along the path that a decaying sign in the forest indicated, he led us towards the left and enticed us to circle the promontory on a cosy shaded path within dense pine groves. This certainly prolonged the hike by an hour or so, but showed me a trail that I had never trodden before, as many times as I had striven upwards towards Roque. Dieter's grand plan was to lead us around the promontory to its "back" and let us mount the final slope on the EASY road that was awaiting us there. So now we can safely state that there also is a MIDDLE way up the Roque!

At the altitude we were walking now, around 1600 meters or so, it became rather cool in the shadows. Even ice became apparent here and there, causing us to be careful when placing our feet. But this did not detain us from treading steadily onward, helped by Dieter's never-ending comments and jokes that led us to forget our impending exhaustion. But why do I bother writing about Dieter's encouragements, when you can see and hear them yourselves, simply by clicking on the video below?

Fired on by Dieter and by now eager to come to the end of the ascent, we finally made it to the important crossing, where all the paths join and lead to the narrow passage giving access to THE PLATEAU, on which the red final outcrop is squatting so prominently. Just another 10 minutes of strenuous climbing and we would be grasping the full majesty of the surroundings. To celebrate our pleasurable anticipations, a round-up of our group of "serious" hikers seemed in order.

And now on to the fulfillment of our expectations! Having burnished the last narrow steps, there we were, standing on the island's flat roof, if not its top, beholding the majesty of an enourmos red "boulder", placed so pronouncedly on the red expanse bowing to its prominence. The Roque is striving only some 100 meters up in the air, but it looks like many more; an impressive sight indeed! Have a closer look at the Roque by clicking on it and identifying the red hikers at its root, to get a better impression of its scale.

Looking at the Roque in its solitary majesty is helping to bring piece to your soul, inviting its union with the universe. You think this is a notion fetched too far? By no means; traditional island sources indicate that this was the foremost place of worship for the indigenous population, the guanches;  this was where the island population had its strategic meetings and important religious ceremonies were being performed. This is easy to understand. Were I king of the island, I would not hesitate to designate the Roque as the site of my coronation, for egging on my subjects in times of war, as as well as for performing my religious rites as pontifex maximus. This would most surely succeed in manifesting the authority and credibility of my régime. But enough of this daydreaming! Even to this day, whenever heavily weighing decisions are to be taken by the islanders, they tend to congregate here to make their strategic deliberations. 

Another intriguing aspect of this place is that the geographical center of the island (don't ask me how it has been calculated) is situated just under Roque's feet. A small circle, drawn in white, indicates its location, as can be seen below. When developing the picture to the left, I suddenly recalled that I had taken another one on the same location a bit more than a year ago. That hike was far more usual than the one done yesterday. The Roque (Rock) is not called Nublo (in the clouds) in vain. The ordinary condition, when standing on the plateau, is to see essentially nothing. Only occasionally, and if you are lucky, will Roque then mystically step forward from out of the clouds, only to exit out of sight again within minutes. So Manfred Ritsch, our Styrian guide from last year, had to lead us on a blind chase of the rock and its attractions, whereas Dieter, this year, could let us loose to discover the sights on our own, in a splendid sunshine not to be had on ordinary climbing days. 

Whilst we were off, exploring the surroundings, Dieter had his own errands to carry out. He is an accomplished amateur mineralogist, ever looking for precious stones among the prevalent reddish pebbles covering the grounds of this volcanic island. Within a period of 15 minutes he had quite a collection of black precious stones to show for his travails, as you can see in the picture. These were  obsidians he had found, a stone valued as highly for jewelry nowadays as it was as material for instruments in the stone age. When splintered, they have an extremely thin and sharp edge, rendering them eminently useable as arrow heads or knives. Did I say "stone age"? Don't be mistaken, the foremost chirurgical knives made nowadays have their edges made in obsidian.

After all this excitement on the roof of the world, I am quite at a loss of words to describe what followed. Suffice it to show two pictures from our (cosy) descent, which led us to the parking lot, where the easy path to the top begins. This route is as easy to descend as it is to ascend, which suited us well, after the morning's strenuous trecking uphill. The first picture shows the way back down to the cross, where we had taken our group picture. 

This final picture shows us on the broad path down to the parking lot, just a minute or two before getting all the way down. This spot provided us with a wonderful vista towards Ayacata, as well as the lower mountain ranges flanking Lake Soria and the Barranco leading to Aguineguin.

"Wow!", what a marvelous day that was! Can it get any better? "Yes", it can, if you care to click on the web address below, for a full picture show of this beautiful hike.

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