Instantly awake, I was aware of a faint light and a rustling sound. Surprisingly, my body kicked in more quickly than it usually does in the comfort of a bed. I was in a cave, and it was pitch black except for the point of Austin’s head torch, as he wriggled free of his sleeping bag. I’d gone to sleep with my own torch still over my beanie, but it wasn’t there now, and I fumbled around where my head had lain on a jacket stuffed into the bag for my sleeping bag. I clicked it on and began my own wriggling. A true gentleman, Austin had given me his bivvy bag as well as a sleeping bag, so it was a bit more complicated.
I freed myself and ducked outside the shelter of dead branches under which we’d slept, and stretched. Austin already had the camping stove going, and the gas hissed, filling the stillness. He handed me an energy bar and a warming cup of cappuccino, as he began to stuff things back into his backpack. Once everything was packed up, we double checked, and then treble checked to make sure that all we were leaving behind were our footprints, and paused to adjust our head torches.
In the silence I was aware that even the tiny stream which we had discovered the previous evening was still, no doubt it was frozen by now, we’d found ice all around it at dusk. There was no other sound, and the quiet was, quite simply, overwhelming. Overhead, stars and planets filled the heavens, so that the sky was more shining jewels than darkness, and the light pollution from Santa Cruz, which had framed the hills opposite, was less evident than at night. For anyone who hasn’t seen this kind of clear night sky, so overwhelmingly full of pin points of brightness, it’s impossible to convey either the beauty or the feeling of one’s own insignificance in the universe that it sparks.
We clambered down to the path below, guided only by the pools of light afforded by our head torches, found the path and set off upwards, me all excitement because I was promised another surprise. You can get an idea of just how dark it was at this stage in the short video below, which Austin made.
With thanks to Dido & Lynard Skinnard for the music!
We quickly reached the point at which the path up to the peak of Guajara crosses another which we later found goes to Granadilla de Abona. We turned right and upwards, me thankful that I was following Austin, who from time to time called out a warning about loose rocks or advice about where to place my poles. Other than our own footfalls and the faint thump as pole hit earth, utter silence followed us.
“It’s as if the circle of light in front of you is your entire world, and you can just forget everything else, and just concentrate on that,” commented Austin.
It seemed to me that it was just as well that it was dark and progress was, necessarily, slower than in daylight because I was feeling the effects of the climb, combined with too little sleep and food, and I would best describe my pace as a trudge, speeded up in spurts by Austin’s urging to speed up in case I missed my surprise. Second by second the skies were lightening though, and when turned off our torches I was surprised that it was, actually, easier to spy what lay ahead than with the false light.
Looking back, I could see that what we had already traversed was mainly scrub, as Austin pointed out really it’s high altitude desert. We were well passed the really rocky parts, though the path had narrowed to almost nothing in a couple of places. Looking way down, the lights of the airport and coastal villages glowed, and now, just as we turned upwards again, and into a field of broom, the horizon began to glow with intense purple light. Looking back again after a few more steps and it was turning orange and scarlet, like the colors of some exotic bird.
Ahead I could hear Austin urging me on, even though this sight was mesmerizing, apparently there was something more in store. I admit freely the last few feet were hard, but I began to understand, as I saw the warm alpen glow on the mountain peaks, and then, suddenly we were atop Alto de Guajara, and El Teide rose before us, bathed in the sun’s first light. Guajara’s peak is 1,000 meters lower, but we seemed to be on top of the world.
Then I saw my surprise – for just a short time at sunrise, the shadow of Mt Teide is cast over the Atlantic Ocean. I’d read about it, and seen photos, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I would see it this day. The scene had an almost mystical quality – no wonder that the Guanches apparently worshipped this imposing mountain. We watched, in awe as the sun rose, and the colors of the landscape changed, basking now in the new day, as we picked out places we knew in the caldera far below.
Once we our senses were saturated, Austin lit the little stove, and made hot chocolate and biscuits for breakfast. Yet again, I wouldn’t have swapped places within anyone brunching in the poshest restaurant in London or even Paris. Right on the top of the mountain there is a rough shelter, a square-ish kind of pen which gives you some respite from the icy morning wind, and I suppose you can bivvy there too, but it would have been mighty cold! Once we’d eaten and warmed up, we set off back, meeting only two other walkers on the section of the route, a local father and son.
We crossed the desert again, turned at the point where the routes meet and descended to where, the day before, the mists had been creeping up the hillsides, now the valley was clear, the scrubby mountainsides, the pine forest and right down to the coast.
We didn’t meet other folk until we got down to the final downhill section, where a couple of trail runners huffed passed, and a handful of German tourists wound their ways up, then we were back on the almost level Siete Cañadas trail and homeward bound, still marveling at the bizarre rock formations, casting off layers as we went and looking forward to getting our boots off!
Things sometimes happen which make you feel truly alive, which alert all your senses, which have become deadened by the comforts of modern life, which cut us off from reality, and allows us to live in what is almost a virtual world. For me this was one of those times. I’d like to think I’ll be able to do something like this again, right now I don’t know, but the memory will definitely motivate me on several levels for a while yet.
And just to reiterate: Camping as such is strictly prohibited in the National Park, what we did was bivvy, nothing was driven into the ground or otherwise disturbed. We left, hopefully, only footprints.