Friday, 27 March 2009

La Palma

23rd to 30th March 2009
Slideshows: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 5 (II) | Day 6 | Day 7

A week of trail running on La Palma in the Canaries, based at Santa Cruz. I haven't been anywhere with such diverse landscape, climate and vegetation in such a small area.
All Photos

Hiking trail maps
La Palma trail map Day 1 - Pico de la Nieve at EveryTrail Day 2 - La Palma Southern Volcanoes at EveryTrail Day 3 - Ruta de los Volcanes at EveryTrail

Day 1, 23rd March - Manchester to Roque de los Muchachos - Day 1 Photos
Day 1 started with a 4am alarm call at the Cresta Court Hotel, Altrincham to catch the Thomson flight from Manchester direct to Santa Cruz, La Palma. As soon as I arrived I picked up a hire car and dropped my stuff off at La Fuente Apartments where I have been staying this week. The weather was pretty cold, misty and rainy, but I was assured it would be better at the top of the mountain which climbs (by road) to just over 2400m up endless hairpins.

I drove to around 1800m at which point it looked like the mist was about to clear, so I ditched the car and ran up Pico de la Nieve, 2200m, only to discover the summit was in thick freezing fog. Once back at the car I decided I might as well drive up past the astrophysics observatory to the summit of Roque de los Muchachos at 2426m. Things didn't look too promising until I was at the turn off for the telescopes, at which point I suddenly burst upwards out of the mist into blazing sunshine with a sea of mist below.
Pico de la Nieve Roque de la Muchachos - highpoint of La Palma Telescopes above the mist Looking down on the clouds Strange-looking gamma ray telescopes Edge of the World

Day 2, 24th March - Southern Volcanoes - Day 2 Photos
I felt absolutely shattered after my long day yesterday, so it took a while to get going and decide what to do. Eventually I opted for Los Canarios at the south of the island. This gave me a chance to check out the start/finish of Ruta de los Volcanes, plus has some easily accessible recently active volcanoes down at the southern tip of the island.

Day 3, 25th March - Ruta de los Volcanes (twice) - Day 3 Photos
I tried to start reasonable early, and was on the trail at 9.30am from Refugio del Pilar for the famous "Ruta de los Volcanes" along the spine of La Palma down to Los Canarios. The route in one direction is about 17km, but seeing as I only had one car I needed to turn round at Los Canarios and hike the 17km back to the start. A fairly long and very scenic outing of almost 7 hours.

Day 4 - 26th March - Barranco de la Madera and Peurto Espindola
The route around the Barranco de la Madera looks like nothing special on the map, but turns out to be a very special outing indeed. It also has the advantage that you can hike directly from the appartment in Santa Cruz.

I was quite tired from yesterday, so didn't make a particularly early start. The route heads up a dry river bed to Las Nieves before climbing to reach a steep zig-zag trail through pine forest. This climbs to almost 1,000m where you suddenly pick up a dramatic super-exposed narrow trail contouring across the barranco wall following a water channel. The path is no more than a metre wide and has a huge unprotected drop off the side in places. In other places you are grovelling through tunnels in near total darkness.

Eventually just at the head of the barranco you emerge from the final tunnel and the return route is a far more relaxing saunter down the floor of the barranco.

I was back in Santa Cruz with time to kill so took a drive up the winding coast road northwards to Los Sauces where there is a huge new bridge with 135m span and 150m drop to the barranco floor. I drove down a tortuous road to Puerto Espindola to find a very small black beach where it definitely didn't look safe to swim.

I took a look at Los Tilos before heading back, but it was too cold and dark by this stage to bother going for another run.

Day 5 - 27th March - Pico Ovejas and Mirador de la Concepcion
My plan this day was to connect onto the main spine at the Reventon Pass and then head northwards along the mountain tops as far as I could get. Ideally to Pico de la Nieve, and possibly a bit further around the Caldera Rim.

I duly set off from the pretty church of Ermita Virgen del Pino, the only car in the car park, and the weather looking rather iffy. I climbed 500 metres to the pass where it was cold and windy, and as I headed north it almost immediately started hammering down with freezing rain. I was glad I had brought my goretex jacket, but the rain was really pelting down and turning to hail.

As I climbed above 1600 metres the hail was lying on the ground turning the ridge white. My bare legs and hands were taking quite a beating from the rain and hail, but I pressed on, determined to reach a logical turning point. Thankfully I reached the small summit of Pico Ovejas 1854m which gave me an excuse to stop and turn round, now totally soaked and hands stinging.

The 950m descent back to the car didn't take too long, but was quite tricky down greasy sloping rock slabs.

I was back at the apartment just after mid-day, so as soon as the rain cleared I decided to head out again.

I couldn't be bothered to drive anywhere so aimed for the Mirador de la Concepcion - the impressive rock feature towering 400 metres above Santa Cruz - however my maps were distinctly unhelpful in showing how to get there since they don't include the new road blasted across the hillside above Santa Cruz which kept blocking my attempts.

After about 7 wrong turns, I eventually found a rough trail across wasteland to reach the waymarked GR130 trail and a proper route up the hill. I reached the mirador just before the sun sank behind the Cumbre Nueva and took some photos looking down on Santa Cruz, and watching the Tenerife ferry head towards the horizon.

Day 6 - 28th March - Barlovento to Gallegos and Los Tilos Bridge
Once again the weather was grey and gloomy. Not a day for the mountains. The hills were shrouded in thick mist. I opted for something lower level and headed north to Barlovento along the tortuously winding coastal road.

The roads on La Palma are so winding that nobody in their right mind would attempt to drive round the island in a day. I did drive to the summit on the first day, but once was enough for that mind-numbing hairpin descent.

Anyhow, when I reached Barlovento it was cold and raining. I waited a while for the rain to ease off, then jogged out along the GR130 coastal footpath towards Gallegos. The 6km route from Barlovento to Gallegos looks nothing special on the map, but what you can't see is that the path drops in and out of steep-sided heavily overgrown barrancos.

The barrancos are full of lush green vegetation and numerous small flowers, and the trail is steep and greasy. I was quite tired when I reached Gallegos. I stopped for Fanta and shortcake biscuits and vaguely considered continuing, but it was cold and started raining again, so I just headed back the same way to Barlovento.

On the drive back to Santa Cruz I took a break at Los Sauces to check out the Los Tilos Bridge. I ditched the car and walked down the old road into the Barranco del Agua, now bypassed with the bridge. The walk along the old road was far more interesting than I exepcted with great views of the bridge plus terraced banana plantations and palm trees laden with dates.

Day 7 - 29th March - Pico Bejenado and Cascada de Colores
This was my final day of the holiday and thankfully the weather was a little better. I headed west towards Los Llanos though the road tunnel in the middle of the island and turned off at the Caldera Visitor Centre for Pico Bejenado 1854m, the most prominent single hill on La Palma. I drove until the tarmac became dirt track, then ditched the car and started running. There is a higher car park, but it only takes a few minutes to run up the track. The trail then follows a good path through pine forest.

I was getting a little worried at the cloud building up, and realised the summit view would soon be obscured. I had to put my foot down on the climb to reach the top in bright sunshine, but with cloud quickly spilling up from the south. The panaromic summit view of the Caldera Rim is quite awesome. A bit like looking across the Grand Canyon.

As I jogged back down, dozens of walkers were rambling up the hill, but far too slowly to get any sort of view from the summit.

I had one final afternoon left, so opted for a trek into the bottom of the vast Caldera de Taburiente. The access road snakes down a dangerous hairpin road strewn with fallen rocks and boulders from the precipitous hillside. In fact driving down this road was the most dangerous act of the holiday.

I took the trail for the Cascada de Colores which follows the river bed into the Caldera. I stuck to the river bed for as long as possible, until getting knocked back by some deep pools and tricky rock slabs. The trail was OK, but dragged on a bit before I finally came to the bizarre Cascada de Colores - a semi-artifical waterfall down a barricade, with strange bright orange water coloured by mineral deposits.


Brian Mc said...

I visited La Palma a few years ago for business and was quite taken by the place. I'd imagine there'd be some cracking running opportunities. Enjoy!

Davie said...

Great report and photo's Chris.
Have you ever tried Madiera? Man made Levadas (irrigation canals built through the mountains) are supposedly ideal for running and walking although, due to my wife having mobility problems I haven't left her to try them. There is an Ultra Trail race from one end of the mountain to he other in September that looks spectacular.
Notwithstanding the running, the island is absolutely beautiful.

Yak Hunter said...


Please come out of hiding and start blogging again!

Chris said...

Hi Pete & Mary,
Thanks for noticing I haven't blogged in ages.
Recent events have conspired such that I'm not sure whether I'll post on this blog again.

Meanwhile you can follow this alternative blog:

Johnny Hall said...

Hi Chris. Thanks for taking photos at the weekend - I made a big effort to smile! And sorry for knocking into you on the summit, I lost my balance as you came past.

Anyway, I'm sorry if you don't feel you can/should blog again. If it means anything to you - I really enjoy reading about your exploits. I think I've pored over most of your entries as an education in the way of Scottish Hill Running. Your entries often show up on the first page of a Google Search for many races.

See you on Jura. Take care.

Chris said...

Hi Johnny, Good to meet you at Ben Lomond, and sorry about bumping you on the summit ridge.
Sorry to hear about your busted ankle and I hope it improves soon for some of the Scottish Long Classics. I've decided against Jura for next weekend, and had quite an ordeal their yesterday if you check out my latest blog post.
I may even get round to filling in some of the April blanks at some point.
All the best, Chris