Feb 162011

Day 12 (February 13, 2011)

Itinerary: Drive to La Cumbrecita parking lot in the center of the island’s caldera or Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente, Hike a loop trail and the trail to/from Pico Benjado

I had a little surprise this morning when I realized I had been looking at the wrong guage on our SUV to see how full the gas tank was. We were pretty much empty, rather than half full. Rental cars around here do not provide you a car with a full tank. So, the first order of business today was to get some gas for our big diesel SUV.

Once we were finally on our way, we made it to the El Paso visitor’s center and entrance to the park after 9am this morning. So, we needed to go inside and request a ticket in order to park at La Cumbrecita parking lot. Apparently it’s a very small lot and they keep those waiting for a parking space down at the bottom of the hill and at the visitor’s center. When someone comes down off the mountain, the next person is called to go up and take the parking spot. While it can be a little time consuming, it’s not such a bad system for busy days. Well, there was no wait for us, so we got our ticket and headed on up.

This is certainly a tiny, tiny parking lot and if more than just the few cars were here, I’d have a tough time parking. Luckily there was room to turn around and back into a spot. First, we set off on an easy loop hike that was only about 2.5miles long. The signs along the way listed the plans in Spanish, so we didn’t get too much information. However, there were two good miradores, or view points that looked out into the caldera.

The caldera is in the shape of a U with a mountain in the center of the opening of that U. That mountain is Pico Benjado which will will hike later today. If we were to hike one way along the ridgeline of the U-shaped caldera we’d be hiking for about 18 hours. Our loop hike took us down along the inside of the caldera a little ways. The most impressive views are the steep sides of the caldera and ridge lines that come down from the top of the all the way inside. The trees grow on top of these ridgelines that look only just wide enough to hold one tree’s width.

The loop was fairly shady, so a fleece kept us warm. Along the path we found what must have been a very old water well and piping system or maybe some sort of mine. We found a date on a crumbling foundation of 1902. There were doors into the sides of the trail that looked just like hobbit doors.

When we got back to the car, we ate our lunch, toasting in the sun. The car lot was on a low spot between two mountains, so we could see the trade wind clouds blowing in clouds on the northeast side of the caldera. Inside the caldera, the clouds were still sparse.

Our next hike was about 10 km in length and nearly 5 hours long. We climbed the Pico Benjado mountain in the center of the caldera. We climbed about 600 meters straight up. The climb was grueling and since we started in the afternoon most of the hike was in the fog and mist of the clouds that were dumping into the caldera from the northeast. The fog kept us from seeing much except the next switchback up the mountain and we trudged on.

After 2 hours of hiking, we reached the cloud line. All of a sudden our heads popped out from the clouds where the sun was shining brightly. Time to take off some layers! The view was absolutely fantastic and we couldn’t remember the past 2 hours. Here, above the clouds, we could see the tips of the various mountains that surrounded us as well as out to the ocean where the clouds thinned to reveal the sea. We could even see the snow-capped peak of El Teide on Tenerife. We were only there a few days ago.

At this point in the hike I started snapping hundreds of photos. We hadn’t even reached the peak yet! The sea of clouds beneath us rolled and twirled revealing different parts of the surrounding mountains for just seconds at a time. If you’ve ever hiked above the cloud line, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Finally, we reached the peak of Pico Benjado, nearly 1900 meters above sea level. What a marvelous view. From here we had a 360 degree view of the entire caldera. The clouds filled the caldera and we could see the U-shape clearly above the clouds. We could see across to where the famous observatory sits on the north side of the caldera. We could see down to where our car sat under a blanket of clouds. We could look out and guesstimate where our apartment sat under a blanket of clouds. We could see where the clouds dissipated over the sea and the sun shown yellow reflected in the ocean. We could see several more volcanoes that follow almost a linear path down to the south tip of the island. And of course we could see El Teide peeking out on Tenerife.

We spent nearly an hour up here. The only reason we had to leave was to be able to hike down in the light of day. Otherwise, I could have just stayed here forever. Sunset would have been phenomenal from this vantage point. I filled my memory card with photos.

Knowing that we would reach the car just as the light disappeared behind the horizon, we finally started hiking back after 5pm. To our amazement, the top of the clouds was now at a much lower elevation, and seemed to be dropping as we hiked. The hike back was completely different from the hike up and not just because we were going downhill. We could see that we had been hiking along a ridgeline with views on both sides. This was truly an amazing hike back. Only when we were 30 minutes away from the car did we finally dip beneath the clouds again.

We had some amazing moments where we would hike into the low of the ridgeline and feel the clouds rushing over us as they passed from one side of the caldera to the other. We saw some gorgeous sights of the sun shining through the fog. I wish I could post all the photos I took, but I would need a much faster internet connection for that. So, you will just have to imagine and wait until I get back to Houston and process some of these hopefully magnificent photos.

It was nearly dark when we reached the car and we found that we were the last ones here. At least I don’t have to worry about the tiny parking lot and my large vehicle. =) On the drive out of the park, all light finally disappeared and we crept out along the winding road.

As we headed back to our apartment in Los Llanos, we were happy to find a restaurant along the way that was open this early at 7:30. The food was great. Mark really loves the Mojo verde sauce served here to dip fries into. We both had a yummy pork steak covered in onions.

Today was a magnificent day. If we were to leave La Palma right now I’d be happy. Tomorrow morning we’ll probably sleep in and spend some time being lazy on the porch before finding another spot on the island to explore.

rolling blanket of clouds

From inside the clouds looking at the sun.

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