Saturday, 15 August 2015

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Running Shoes

In 2011, I hiked the Coast to Coast trail in the UK, which is a 190 mile route that crosses three National Parks on it's way from the Cumbrian coast to the North Yorkshire coast. Towards the end of the hike, the weather turned and we walked for the last three days in rain, which was often torrential. On the first of these days across the Cleveland Hills, we stopped for a break in a cafe where there were numerous Coast to Coast hikers sheltering from the appalling conditions. As we sat in the steamy atmosphere of the cafe, drying off and enjoying hot drinks and food, I realised that all of us, without exception were soaked to the skin. This was despite the fact that we were all wearing waterproof clothing, mostly Goretex, from various reputable manufacturers, ranging from mid-range brands to the most expensive. It occurred to me then that for all the manufacturers claims that none of the so called 'waterproof' clothing was coping with the amount of water being thrown at it. Sure, some of it was undoubtedly sweat that was building up - this was July after all - and not escaping through the sodden garments but that wouldn't account for the totally saturated base layers and wet trousers under the waterproof over-trousers. It was during these three days that I realised that 'waterproof' is a nebulous term. Despite the manufacturers claims, no garments can keep out water for long if enough is thrown at it for sustained periods. There are many ways that water gets under waterproof gear, through sleeves, necks, over the tops of boots, zips, and also through the outer layer of a waterproof item that is wetting out. Of course, gear manufacturers are keen to talk about the need for proofing their clothing so the water beads up and rolls off allowing the fabric to perform at it's most 'breathable'. This is another term that is bandied about my the manufacturers but again this is a nebulous term. A breathable garment will still get wet inside if the conditions are 'right' and the amount of perspiration overloads the fabric. One of the biggest problems with multi-day hiking in bad weather is wet boots. Boots with a 'waterproof' membrane, once soaked, take an age to dry so you are likely to be putting on damp or wet boots each day unless you are fortunate enough to have access to drying facilities. After I returned from the Coast to Coast walk, I began questioning the accepted 'wisdom' of hiking in full waterproof gear and waterproof hiking boots. Since living in Tenerife, I have become used to hiking in trail shoes and shorts and T-shirts virtually all of the time. As the climate here is so mild, I rarely have to put any other layers on and when I do, it's usually a lightweight Goretex shell. I began reading various blogs on the internet and was surprised to discover that many other hikers had come to similar conclusions to myself, particularly with regard to footwear. The days of long distance hikers clomping around in heavy leather, goretex lined boots, are being challenged by a new wave of lightweight hikers who appear to have come to the same conclusion that I had. When walking in the rain just accept that you are going to get wet! 
Based on my experiences on the Coast to Coast and what I had subsequently read, I recently put this theory to the test while in England hiking the Pennine Way. This 268 mile National Trail is the countries oldest trail and has something of a reputation as being an arduous slog through endless, featureless peat covered bogs where it virtually always rains. This coupled with the fact that fell walking legend, Alfred Wainwright, when writing his guide to the trail had a torrid time with the conditions, only added to this negative reputation, which in my opinion, having now walked it, is totally unwarranted. 

I had decided that for the hike, I would walk in non-waterproof, trail running shoes with fairly thin, quick drying socks. I would also walk in lightweight, quick drying shorts and take no waterproof trousers as I now really do not like walking in long trousers, having walked solely in shorts for a number of years. I had purchased some La Sportiva Ultra Raptors for the Pennine Way, which weigh in at around 340 grams per shoe, meaning I would be lifting far less weight with each footstep than if I had been wearing leather boots. During the walk, the weather was mostly fine to start with but we did have a morning of heavy rain on the fifth day when I got my first chance to try out my theory. My feet were very quickly wet but after the initial 'strangeness' of water filling the shoes I soon got used to it and could see the excess water draining through the top of my La Sportiva Ultra Raptors. The idea is that the rain, though it can easily get in, can also easily drain out and it appeared that this is exactly what was happening. Once the rain stopped, my feet very quickly began to dry out and during the afternoon, which turned dry and sunny, my trails shoes also dried out. This was a revelation as it meant that I was going to finish the day with dry feet and shoes. 
The ultimate test came on the last day of the Pennine Way, a marathon 25 mile yomp across the Cheviot Hills from Byrness to the end of the walk in Kirk Yetholm. Shortly after setting off at 5am, the rain started and continued for most of the 10.25 hours that it took me to finish the hike. It rained heavily virtually all day and my feet were wet almost from the start. I squelched my way through wet peat bogs most of the day and waded through puddles that swamped the paved sections and when I dropped down off of the hills into the valley, my feet and lightweight shorts dried as I hiked along the tarmac into Kirk Yetholm. The Ultra Raptors provided me with 268 miles of quick drying comfort and this method of dealing with walking in rain will now be my default setting. I much preferred simply getting wet and then quickly drying without having to put on wet boots each day or having wet trousers flapping around my legs . At the end of each day on the trail in the campsites, other walkers tended to their blisters while I suffered no such problems. 

Of course, this approach will not be suitable for walking in colder, winter conditions but because I time my hiking visits to the UK to coincide with spring or summer, this is not really a problem. The Ultra Raptors were a delight to wear being extremely comfortable and lightweight with a sturdy, grippy sole and I liked them so much that when I returned back home to Tenerife, I returned to the outdoor shop where I had purchased them and bought a second pair that had been reduced by 30% in the sales. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Hiking the Pennine Way in the UK

High Cup

I have recently returned from the UK where I hiked all 268 miles of the country's premier long distance path, the Pennine Way. For those who do not know, this National Trail follows the range of hills in the centre of the country and is often referred to as the 'spine' of England and starts from Edale in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, finishing just across the English/Scottish border in the village of Kirk Yetholm. After leaving the Peak District, the walk passes through South Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Dales, the North Pennines, Hadrian's Wall and the Northumberland National Park and finally, the Cheviot Hills. The hike is a tough undertaking if you are walking it as a through hike and most walkers take between two to three weeks to complete it. The walk took me 15 days and I initially set off with a friend who sadly had to pull out with a knee injury just after the halfway point at Middleton in Teesdale. The scenery is spectacular and varied and often at times remote, as it crosses some very lonely moorland. I was carrying a lightweight tent and camping gear so stayed in campsites most nights but also used one or two guesthouses and a bunkhouse. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, although the last day was something of an endurance test. I left the campsite at the penultimate stopover in Byrness at 5:00 a.m. to walk the 25 miles across the Cheviot Hills to the finish in Kirk Yetholm. During this 10.25 hour marathon, I experienced bad weather with driving rain, fog and wind but one of the factors that made ​​it so difficult, were the conditions underfoot. The plateau across the tops of the hills is covered in peat bogs and these were very waterlogged, which meant that, despite large sections of the route being paved with flagstones, the going was extremely tough and I spent all day wading through the wet peat. It was with relief that I finally arrived in Kirk Yetholm after fifteen days of fantastic hiking through some of Britain's finest upland scenery. A slideshow of photos from the hike can be seen HERE

River Tees

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Coast to Coast through the Anaga Mountains

Coast viewed from the path to Chinamada from Punta Del Hidalgo

Last week, I hiked a two day 'coast to Coast route from the northern side of the Anaga Mountain range to the coast on southern side. Starting in Punta del Hidalgo, I climbed in superb scenery through the Barranco del Rio to the cave-house village of Chinamada, around two thousand feet above. 

The start of the path in Punta del Hidalgo

Heading into the Barranco

On the path to Chinamada

The village is a fascinating relic of a past way of life and although the cave houses now have electricity and some even have satellite dishes, it still retains an atmosphere of a bygone age. After a short break by the 'modern' church in the plaza, I followed a beautiful path towards Las Carboneras and enjoyed the stunning views across the Barranco de Tomadero to the tiny hamlet of Batan on the other side of this vast valley. At the top of a path called Las Escaleras, I stopped to refill my water bottle at a fountain by the side of the path, which proved vital later in the trip, and descended into Las Carboneras. 

Cave Houses in Chinamada

Las Carboneras & Roque Taborno

In the Barranco de Taborno

Here, I took a path across the Barranco de Taborno which meandered along on some delightful forest paths before climbing very steeply up into Taborno village. Leaving Taborno, the path rounded a corner and I was suddenly confronted by the awesome spectacle of the Afur Valley framed by the incongruous sight of a line of washing drying in a nearby garden and, deciding that this was probably the most scenic washing line in the world, reached for my camera. 

The worlds most scenic washing line

Descending into the Afur Valley

Descending steeply, I arrived in the village of Afur before beginning the steep climb out of the other side. My plan was to get as far as my legs would allow for the day although I needed to get to the Casa Forestal on the TF12 road on top of the Anaga ridge as I had read that there was water available and I would need to top up  my supplies again. 

Ascending from the Afur Valley

After a long, tiring climb I reached the Casa Forestal but was dismayed to find that the information I had read on the internet was wrong, or out of date. I checked my supply and discovered I still had 1.5 litres so decided I would have to make do with what I had. It was now getting into the early evening and I still had to find somewhere to pitch my tent but having crossed the TF12 and begun descending into the forest again, I was concerned that the ground was too steep for camping. As I descended further, a sudden opening in the forest gave me a superb surprise view down to Santa Cruz, my eventual destination the following day. A short distance further along I managed to find a level clearing in the trees where I could pitch my tent. 

First View of Santa Cruz

My Campsite in the woods

Having set-up camp, I cooked my meal and settled down for a pleasantly relaxing evening listening to music and the sounds of the birds in the trees. The following morning, I packed up early and began my descent down to Valle Brosque. The weather was cool and there was a little light rain but as the path emerged from the forest, I was confronted by a stunning view of Teide rising above the serrated Anaga mountain ridges. 

Teide rises above the Anaga Mountains

The vast volcano was lit up by the early morning sun and I stood for a while admiring this awesome view. My plan was to descend to Valle Brosque before climbing back up into the mountains a little and then contouring along a path following a water channel, which passed through some tunnels. The area around Valle Brosque was superb, a real ‘lost world’ of towering mountains, deep ravines, trickling streams and waterfalls, all set to the deafening soundtrack of hundreds of croaking frogs and the more melodious sound of birdsong. It was here that I managed to find more water.

Frog in Valle Brosque

Desecending to Valle Brosque

After climbing back up to around 1700ft, I located the path along the water channel and this is where my plan fell apart. A sign blocking the path warned of landslides and toxic fumes in the tunnels. This rather threw a spanner in the works so I continued to climb all of the way back up to the road I had crossed the previous evening. I knew that if I reached the road I could follow it to the Pico del Ingles mirador and pick up a pathway down though the Barranco Seco to Valleseco and the seafront at Santa Cruz. 

Descending in the Barranco Seco

In the Barranco Seco

The climb back up to the road was a real drag but not as bad as walking along the road, which seemed to go on forever. Having reached the stunning Pico del Ingles mirador, I picked up the path and descended into the beautiful Barranco Seco after which, I followed the road through Valleseco to the seafront in Santa Cruz. In all, over the two days, I walked 40 kilometres but more significantly, ascended 8,900ft and descended 9,240ft. I walked for 7.75 hours on the first day and 7 hours on the second.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Teide and the Canal de Vergara

Start of the Teide path

This week, I completed a two day hike starting on the Teide path before crossing the Las Canadas National Park and descending into the pine forest and finishing in Chio in the west of the island. Starting out on the Montaña Blanca - Teide path, I followed the route uphill for a short distance to around the 8,200ft mark where a path veers right to the visitor centre at El Portillo, which I followed for a few moments before leaving this for a path to La Forteleza. 

Heading for La Forteleza

This red coloured 'cliff' is a surviving section of the northern caldera wall, the rest having been destroyed during the formation of the current peak, Teide. Having climbed to the shrine on the summit of the Degollada del Cedro pass, I made my way to the Fuente de Mesa mirador where I had stunning views of the 'Mar de Nubes', or sea of clouds and the Orotava Valley. 

La Forteleza

The view from here was quite breathtaking and I had to stop to simply absorb the scene that resembled a frozen 'cotton wool' ocean hanging suspended above the pine forest. Although I had seen similar views in the past, this vantage point proved to be probably the best I have ever seen. 

The shrine on the Degollada del Cedro

Descending to a fire tower in the forest I then followed the Canal de Vergara water channel for many miles, sometimes walking on top of it, at others on a track alongside. This important water channel carries water from the Barranco de Vergara in the north to the south of the island and at around a metre in width, is wide enough to walk on. 

Mirador Fuente de Mesa

Most of the time on this section, I had stupendous views of Teide in all of it's towering splendour as I followed the channel for some hours before camping in a clearing next to the water channel to give me access to water. 

My campsite

Teide and the Canal de Vergara

Continuing the trek the following day, I set off in beautiful sunshine in the quiet of the early morning, again with beautiful views overlooking the Orotava Valley and the sea of clouds, and followed the water channel for many miles, often having to push past bushes blocking my way. 

Early morning over the Orotava Valley

By now, the views of Teide were behind me and I made a point of stopping occasionally to admire the ever impressive sight of the magnificent volcano. Eventually, I left the water channel and began climbing up through the forest towards the TF38 Chio-Teide road. 

Following the water channel

Rounding a bend, I was presented with one of the most stunning views of the entire trip when below me lay Montana Chinyero, the site of the last eruption on Tenerife in 1909, as well as Pico de Gala, easily identified by the masts on it's summit, and the island of La Palma on the horizon. 

Montaña Chinyero, Pico de Gala & La Palma

After a very long trek on a wide forest pista, I eventually reached the TF38 and followed it for a short distance before descending a very rough, volcanic path into Chio. 

Teide and Pico Viejo near the TF38

In all, I walked 55.75 kilometres, climbed 1,385 metres, descended 3,020 metres, walking for 8.5 hours on the first day and 7.75 hours on the second. 

Map of the route

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Climbing the caldera

Teide & Mt.Guajara from the caldera rim

One of the advantages of living in Tenerife is that it is possible to decide what type of walk you want to do, pick an area and within a short space of time, find yourself enjoying exactly the type of walking you want, such is the diversity of the terrain. This happened to me recently when I decided on a fairly strenuous high altitude mountain hike, so I drove for around three quarters of an hour to the Las Lajas campsite and recreation zone above Vilaflor for a hike onto the caldera rim.

Climbing through the pines to the caldera rim

The walk initially followed a path that was new to me, which ran below the TF21 Teide road before passing underneath it via a tunnel to the small parking area by the ruins of Casas de Fuentes Frias. From here, there are a couple of paths leading above the pines to the the caldera rim path and the dome-like Sombrero de Chasna outcrop.

Looking towards the south coast

I was fortunate to have picked a fantastic clear day with blue skies and little wind and I enjoyed the ever expanding views as I climbed quickly to the open ground above the trees. Being familiar with the path from the National Parador in the National Park, which runs along the caldera rim to Sombrero de Chasna before descending to Las Lajas, I have always wondered if it was possible to continue along the rim of the caldera in a westerly direction.

Sombrero de Chasna

Having reached almost 8,000ft, Teide made a dramatic appearance over the edge of the caldera and I stopped for a while to enjoy the views into the National Park far below.  Turning left along the edge, I continued to enjoy the stunning scenery as I followed a narrow but mostly clear path heading towards El Sombrerito, a prominent mountain above the Boca de Tauce road junction at the southern entrance to the park.

Teide appears above the caldera rim

After around half an hour along this path, I suddenly came to an abrupt halt as the ridge I was on ended at a series of serious looking crags and the ground dropped away steeply on both sides. It was clear that I wouldn't be going any further in this direction so I had a short break before turning round and heading back the way I had come. Having returned, I descended slightly before climbing onto Sombrero De Chasna. The view from the summit is somewhat disappointing as the top is a large plateau, which obscures all but the more distant views.

The view from the caldera rim

Leaving the summit, I descended into a valley and once again entered the pine forest for further fantastic views to the south coast as I made my way back to the Casas de Fuente Frias. Eventually, I arrived back at the Las Lajas campsite where I was alerted to the presence of a Great Spotted Woodpecker in a pine tree above. I stopped to watch for a while as the hollow 'rattle' of it's pecking echoed around before returning to my car after a wonderful five hour walk in spectacular mountain scenery. To download a GPS track of the walk, click on the 'Wikiloc' symbol below

Saturday, 7 February 2015

A hike to the Fuente Madre del Agua waterfall

Blue Chaffinch

One thing I miss about walking in Tenerife is the lack of running water as there are virtually no rivers on the island, so I was interested to read recently about a waterfall in the south of the island high up in the mountains above the village of Vilaflor. The waterfall, which is fed by the Madre del Agua spring, is located in the upper reaches of the Barranco de Las Vegas at an altitude of around 1840 metres. It is possible to drive along the Madre del Agua dirt road to the Madre del Agua campsite from where it is only a short half hour walk to the waterfall but I wanted to make a day of it, so chose to hike along the Paisaje Lunar path from Vilaflor. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Some 2014 Walking Highlights

As 2014 draws to a close, I thought it would be nice to look back at some of the walking highlights from the past twelve months. 

A snowclad Teide seen here on a walk through the Chinyero reserve, site of the last eruption on Tenerife in 1909

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Two Springs Walk

View from Degollada de Ifonche

Summer is not a good time for walkers in Tenerife. The sun is at it's most powerful and this combined with the high temperatures make it very uncomfortable for walking. During this period, I usually plan which walks I want to do during the coming walking season, which I start as soon as the temperatures become a little more bearable, usually in the latter half of October. One of the last walks I did before the weather got too hot was to investigate some newly recovered and signposted paths to two springs in the Ifonche region. I had noticed the signs when walking in the area and took the opportunity to investigate them and in doing so, created a very interesting circular walk. Starting from close to the parapente launch point, at the foot of Roque de Los Bresos, I walked the camino rural before picking up the sign to the Fuente de Las Pilas in the Barranco del Rey. I have crossed the barranco at this point on many occasions in the past but never knew of the existence of the spring until the installation of the signs, so I was grateful to whoever is responsible for them. A pleasant path led me through trees and bushes initally, before descending to the rocky stream bed of the barranco, arriving a short time later at a neatly tended 'garden' surrounding the Fuente de Las Pilas. It was clear that someone was tending to the area around the spring as the plants and flowers were obviously planted and cared for. The spring flowed gently through a three-tiered rock 'water feature' creating a very peaceful and pleasing ambience. Leaving the spring, I continued along the rocky barranco floor to soon reach the top of a very dramatic dry waterfall in the Barranco del Rey. Peering over the edge was very exciting although it may not be to everyones taste as the drop is very sheer but it did give a stunning views into the deep part of the barranco below the El Refugio restaurant. Returning along the barranco, I climbed out and followed the dirt road from the restaurant to the Ifonche road, which I followed to the El Dornajo restaurant. This road is very quiet and largely traffic free so it is a pleasant walk.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Short Walk in Arico

Today, I have been walking in Arico, which is one of my favourite hiking areas on the island. The scenery is truly stunning and whenever I've walked in the area I've usually had it to myself as the region does not seem to be on the radar of the majority of hikers visiting the island.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Pennine Way

Jacob's Ladder

My trip to the UK to walk the Pennine Way last month didn't go exactly to plan. I had intended to walk the whole route but a number of problems with my camping equipment, which included a leaking tent caused me to review my plans. I abandoned camping in favour of using guesthouses, which meant that I finished around the halfway point in the tiny village of Keld in Upper Swaledale, as my budget wouldn't extend to using them for the whole route. This, coupled with the difficulty in booking rooms for a single night/person during a bank holiday meant that without the tent, I decided to split the walk into the Pennine Way south and north. I will return to the UK, possibly next year, to complete the northern section. You can find an album of photos taken on the walk HERE and a journal of the walk HERE