And where better to prove this point than Mount Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, tauntingly visible from six of the seven Canary Islands. I’d long had an urge to climb it, so one Easter I set off for the peak of this long-extinct volcano with my childhood friend Hannah for company.
The day started badly when we arrived, mapless and thoroughly unprepared, to find the visitor centre closed. Still, we managed to orientate ourselves and set off for the Refugio de Altavista, a 10km uphill hike. The weather was glorious and all was well until lunchtime, when we suddenly found our heads in the clouds. Teide’s mighty peak disappeared from view and we felt a hint of raindrops. We shrugged it off and settled down to eat the first of a whole loaf of stale cheese and ham sandwiches, a delightful meal designed to last two days.
Rain we could cope with, but were rather surprised when, 10 minutes after lunch, it began to snow. We hastily donned our sweaters and long pants, suddenly regretting not packing waterproofs, thermals or even a hat. Some better-prepared hikers took pity on two woefully unprepared foreigners and donated some spare clothing – a couple of caps and a waterproof poncho – which we gratefully accepted.
We left them behind in our hurry to reach the shelter, envisaging a cosy log cabin with roaring fire. The snow was falling ever heavier and the previously well-marked track was becoming trickier to identify. It seemed hours since we’d seen a signpost and just as we started to worry we’d wandered off the correct path, we encountered a jovial German woman clad in shorts and heading back down to her car. She presented us with a map, allowing us to relax a little and stop thinking up headlines about our helicopter rescue from the mountainside.
An hour later our optimism was again fading when we met an energetic Austrian with glad tidings. ‘The refuge is only five minutes further. If it wasn’t so foggy you’d be able to see it,’ he shouted as he jogged past. Foggy seemed rather an understatement, but our bed for the night was indeed just minutes up the slope.
Photo below - arriving at the refuge
The conditions in the refugio couldn’t have been more basic, but we were so glad to arrive that the lack of heat and water barely registered. We peeled off our clothing, some of it soaking wet, some frozen solid, and removed the makeshift gloves from our hands (the none-too-fresh socks we’d been wearing that morning). It was 4pm when we climbed into bed, taking extra duvets from the bunks left empty by people with the good sense to stay away. With the exception of a rapid trip to heat up some pasta and a long held-off trip to the ‘bathroom’ (a sheltered snowdrift) we stayed in bed until an early alarm call the next morning.
We’d hoped for some good news, news that meant we could carry out our original plan to climb to the summit and take amazing pictures of the archipelago, before zooming down in the cable car. But the weather had rendered the cable car out of action and further ascent was impossible. We had to be up at dawn to start the return trip or risk getting snowed in at the refuge. No-one relished the downward trek, but we took the lesser of two evils and set off, alongside four students from Germany and half a dozen local hikers.
After three long hours of snow, sleet and then torrential rain, we reached the road and more importantly, a bar. On ordering two hot chocolates the barman took one look at us clad in our sopping wet sleeping bags, socks on our hands, bags on our heads and asked ‘brandy in those?’ We didn’t need to be asked twice.
The trip hadn’t turned out exactly as we’d imagined, but at least I’d proved a point about the islands being more than beaches and beer. I made a mental note to take out a couple of bikinis and make space for an umbrella and some mittens on my next visit to Tenerife.
Story Continues: Not one to be easily defeated, a year later I was back on Teide’s slopes.