It is Spain's highest mountain, and a dormant volcano too – but climbing Mount Teide, in Tenerife, is an experience well worth it. For tips on how to do it, where to stay and how to survive, read on…
To the Guanche, Tenerife’s earliest known inhabitants, Mount Teide was a sacred spot "where the Earth holds up the sky". Rising 3,718m above sea level, it is Spain’s highest mountain and a Unesco World Heritage Site – and within its 17km-wide crater is a surreal landscape of orange volcanic cones and russet-coloured lava flows, set in a sea of white pumice where weird rock formations sit against a blindingly blue sky.
The climb to the summit of Mount Teide begins at the Montaña Blanca signpost on the TF21 road that runs through the crater. A large display board showing the route and a handful of parking spaces mark the spot. Following the easy trail into the solitude and splendour of the crater, to the base of Montaña Blanca where the real ascent begins, takes about an hour; there is adequate time to realise that walking at altitude is a lot tougher than people think.
A steady ascent takes you high above the crater floor, where you can gaze down on the incredible palette of colours that the violent forces of nature have created. To the south, the crater wall still stands, acting as a cauldron for the banks of clouds that pour over its rim like steaming vapour.
After four or so hours of muscle-testing climb, the Alta Vista Refuge ( www.teleferico-teide.com) comes into sight and you can collapse on to one of its benches, watch the sun set over the landscape and wait for the feeling to come back into your feet. This is no five-star hotel. Accommodation is in dormitories and facilities are limited to a couple of toilets, a cold-water tap and some tables and benches. Bring your own food and beverages. There's a small gas burner, but with anything up to 60 climbers passing through, a hot drink is just a dream.
There's a log fire – but it won’t be lit unless temperatures drop to -5 degrees. Bedding is provided, only one night’s stay is permitted and you leave when they tell you to… at 4 am when an alarm call takes you from the comfort of your dormitory to the pitch black of the pre-dawn mountain and the final 500m ascent.
Climbing in the dark adds another frisson of challenge to the adventure, but an African sky bejewelled with shooting stars helps distract from the exertion of the final push.
With sulphurous fumes filling the nostrils and scorching boulders providing welcome hand-warming opportunities, you are only too aware that this is a volcano that you are standing on – and you quietly hope it doesn’t choose today to remind you it is only dormant, not extinct.
Reaching the summit, you are rewarded by the sight of the twinkling islands of the entire Canarian Archipelago floating on the horizon; the lower peaks break through the clouds like humpback whales riding the surf, and the rising sun reflects blood-red at your feet, right where the earth holds up the sky.
When to go
The summit of Mount Teide is accessible most of the year, except when winter snow coats the peak which can happen any time between November and February.
How to Get There
There is a bus service to Teide National Park from Puerto de la Cruz, Los Cristianos and Playa de Las Américas so it's feasible to do the climb by public transport if you're staying in one of those resorts. But the bus only runs twice a day – once to get you up there, and once to get you back. If you're staying anywhere else on Tenerife, trying to link up with the only bus could prove a bit risky.
Where to stay
If you have the spending power, Tenerife’s only Parador (+34 922 386 415; doubles from €134 per night) is located within Teide National Park and offers comfort, the crater to yourself and a telescope for star-gazing.
The budget-conscious should choose one of La Orotava’s beautiful rural hotels – Hotel Rural Victoria and Hotel Rural Orotava (see Make It Happen, top left) – which allow you to combine mountain climbing with exploring Tenerife’s most sophisticated town.
The Alta Vista Refuge
Cost is €20 per person.
The good news? You don't need a permit to visit the summit of Mount Teide if you spend the night at the Refuge – provided you're back to cable car level before 9am. It's essential to book in advance (+34 922 010 440).
A cable car operates every day and takes thousands of visitors to within 500m of the peak – but you need a permit to get to the summit, and it's only valid for the specified day. Applications have to be in person or by post at least a month before or by fax/email at least one week before the intended climb. Application is to: National Park Office, C/ Emilio Calzadilla, Nº 5-4ª planta, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (you can find details at www.todotenerife.es). Rumour has it that the climb from Montaña Blanca is easier than getting permission.
In winter, it may be sunbathing temperature on the coast, but the altitude makes a huge difference. After the sun goes down, temperatures can quickly plummet to -7 degrees and beyond. It is wise to adopt the onion approach and wear layers. Thermal gloves and a hat are also advisable in winter.
In summer, the intensity of the sun is heightened in the rare atmosphere; sunscreen and head protection are life savers. Carry two litres of water per person and replenish it at the Refuge. (In winter, water will be frozen by the time you reach the peak but will thaw again on the descent.) Whatever the time of year, you will need a good head torch for the pre-dawn final ascent.