Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

January 31, 2013

Masca Gorge Hike, Tenerife

Rushing. Trickling. Gurgling. Flowing. Bubbling.  The sounds of water.  Live-giving water.  A rare sight on the southern side of Tenerife, where cactus barely are able to scratch a living out of the dusty volcanic soil.  We never expected to encounter a flowing stream, but deep in the barrancos (canyons) of Tenerife, it seems anything is possible.

This would be our third visit to Tenerife, and we were determined to not repeat any of our previous hikes, since there were so many trails still waiting to be explored.    The Barranco de Masca was one of those, suprising that we hadn't done it considering it was probably the most popular hike in the book.  Of course, its popularity could be due to the fact that after the descent down to the ocean, it is possible to save the pain of hiking back up by taking a tourist boat ride along the cliffs of Los Gigantes!   Plenty of tourists seemed to be taking this option, carrying only some water and a camera into the depths of the canyon, while I was loaded down with lots of food to help us hike back out again. 

The tiny town of Masca sits deep in a valley of the Teno mountains, in the northwest corner of Tenerife.  Narrow roads cling to the hillsides, and even getting to the start of the trail is an adventure.  The hiking trail sinks quickly into a deep canyon and follows every twist and turn of the hills; dropping over boulders, around cliffs, over the stream, and through tunnels of reeds. 

And the flowing water followed us all the way to the sea.   We hadn't expected to find water, but it provided the means to give life to the canyon, filling it full of flowers, palms, cactus, and grasses.  The trickling liquid was music to our ears, and we realized that Masca gorge is popular for more than just an easy ride out at the bottom.  It is truly beautiful.  

One last twist and the crashing waves were in front of us, the sound booming up the canyon long before we could see it.  A snakey line of people were waiting to board one of the last boats of the day, but we were the lucky ones.  We got to see the whole canyon again, empty of people, with the afternoon sun reaching long rays into the depths of the cliffs.  And Rob even had a swim in a crystal clear swimming hole!

Distance: Roughly 12 miles, 6 hours, and 2000 feet of elevation gain (and loss).

This walk was #27 from the Tenerife Rother Walking Guide (2000)

January 30, 2013

Roque de Conde Hike, Tenerife

Perched high above our hotel in San Eugenio is the enticingly close peak of Roque de Conde.  Its flat, sloped, terraced top is visible from most places on the SW coast of Tenerife, and from the moment we arrived, I knew that I wanted to stand on the peak.   I had already flown above it in my paraglider the previous year (and was somewhat regretting leaving my wing at home this time), but there is something about reaching a peak under muscle power that always sounds appealing to me.

One afternoon of our holiday, Rob was off in the car on his own adventure, so I suddenly felt motivated to climb up to the top of Conde.  I threw the normal hiking gear in my backpack and was quickly off, knowing that I only had 5 hours of daylight left and not sure how long I would need to make it up there and back.

After a few streets to get out of town, I then found a long paved road leading between two banana plantations up to a water treatment plant.  From there the trail got rougher, switchbacking through cactus and scrub brush with Conde dominating the sky above me.   Far below, a half moon of beaches and boardwalks lined the edge of the island.

It was late afternoon in the warm sun, and each step I took sent small lizards scurrying away from sunning themselves on the hot rocks.  I worried about snakes for a second as I crashed pasted cactus and grass...then reminded myself that there were no snakes on this island.  Is that why I love Tenerife so much?  Signs started appearing on the deserted trail for hunting dogs.  I couldn't really decide what they meant, but wondered if such dogs were dangerous.  Was this trail even open to the public?  I wasn't sure.  I followed a tiny water canal with some trickling water which appeared to disappear into a tunnel up ahead.  Uh-oh.  Flashlight?  Check.  Luckily the walking trail diverted over the ridge instead of through a dark tunnel.  More dog signs.  I picked up a rock and carried it as I climbed up, figuring I wouldn't go down easily if required to defend myself!  (We later saw so many of these "dog" signs that they literally became meaningless...plus we never saw even one dog.)

But presently without this assurance, I carried the rock in my hand all the way until I reached the town of Arona.  There the tourist trail up to Conde actually started.  It was 4 pm by then, so I still wasn't sure if I would make it back to the hotel by dark (carrying a flashlight and a rock back through the "dog" section seemed a little nerve-racking).  So I hurried up the trail as fast as I was able, and suprised myself by reaching the summit 35 minutes later (the book called for almost 2 hours!).   

The summit was really nice, with terraced grasses and beautiful views.  I took some time to enjoy the cooling breezes at the top now that I had some time in hand.  And wondered what ever possessed some past farmer to make the treck up to the summit every day for years to build terraces?  It's not like there is any water source up here, aside from infrequent rainfall. 

It was a speedy descent back the way I came, running back the rocky "dog" path and finally back onto tarmac.  I felt strong, and was running well, enjoying the quick trails and deepening colors of the late afternoon sunchine. The sun set just as I arrived back at the hotel!

Distance: Roughly 13 miles, 4 hrs 30 min, and 3000 feet of elevation gain (and loss) from the beach.

This walk started from a hotel in San Eugenio Alto and then included walk #36 from the Tenerife Rother Walking Guide (2000)

January 28, 2013

Paisaje Lunar and Teide Crater Rim, Tenerife

With fresh legs and newly arrived in Tenerife, we took advantage of the gorgeous clear skies to do what turned out to be the logest hike of our holiday.    It was also Rob's birthday, so we celebrated by bringing loads of mandarins on the trail with us...Rob's favorite treat when they are in season. 

We parked above the village of Vilaflor, choosing to walk the gravel road winding in and out of the barrancos (canyons), rather than subject our rental car to the rocks and ruts.  After an hour we turned onto the proper hiking trail and began climbing up through the pine trees.  From there, our route resembled a figure of eight, planning to get all the way up to the rim of the crater and look out over the big crater and the peak of Teide still high above us.    A slow, steady climb continued until we missed the turn-off in the middle of the 8...perhaps it wasn't signposted because that half of the route was a little dangerous?   Not sure.  We decided to just to the top of the circle in reverse, which wouldn't matter at all.  

The path steepened as we climbed onto the Montana de las Arenas (literally "the mountain of sand").  We were already at 7000 feet and our breathing became a little more difficult.  The pines trees thinned out and what was left was black volcanic sand...the path cut a line straight across the hill of blackness.  The ground changed as we climbed, though, and soon it was white, sharp rocks which littered the switchback trail up the hillside.  We kept straining to see the top but somehow it was never in view.   It was hot and sunny and windless at 8000 feet, and still the top wasn't anywhere to be seen.  Luckily the other Canary Islands were, and while resting we could soak in the crystal clear views of Grand Canary to the south.

Still climbing, we dug deep (and ate more mandarins) to finish the find steps up to 9000 feet of elevation, and finally rounded the last hillside to take in the monstrous view of Teide, the crater, and more islands off in the distance.  It was absolutely worth the climb to get such a sight, on such a warm, sunny day (on other days this peak can be awfully windy and cool).  Of course, it's possible to get up to the Montana de Guajara viewpoint from the Visitor's Center in the crater as well, which is much less of a climb, but...we wanted a challenge! 

We took a little time to sit, snack and enjoy our time on the peak.  Then it was high time to boogy back down, as it was past 3 pm and darkness comes early in January.  We returned the same way on the top section, choosing to avoid the dangerous descent along the waterway, and then turned off to see the Paisaje Lunar on the bottom loop.   These were white rock hoodoos, looking much like the famed red rocks of the Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park.  Only there were several thousand less of them.   Still, it was an interesting diversion before we pushed on, to arrive at our car just past sunset.   It was an absolutely stunning route.

Distance: Roughly 16 miles, 8 hours, and 4500 feet of elevation gain (and loss)

This walk was a combination of walks #64 and #65 from the Tenerife Rother Walking Guide (2000)

Grand Canary

La Palma
Montana de Arenas

January 13, 2013

Open 5, North York Moors, 6 Jan 2013

For the third month in a row, the weather at the latest Open 5 winter race series has been perfect.  Considering the record rainfalls that have deluged the whole country, this is no mean feat.   The race, held this month near Scarborough in the North York Moors, was even almost warm, at least for January.   Fog blanketed the hills, the transition field held only a scattering of frost, and it hadn't rained in at least a couple of days.   Sunshine, even.  At least for a few minutes here and there. 

Rob and I had caught a ride over with Andy and son Harry, so the drive passed quickly as we caught up on news.  Once registered, the place filled up with old friends, and it was hard to get to talk to everyone.   Sarah had brought a visiting teammate from the states, Adrian had decided to give another Open 5 a go (his last one was the unfortunately flooded Yorkshire Dales race a year ago when we raced as a team), and a crowd of familiar faces trickled in from around the country.

Rob's goal for the day was to see the ocean, so he took off walking toward Scarborough.  (Evidentally we were further away from the town than it seemed, because he had a rather long walk to and from the event center).  He eventually did find the water, and even made it back again as the race was winding down.

The start line was about 1 mile from the registration, to get us closer to the good scenery and farther away from busy roads.  I precariously balanced my bag on my handlebars and coasted downhill to the field.  It was chilly enough that I was happy to get away and start racing.   Right away on the run, I had to make a choice about going out of my way for a control...was it worth it, or not?  I went for this one knowing it might cut into my biking time later.  (It didn't).

I bumped into Adrian a few controls down the road, and we yo-yo'd around the course for a while, not together but getting lost in tiny increments enough to end up at the same controls again and again.  The forest tracks were confusing and muddy and fun, and after and an hour I was pleased to come out on the other side without losing myself.  It was there I made my first and only mistake of the day, which was skipping a 10 pointer that was just beyond the distance that made it worth getting, as if I had some sort of scientific rational for making route choice decisions on such a unique course.   Four hours later I would regret that decision. 

For the meantime, though I felt pretty good about my progress, and kept at a steady run for the other half of the run, getting back to transition just when I wanted.  The bike started off with a big hill...big in these parts meaning a couple hundred meters high...definitely not a mountain or anything.  Controls started getting ticked off the list pretty quickly, and then I was back in another forest.   I snuck in a shortcut on a random forest trail, and found myself, as I usually do in these races, all alone, peacefully enjoying the scenery.

And then came the mud.  A singeltrack trail down a hill that just kept getting deeper.  All I could think was that I was happy to be riding down the hill rather than slogging up.  At the bottom, I was coated in mud and then saw a sign for a "ford".   It turns out the road was the ford...for at least a quarter of a mile, the river/stream/water was diverted onto the tarmac, and racers zipped here and there through the water.  A control route led off from the flood, up a flooded narrow trail.  I left my bike at the bottom, narrowly within the rules, and soaked my feet walking upstream to the control.   Plenty of wet bikers around, but at least our bikes were getting cleaned in the stream! 

It was then that the remaining controls started looking a little thin, and my time left started looking a little long.  I usually don't have this problem.  I had one longer option left, and I debated it for several turns.  Remember last month I tried to do to much and lost due to late return penalties.  This time I opted to skip the long detour and get back safely early.  Much too early.   I pedaled easily, soaked up the scenery, enjoyed just being in the moment, and looked around me at the countryside.  After all, I wouldn't be seeing this too much longer.   Even after slowing down, I got back to the finish 20 minutes early.   I had "the perfect race" finally, except for the early return, but I knew in my heart that it wouldn't be enough for the win. 

Sure enough, I scored higher than I ever had before, but everything is relative.  Three of my competitors scored even higher and sent me back to a distant 4th place.   Oddly enough, my score was enough to put me in 1st place for the series....at least for now.   I won't be around to finish the series, so it's a temporary ascendence, but enjoyable anyway! 

Everyone seemed to have a good day, what with the nice weather and fast biking.  Given the state of mud on the trails, I rather suspect that the controls had been placed to keep us off the worst of the flooded stuff, which might account for the fast racing...or it might not.   All I know is that when I come back with mud splattered on my face and a big grin, it's been a fun day. 

Adrian at the finish!

Andy and Harry looking excited at the start

...and much muddier at the finish