THE AZORES SERIES, DAY 8&9
HORTA, FAIAL – PICO ISLAND
Camping in Volcano Pico, Portugal’s highest mountain. Today is the day; the day I have been waiting for and the day I have been dreading, climbing Mt Pico!
WITHOUT DOUBT THE TOP 3 WORST NIGHT’S SLEEP I’VE HAD
This wasn’t something I had planned well in advance, and only knew it as an option 2 weeks before I was due to arrive, talk about lack of prep. But in saying that I did 5 minutes on the step machine before getting bored, so can’t say I am totally unprepared!
- ACCOM – Crater, Mt Pico
- STEPS – 21,750
- ACCOM – Casa do Cais, 6/10
- STEPS – 16,900
FINALLY THE WEATHER COMES OUT
Anyway, after a great night sleep at Internacional Azores Boutique I woke up to a “wonder of a day!” Even if deep down I was hoping for the old cancellation email (the hike is very much weather dependant) it was going ahead regardless!
Being the highest mountain in Portugal, Pico is naturally known to be very difficult with its stair like gradient. If a standard day hike is known to be difficult then carting up another 20kg of gear on your back was sure going to sort me out! This meant along with my usual camera, drone, tripod etc I was also lugging around my food, water, tent, sleeping bag and a mattress (not an actual mattress, just a blow up one thank god!).
FERRY TO PICO
After a quick run (literally all I had time for) around Horta I got the 10:45 Atlantico over to Madalena. It’s impossible not to stare at Pico and wonder if you are doing the right thing, as I say I’m no hiker!
After arriving and getting another Ilha Verde rental car I checked into Casa do Cais. Walking into the reception I was waiting for Roger to check me in until I realised the room I thought was reception was actually the one I would be staying in, it was an insane size for one poor backpacker!
Needing to get a move on I headed up to the mountain house (Casa da Montanha) where I met Steffi from Hominis Natura and as soon as we received our GPS devices we set off!
There are 47 posts in total and we would only be making stops at 6 😩 so it was slow and steady from here! If you aren’t a hiker and want to test yourself, the best advice I can give is to take short steps often, it’s the only way. Unless you’re a pro and fancy beating the 1hr 40 mins return time set by one of the guides. By 1hr 40 I was only half way and out of my guts but in the end it was all good and happy to hear the time of 3hr 20mins was well below the average, with a killer weight on my shoulders too. Don’t get me wrong there were times I was literally biting my lip not to call out to Steffi for a stop, but I do not like the thought of giving in!
- HEIGHT – 2,351 m
- AVERAGE TIME TO CLIMB – 8 hours return
- DIFFICULTY – very hard
Pico has a strange peak, and one that has actually grown over the years. Our camp is within the main crater, picos highest point for many years. That was until pequena pico (small peak) was formed and now stretches another 70metres beyond the crater.
After setting up camp and releasing the shoulders we made a beeline for the craters edge and then up to the summit. What a relief to climb without the additional weight 🥵
SUNSET AT THE SUMMIT
Arriving at the summit was one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve had, knowing the effort it took to get there and the deepest of places I had to go to dig in 😆
As the weather had been poor over the past week (finally a stroke of luck) there had been a lot of cancellations moved onto today. Around 12 of us on the summit and as the night hike is also popular there is due to be more for sunrise.
ROUGH PRICES (GROUP)….
- Day climb – €65
- Night climb (sunrise) – €85
- Overnight (sunset & sunrise) – €65
After a 4:45 alarm call, we made our way back to the top again for sunrise. There are 2 things that don’t sit well with most, an early morning wakeup call and another hike up a mountain but it was well worth it as we were first up and got the pick of the seats.
The sunrise was expectantly busy and we could see the droves of headlights making their way up the mountain behind us.
Even though the horizon wasn’t immediately clear which meant a slightly later sunrise, you could never complain about the result, especially when It’s common for the peak to be covered in clouds. I might not have been lucky in Flores but I was getting all the luck I needed here.
CAMPING IN VOLCANO PICO PORTUGAL’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN
For something like this I always try and arrange a private guide (if it cant be done alone) for a few reasons;
- I can go at my own pace up and down. In groups you are only as fast as the slowest group member.
- I had the flexibility of doing my own thing and staying longer on the summit in the morning.
This allowed me to wait out the crowds at the top and to have the peak to myself. Being up there surrounded by 25 others just isn’t the same.
After giving ourselves another 20mins we made our way back to Base Camp, had breakfast, packed and began our descent.
Having told Steffi that I was ultra-competitive on the way up and not wanting to make any unwarranted R&R stops she triggered this urge in me again before the descent,
Let’s go so we can catch up with the other groups.
I honestly wasn’t sure if she was joking but not wanting to affect our pace I let the comment fly like she meant it. Now, I would have thought that catching up with the groups would be a no brainier had we not spent another 20mins on the summit alone, taken 10 minutes for breakfast or had to pack up our tent and gear which was another 15 minutes. And this doesn’t even consider carrying a 20kg backpack As the other hikers were just there for the day, all they had was a day pack with water and snacks. So, all in all the closest group was already 40 minutes ahead, the others much longer!
THE REAL CHALLENGE LAY AHEAD
I have been told countless times going down is much harder, which didn’t fill me with a lot of confidence but I was doubtful it could be as hard at what I went through yesterday.
How long does it take Steffi?
4hrs normally, 3hrs 30mins in a good day but from what I saw yesterday I think we can do it in 3hrs.
3hrs?? I thought. It could well be a good time but sure doesn’t sound impressive so I was keen to start strong.
THE DESCENT WAS A JOY
The pace was good, I kept glued to Steffi heels and only had to stop to use her belt to stop my trousers from falling off, what a gentleman I am! From there it wasn’t long before we could see the first group, which got me thinking,
Ok next group,
Steffi laughed and was keen to oblige!
The further we go on the better I felt, and every opportunity of a rest was turned down, and with all the groups now passed, I had my sights now set on a time.
What time are we looking at Steffi?
I think we can do 2hrs 30mins.
Nah fuck this, still doesn’t sound good enough I thought.
Can we do under 2hours” I replied, keen to run down this mountain if I had to.
Steffi smiled and happily responded,“OK lets try.” I think she was keen for a good time too.
We pressed on, avoiding the last of the groups on their way up and slowly but surely the car park came back into view! Unlike the climb the descent was an absolute joy, because I knew then that the biggest effort was done!
After booking this trip I was never really sure it was the right thing to do. Don’t get me wrong I know I could climb it but with no prep and it being one of the more difficult treks I knew it would be a real test. But at the summit and during my descent it was 100% worth it, and probably something I should do more of.
After a quick trip to another foggy landmark, Lagoa do Capitão (the benefit of Pico being above the clouds) it was back to the guesthouse for a wash and a chill (2hr nap – unplanned!). It was then off to watch the sunset in Madalena, what a way to end the day!
Lucky weather as although the following day was clear, the peak was covered.
No doubt that the day was made all the worthwhile by the weather!
Parking revenge at Pico’s Whaling Museum! Click to read.
SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
- Have you climbed Pico?
- Do you enjoy hiking?
- What is the hardest hike you have done?
Let me know in the comments below . . .