An epic mountain walk

Today my alarm woke me at 06.45. I planned to do the famous walk between Pico do Arierio and Pico Ruivo, high in the mountains, and the guidebook said you should start early to avoid clouds.   However, when I got up and went out on the terrace, the weather was cloudy even at sea-level in Funchal. I thought that the mountains would be even worse and sat down to think of a plan B for the day, annoyed at having woken up so early for nothing.  Dawn was breaking, and I remembered the website with webcams all around Madeira showing the weather that had been so useful on my first day on Madeira.  Maybe I could find a sunny place to visit for the morning. Out of 20 webcams, there was one showing a brilliant sunrise, above a layer of thick cloud………Pico do Ariero. My original plan was still good, since the top of the mountains rose well above the clouds.  I picked up all the stuff I had packed the night before and set off in my car up some very steep hills.  Soon I was engulfed in thick grey cloud, but as I went further and further up, I felt  the top of the cloud lightening, and then suddenly the sky was a brilliant clear blue with a bright white layer of cloud below me.  I had arrived at a radar station that marked the start of my walk. 

The road leaves the clouds

I stopped at the radar station to take my first photographs of the beautiful cloud- and mountain-scape. 

First of many amazing views

The path then set off downhill along the side of a mountain and the along a sharp crest, with steep drops on either side.

Not for the faint hearted….
Mountains and Clouds

Fortunately, the path was well maintained, with guide rails.  The path ran to a couple of “miradouros” before dropping steeply down the mountain, and then running level through several tunnels. 

The second tunnel

The first seemed natural, the others had been bored through the rock. They were long and dark, requiring me to use the light on my phone to see where I was going.  In the stretches between tunnels, I was treated to a series of amazing views.  Brilliant sunshine, tall mountains, and bright white cloud drifting in from the sea.

On a flat bit between tunnels

Next the path went steeply up a series of long metal ladders, then came a slightly flatter section running through a forest of dead grey trees.  With the wisps of clouds blowing in from the valley, and the trees twisted, agonized shapes, it felt like an enchanted forest from a fairy tale. 

The enchanted forest…
Fairy tale prince turned into a tree?
Up and up…

The path continued still further up, and with the strong sunshine I was soon sweating.  Finally, I reached the summit of Pico Ruivo and stopped to take photographs and admire the views.  I could see the starting point for my walk just over on the neighbouring mountain range. Given the effort of getting here, it looked disappointingly close as the crow flies, but the steep drop between the two points bore witness to the difficulty of the path. 

View from Pico Ruivo with Pico do Ariero, my starting point, in the distance

I stopped to have my packed sandwiches and drink some water, and then set off on the return trip.  The clouds were now thicker and reaching higher up the mountain.  At the point where the clear sky stopped and the clouds began, I saw a faint rainbow, before the sun disappeared entirely.  

Closest I have been to a rainbow

Doing the return trip in the mist was a completely different experience. Although less spectacular, I noticed things I had missed on the way out, and I was protected from the sun and the heat.  I met a family of partridges – friendly birds almost the same size as me – and shared some biscuits with them. 

When the path began to rise steeply again, I knew I was getting closer to my destination. Just when I was thinking the path up would never end, I made out the spherical white form of the radar station through the mist, looking like some alien space craft. 

The end in sight!

Made it!  A hard 5 hours walking, with a 30mins break for lunch.  My legs hurt, but it was one of the most spectacular walks I had ever done anywhere, and I was exceptionally lucky to catch the time when the clouds were drifting up from the valley and had not yet reached the summit.  A big thumbs up for the Madeira webcams!

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