I must have had a few too many beers the night before, when I had agreed to climb Pico with Bruce, but sure enough the next day we caught the ferry across from Horta to Pico. We had lunch in a restaurant and then caught a taxi as far as they would go up the mountain. The taxi dropped us off at about 3 o'clock and we started walking up the farm roads toward the mountain.
Had a narrow shave with a charging bull, probably because I was wearing my bright orange oilskin jacket, but Bruce clapped his hands and shouted and scared the bull off.
It was 7pm when we reached the end of the road and there was no sign of any trail markers. But we started climbing anyway.
To start with, we climbed up the steep slope through quite thick bush. We were now about 900 meters above sea level. We found that it was easier to walk through the burned out areas, although we got covered in soot.
We climbed up into the clouds and the terrain changed to soft spongy grass covered with little blue, pink and purple flowers. It was hard going but very beautiful.
By 10pm it was starting to get dark and we were still miles from the top and the going was getting very difficult and rocky, clambering over loose clinkers from the volcano. The rock formations were fantastic.
There was no place to stop for the night as it was too steep and the stones too loose. I would wait while Bruce climbed and then he would stop while I followed, as the rocks would be kicked down the mountain as we climbed. If you kicked a big one you could hear it roll on and on forever down the mountain.
It was terribly quiet and all you could hear was your heart beating, sounding like a diesel engine.
We climbed on and on through the cloud and the dark, finding our way by feel rather than sight. Every time the mist cleared you could see a ridge up ahead which we assumed to be the top, but when you got there there would be another ridge to follow. We were climbing a slope of about 60 or 80 degrees and you really had to hang on to stop sliding down the mountain.
Luckily Bruce was as unfit as I was, so we traveled at the same speed and needed equal amounts of rest. Once when he stopped up ahead he said, "Look behind you". I turned around cautiously and saw the most breathtaking view I have ever seen. We were above the clouds and in a gap you could see Horta twinkling away across the water. You could see the curvature of the earth we were so high.
We carried on, ridge after ridge and there was nowhere to stop and sit down, so we had to go on.
Eventually, we were so exhausted and could go no further so we found a levelish slope full of rocks where we decided to spend the night.
Had a bottle of wine and some bread rolls and then put on all the jackets and jerseys we had and got into our sleeping bags. It was terribly uncomfortable and my zip on my sleeping bag was rusted open and would not close and the freezing air would come in every time I moved to get more comfortable. In the middle of the night though, I could take it no more and managed to force the zip until it zipped up.
In the morning the view was fantastic and after a breakfast of rolls and water we set off again for the top. If we had carried on for just another ten minutes the night before we would have made it to the top and safely into the crater. We had stopped just short of the top.
The crater was fantastic, like something off the moon.
Had another bottle of good, cheap local wine to celebrate and then took pictures and started down. We found the trail this time which had markers every 100 yards and the ground was much firmer.
Going down was easy until our muscles and blisters started playing up. The bottom was as elusive as the top and it took us from 930 am to 4pm to reach a road. We could barely walk. We were hoping to get a lift from a farm truck but there was no sign of life around. Took the road toward the closest town but the road soon got worse and worse and it became obvious that no cars had passed that way in ages,
There were some cattle in the fields though. We came to a paddock full of bulls with boards on their legs and they looked pretty mean so we walked around the field rather than going through. The road wound round and round, so we decided to take a direct route down the mountain through the fields. They got more dense, the further down we went and it was plain that nobody had been farming around there for many years. Some sheep, goats and some agriculture from years gone by.
Eventually it turned into forest and we had to navigate from field to field following the stone walls so as not to go down the steep ravines covered in jungle.
To cut a much longer story short, we reached the town about 730pm and hitched a ride on a truck to the main town. The first truck went full speed to catch up with his friend and transfer us to another truck as he was not going all the way. The new truck had to stop and deliver a barrel of wine, and we were required to go in and taste some of it. We were then transferred to a mini and taken the rest of the way to Madelina.
In Madelina we had to hitch a ride, with much difficulty (as it is illegal) from a fishing boat as we had missed the last ferry back to Horta. Once onboard the fishing boat we were fed a huge plate of cold fish and potatoes, bread and beer. We were starving, and it went down well.
When we got to Horta we were sneaked of onto another boat to the quay while no dockyard police were watching. We walked up to Peter Café Sport for more beer. We were exhausted and filthy from the fire paths, but the beers soon lubricated our tired limbs and anesthetized our blistered feet although walking back to the boat afterwards was still painfully slow........................
Howard [ Just Imagine ] 15-Mar-2009