Sunday 8 October 2017

La Palma, Ruta de los Volcanes Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 14.4 km (9 miles), terrain: very hilly, sometimes steep, gain 757 meters!

This is one amazing run. You'll transition from rain-forest shade forests to blasted, wide-open volcanic lava-flows. Sometimes you'll be in the clouds, sometimes you'll have views out over a carpet of clouds way below. You'll be stepping along the edge of craters, and viewing out across the Atlantic Ocean towards other islands. 
Trail view over the Atlantic towards Tenerifa
NOTE: This route is extremely rugged! It's steep, rocky, and you have to watch your step all the time. You might even prefer to hike it rather than to run it. But there are some hearty runners who traverse the rocky terrain like mountain goats. However you do it, make sure you bring a water bottle and a windbreaker! Walls of clouds can also suddenly move in, so watch their movement, and bring a good map and GPS. Plan it for a day when the ridge should be clear of clouds.

The Canary Islands isle of La Palma is the result of one huge volcano, then many smaller ones that followed through the millennia. No visit to the island is complete without a visit to the edges of the volcanic craters, some less than 50 years old.

This route follows the Ruta de los Volcanes (E7) hiking trail that winds along the peaks among a variety of volcanic cones and lava fields that popped up, one by one, forming the south end of the island. The route is normally well-marked, heading north-south almost the whole way.
El Pilar mist
We'll start it at one of my favorite spots on the island, El Pilar, a picnic park up in the clouds, and one of the most popular recreation areas for the islanders. Often, the clouds get stuck up here on the north/south ridge, and it looks like a rain-forest. Cloud-soaked Spanish moss drips from the trees, which disappear upwards into the swirling mist above.

The E7 hiking route begins a long ways north of here, circling the huge Caldera de Taburiente then heading southwards past all the main volcanic cones along the ridge of Cumbre Vieja, all the way to Fuencaliente, at the southern tip of the island. We'll just follow the middle section of the trail, Cumbre Vieja, where the biggest concentration of volcanoes and lava flows can be found.
Start of the run at El Pilar
El Pilar is off on a side-road from the main road between Santa Cruz and El Paso (watch for the signs to turn off), along the ridge that divides the eastern and western sides of the island. There is plenty of parking, so find a spot and put on your running gear!

Now walk to the area with the picnic shelters and playground swings on the south side of the road. If you walk past the playground to the far south end of the park, you'll see the waymarker signs for the hiking trail towards Fuencaliente, which begins going right up the hill. Did I mention that this is one difficult trail? Oops, well now is the time to tell you...
View northwards towards the Caldera de Taburiente
The trail heads uphill through pine woods towards the southwest, along the north flank of Pico Birigoyo, our first volcano. There are some nice views northwards towards the huge Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma's first volcano, the biggest volcanic crater in the world.

After a kilometer, the trees thin out and you have a wide view westwards, over the black lava fields of an eruption about 70 years ago.
View westwards over the clouds
After 2 kilometers, the trail heads down into a valley to join onto a jeep road, turning left, then heading uphill to the south. At different spots, you can see where recent fires have blackened the pine woods around you, but most of the trees survived.
Blackened pine tree along the way
After another half a kilometer, the trail leaves the jeep road and heads uphill southwards, passing a strange rock spiral that some people once laid out. The trail crosses a couple of wooden bridges and then takes you out over the ridge to the face the east side of the island.
Wooden bridge
At the 4.5-kilometer mark, you'll have a great view eastwards out over the ocean towards Tenerife. A few trails branch off here, heading downwards towards the east coast. But continue uphill, following the signs towards Fuencaliente.
Downhill runner at the trail branch-off
We are now in the high country, the trail will follow the Cumbre Vieja ridge for the rest of the way. This area is where the 1949 volcanic eruption happened, with lots of fairly fresh-looking lava flows.

Soon, at the 5-km mark, you'll come to the steep edge of a crater opening westwards, Volcán Hoyo Negro. The black and tan volcanic ash layers are strongly eroded into deep canyons. What a sight!
Volcán Hoyo Negro
Continuing southwards past some rocks with great views to more volcanoes. You'll face the blackend peak of Montaña de los Charcos across a lifeless, black valley of loose ash and rock.
Approaching Los Charcos
The trail takes you along its western side. The wind is wild up here at the peak, not a place to hang around!

Just south of los Charcos is a second cinder cone, Deseada, almost 2000 meters high. There are some cement markers along the trail here, with a couple of smaller trails heading off the the left (eastwards) that take you to the edge of Deseada and los Charcos.

Take one of those trails down to the crater edges and get a closer look at these other-worldly sights. You'll feel like you're on Mars.
Deseada and Los Charcos
But it's been 7 kilometers of hard trail climbing so far, so let's turn around and head back home now. There's still a long way to go to get back! And when you make it, kick off your shoes, shower off the sweat and grime, and it'll be time to tilt-back a well-earned glass of local La Palma wine!
Here's to one beautiful run!

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