This is a blog about a hastily arranged trip last November. A mini adventure snatched as the UK was entering its second Covid-19 lockdown. With mountaineering being somewhat constrained, at least for me, during 2020 I was keen to do at least something. What with travel corridors and the need to quarantine on return to the UK from most places abroad, Madeira provided a unique opportunity. In order to save its tourist industry, the local government had put in place mandatory testing for all arrivals. This was undertaken at the airport. From there you were taken to your accommodation and had to remain there until the results were texted to you. Because the authorities had their act together, this only took 6 hours. So we had barely settled in before we were given the all clear.
The purpose of the trip wasn’t just to climb some mountains. But Madeira does have a rugged, volcanic centre. So between sightseeing and sunning ourselves we thought we would go up the two most prominent peaks on the island.
Pico Ruivo is the highest point at 1862m. That makes it one of the world’s ultra prominent peaks – peaks with a prominence of at least 1500m. It makes for a very pleasant walk through the heart of the island. Whilst the surrounding terrain is rugged there is a path to the summit. Indeed, from the nearest car park it would be possible to reach the summit in around an hour. But this would not be deserving of the mountain. Much better is to do the route between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo.
This is a through route of around 6 kilometres involving quite a bit of up and down. I reckoned on around 500 metres of ascent even though Ruivo is only 44 metres higher than Arieiro. The route follows National Trail PR1. It is well signed and it would be difficult to get lost.
The only logistical challenge is that because a linear walk then, unless you want to reverse the whole route back to Arieiro, you need transport at both ends. There is public transport to Arieiro, but none to the Ruivo end. But this issue was dealt with by using Pico Transfers whose details are here. They will pick you up from your accommodation, deposit you in the car park just below Arieiro’s summit and then collect you at the far end. It is much cheaper than using a taxi. We found the service to be reliable, though they used a fairly small hatchback for the transfers!
Because there had been some uncertainty surrounding our trip to Madeira (which had only been booked 6 days before our departure from the UK), the Sunrise Departure that Pico Transfers offer had been booked up by the time we were ready to commit to the service. With Madeira being subject to the trade winds it is a bit of pot luck whether or not you get your summits free of cloud anyway. The high peaks capture any passing moisture. There is a marked contrast between the verdant north side of the island and the drier south.
We were fortunate and the clouds were above us – and some below – though there was little sun.
So at the rather late hour of 11am we were dropped off at Arieiro and had the strenuous climb of around 30 metres to the summit. There is a radar station nearby and the top is crowned by a concrete trig.
From here you can see the way forward with Pico Ruivo obvious in the distance. Obvious though Pico Ruivo might be, the route the path might take is less so.
The path immediately drops 100 metres or so. But it is clear that a well-engineered path will guide the way.
You are quickly into the middle of the volcanic remains. And you wonder if anyone ever made this traverse before the path was created. It rises and falls amongst rocky towers. The path weaves around objects and the views out of other parts of the island constantly vary.
Tunnels drive through inconvenient ridges and traverses carve their way around rocky precipices as the following pictures show. Steps and metal staircases help with some of the steeper sections.
Signs of volcanism are all round. Once there was a path around the eastern side of Pico das Torres (one of the intervening peaks along the way). A landslip a few years back led to the closure of the path. The powers that be are letting nature take over so the start of the bypass path is not obvious. However, it is still possible to spot and the more adventurous might explore it and try an ascent of Pico das Torres which involves rock climbing.
There was time for a late lunch. We sat at a viewing area a little to the north of the summit and watched the clouds swirling beneath us.
So we had undertaken the whole traverse in 5 hours, including stops. We just had to wait about 20 minutes for our transport and we were then whisked back to our hotel.
Pico Ruivo do Paul da Serra
A couple of days later we hired a car for the day. This was to do some sightseeing around the island and to go up another Pico Ruivo – this time Pico Ruivo do Paul da Serra. This is a 600 metre prominence mountain standing at 1649 metres. Despite the promising forecast, the weather was dreadful. Although the round trip was not long, the rain had soaked us by the end. This summit is supposed to have good views over the north coast of the island. All we saw was cloud and rain.
But here is Julie at the top.
For anyone interested in the climb, the description is as follows. There is off-road parking on the ER208 about 500m from its junction with the ER110 opposite a barred vehicle track. This track runs in a north westerly direction from opposite the parking area The peak is signed from that point.
After about a further 250m there is another post directing you NNE along another track. After a short distance this track turns into a footpath bounded by gorse. It was prickly going for a while until this footpath intersected with another coming from the south east (where there was a further sign telling us that we were only 400m away from the summit). We turned left and the path steepened for a short while to a viewpoint on the right looking towards Sao Vicente.
At this point the path levels off and in 30 metres the summit trig on a large concrete plinth appears. Next to that is a now-broken sign advertising the name of the summit. The name was lying on the ground and only the elevation details remained attached to the wooden post. There is another viewpoint here.
The approach to the start is interesting. You drive over a significant bog. Not something you would expect on the top of a volcanic landscape. In the cloud we could not see much of this. There are also wind turbines, but again we could not see much of them so they did not spoil the view.