Climbing Pico mountain, Azores

(Listen to the music while reading blog post.)

‘Because it’s there.’ said Edmund Hillary when he was asked why he had climbed Mount Everest. I could provide you with a similar answer for the question why I climbed Mount Pico. Although it’s significance in the history of mankind is obviously indifferent, it’s outstanding for me and this is also something to consider.
Pico volcano is the highest mountain of Portugal, its 2351m high peak is visible from all the neighbouring islands. If it’s visible. Because mostly its rocky body is blanketed with thick clouds. When I arrived at the Azores, I had been looking at the spot I suspected the volcano to be through the clouds when one evening it decided to show me some parts of its beauty. I knew at once that I wanted to be on the very top of it.

It me took two more weeks to gather everything for the climb: good weather, some preparation and my birthday. On my 35. birthday I set some kind of tradition of climbing an active volcano in Indonesia and watched the sunrise from a 1800m high mountain. You have to know that birthdays are not big deals for me, I tend to forget other’s and mine as well, no matter how embarrassing it is. But since I discovered this specific form of celebration, I quite enjoy these days, o I planned the Pico climb for my 36. birthday. I tried to collect the useful information for the trek and you can check them out at the end of the blog post not having to collect them yourselves before you come to climb Pico.

7 a.m. departure time. The ferry takes me to the island of Pico with a sleepy honking, and after a short ride I arrive at the Casa da Montanha, the house of the mountain where the trail starts. There is thick fog everywhere, it is icy 4 degrees and I have to climb another 1100m up so I start to question my sanity not having more warm clothes on me. A bigger group start their guided climb while I do the registration, but they are fast so I am completely alone on the mountain, almost for the whole climb.

I regularly do hiking, go running (not so regularly), so let’s say I am on an average fit level and this made me feel quite confident before the hike, just to get myself being out of breath after the first two meters. And as I realize it later on my way down, the first part of the climb is pretty easy. After half an hour of hiking I get rid of 3 layers of clothes and tend to think that I might have exaggerated the cold with a ski jacket. But at least I have plus 1,5 kilograms to carry all the way up. Nice. In this very moment I swear to myself I’ll buy a lightweight camera for the next trip, because having my 5DmkIII (another 3,5 kilos) on me seems unnecessarily idiotic.
I am barely sinking into the marsh of self-pity when suddenly it clears up and far away I glimpse Faial, my beloved island. I can’t stop admiring the view and from time to time I stop for taking some photos. Yes, for taking photos and not because I am out of my breath. No. This is a ridiculous and dirty assumption and I refuse it.
Oh, and ladies, for those who recently goes to the gym for a little ass renovation, I’d suggest climbing Pico instead, with all the love of my heart. If you know what I mean..

I am approximately halfway there when I realize what was so weird since the beginning. The silence. I have never experienced silence like this before in my life. Never ever. When I understand my tiny existence on the huge mountain, that is a moment of infinite peace. On the sign that shows the path there is a mark saying ‘Respect the mountain.’ With aching muscles I murmur myself grinning that I respect it, but would respect it equally if it was just half the high.
The way up is so steep that even a mountain goat could easily miss the next step on the lava. As for me I concentrate hard to find the optimal path, because sometimes it becomes a relatively easy rock climbing route (which I don’t mind at all).
After a long hesitation, I decided to make this climb alone, without a mountain guide and this was an excellent idea regarding that half of the pleasure is coming from the exploration which would disappear if someone showed the way. The path is marked with signs and as you can always see the next one standing by a pole, it’s pretty hard to be lost.
At the 36. sign I stop for a second. This is my number. I make fun of myself, pose, smile widely for the picture and at the same time in my head: ‘Who was that miserable fool who thought climbing this !%+?% volcano could be a good idea? What the heck am I doing here? What an idiot can climb 1100m up just to come down 1100m after?’ Zum beispiel. And worse. But I am almost there I soothe myself, there are altogether 43 signs, I am currently at no. 36, not many more to reach.
Well…, not exactly like I hoped for. The guy who numbered the poles was either very deeply drunk or had a wry humour, because after no. 42 it was not no. 43 coming as you would guess completely exhausted at the end of your trip, but no. 40 again. So a new final countdown starts and after all I reach sign 43 and set my eyes on the very top: the 2351m high peak of Pico mountain. There is a small ‘hill’ on the top which is called by the locals ‘Piquinho’, playfully created linking playfully the name of the volcano ‘Pico’ and the Portuguese equivalent of small ‘pequeno’.
The big group I met at the beginning is about to start their descent and I gain all my preserved energy to climb the last 100 meters to the very top.
Where I am greeted by infinite fog instead of a beautiful view of the neighbouring islands as I was hoping for in the last three weeks. Well, this is so me. I haven’t seen pictures of the view before, not to ruin the experience when I am there, but finally there was nothing to be ruined. This volcano is not only shy, but has a fatal humour as well. Not to mention that my camera successfully joined closely the sharp edge of a rock and broke. At least something made my heart beat faster, even if it was not the amazing view. At this point you have to options: either you start crying loud or you laugh obsessively on yourself. I’ve chosen the second.
I was laughing hard on the situation, on my luck, and let the tension go. After this, feeling a lot better I started my descent.

And I have to say, human body and mind are both amazing! Halfway up I got so exhausted that I questioned my determination. I then reached the top just to realize it was only half of the trek. But mind solves it. When you feel you have to beg for being able to make the next step or you’ll die in the next moment, some black magic happens in your brain cells and make you keep going. Even if your muscles are burning.
The descent is manly in the clouds and I hereby doubt the statement that you always see the next pole with the sign for the path, because sometimes I can not predict where are my boots, even if I concentrate on every single step. After a while I start having lovely and intimate conversation with my feet, something like this: ‘Oh guys, don’t make me disappointed, I can’t make it without you, you need to keep going.’ If somebody was there beside me, he would immediately call psychiatry for emergency. But it’s only me so I can speak to my body parts, why not?!
I am the happiest on the entire globe when I reach casa da montanha again, sipping my bica (strong espresso) and summing up. The experience is amazing and long resonating inside. I am damned proud of myself. I count all the difficulties and decide that every hard moment was worth it.
After that I sink into the luxury of being knocked out.

Useful information:

1.Casa da montanha, house of the mountain, this is where the trail starts: 38 ° 28’13.89 “N | 28 ° 28’35.33 “W.
Address: Caminho Florestal nº 9, Candelária, 9950 Madalena
Tel: (+ 351) 967 303 519 (they speak fluent English and give information about the weather conditions)
You’ll be provided with a GPS device to track you on the mountain which is particularly useful when you do the climb on your own. You have to pay 10 euros for the trek and another 2 for climbing Piquinho. It can be weird first to pay for a nature path, but this is part of a Natural Park, all secured and signposted, maintenanced, and insurance is also included in the price.
2. Everything you need to know about climbing Pico is gathered here in one very informative website:
3. The climb: although not a technical one, the climb to Pico Mountain is of medium / high difficulty. The trail has a total length of 7600m (3800m from the base to the summit) and a slope of 1100m, starting at the House of the Mountain, at 1230m altitude, where all hikers make the ascent, reaching the summit at 2351m of altitude and ending with the return to the House of the Mountain. Sometimes you need to use your hands for climbing and trekking sticks can be also useful.
Important to have enough warm clothes, rainproof jacket and trousers, food and at least 1,5l water. I benefited of having gloves on me and should have had sunscreen also.
The average trekking time is 7 hours, 3,5 up and the same time down. For me it was 4,5 – 2,5, but altogether I did average.
Guide: you can hire a guide if you want to feel totally safe, although it can be expensive (around 100 euros if you are solo, less in groups).

If I can be of any help, just give me a shout! And don’t forget: everybody should climb mount Pico once in a lifetime!


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