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Hiking Mount Pico in Portgual

Portugal is the home of some fantastic hiking – it’s all in our book, but this challenge takes us up the highest Portuguese mountain, Mount Pico. At 2351m it’s a good climb and it’s also pretty unique as it’s not on the mainland. Sail across the ocean from Sao Jorge to Pico island to attempt this one. It’s part of a mid-Atlantic volcanic hot-spot.

Here’s our Monday to Thursday trip. That sounds a bit excessive, as you only need a day to climb. But you do need good weather. So here’s some suggestions for other things to do as well as your big climb.

Monday. We needed full waterproofs just to go from the car to the visitor centre. We had a cup of hot chocolate and a famous pastel de nata to review the situation. So instead, we drove down to the UNESCO-listed vineyards where it was warm and clear, with views of the clouds enveloping Pico that remained for the entire day, making us very pleased with our decision.

Tuesday. The mountain remained hidden all day.

Wednesday. Ferocious wind and rain, so we went to swim in a lava pool with a black volcanic sanded beach in surprising good weather at the coast.

Thursday. Glorious weather, finally. We drove to the visitor centre and geared up for the hike. The level of regulation for the walk is the highest we’ve encountered; 12 Euros for a permit, sign a disclaimer, watch a safety briefing, and we were given a GPS tracker each, complete with an emergency call button on it.

The start of the walk was straight onto rough lava, letting us know what was to follow. It was also nippy but the only direction was up, so we soon warmed up and got into a steady rhythm. It wasn’t a race, but our experience showed as we overtook all in our path, until after 2 solid hours of ascent, we reached the rim of the crater.

The scenery was dramatic. Imagine the surface of the moon, encapsulated in a giant bowl of basalt. This was just the beginning, as we abandoned our walking sticks and took the easy scramble to Pequino – the little extra cone on one rim of the giant ‘caldeira’ – that’s Portuguese for cauldron, i.e. the crater.

We’ve rarely seen so many people at a summit on any of our walks, but we could easily see why. The views were breathtaking, with island-studded vast expanses of Atlantic Ocean in all directions. It’s truly one of the best views we have ever seen, and the effort and the waiting was worth it all.

We had lunch there, continuing to soak up the views and explore a little. In places there were small plumes of steam, and it was scaldingly hot, sulphurous, and clearly volcanic.

The route down was exactly the reverse, but still very hard work being so steep and uneven, and at the end our legs were exhausted. We had walked only 8km in 5½ hours, but a massive ascent of 1090m on difficult terrain. As we left, we saw that we had chosen the time most fortuitously, as clouds were racing up the slopes of the volcano, the summit their destination.

Walking in Portugal is available at cicerone press.

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