Monday 20 April 2020

Lanzarote: Montaña Blanca

Montaña Blanca will be a familiar sight to most visitors to Lanzarote, even if they don't know its name. Situated in front of you as you leave the airport, it's the first volcano you see when you arrive on the island and is distinctive for the huge swirling pattern eroded into one of its flanks by the prevailing winds. It shouldn't be mixed up with Caldera Blanca, a completely different mountain in the Parque Natural de los Volcanes, which is sometimes confusingly referred to online as Montaña Blanca - if you're interested in that popular hike, we walked it last year and you can read about our experiences here.

Montaña Blanca from Arrecife.
The route I followed came from the guide book, Walk! Lanzarote, which is an excellent resource for anyone hiking on the island. The majority of the walk takes place on tracks and paths that are referenced elsewhere online and clearly well-used. However, when it comes to sections that seem to be exclusive to the guide book, I've been deliberately vague about directions and key waypoints. This blog isn't intended as a guide to be followed and readers are advised to buy a copy of the book so they know where they can cross open country and farmland without trespassing.

The church in Montaña Blanca, with Montaña Guatisea in the background.
I started out at the Ermita de Maria Auxiliadora in the village of Montaña Blanca, where Rich dropped me off in the hire car. He'd decided to have a break from the trails that morning; we'd walked over the Famara Massif the previous day and were going to be up early the next day to do a hike on La Graciosa, so he decided to explore the famous Sunday market in Teguise instead.

Waving him goodbye, I set off up a tarmac road on the edge of the village. Shortly afterwards, this became a dirt track, rising on a fairly slight incline through farmland. Ahead, there was a col between Montaña Blanca and Los Morretes, the smaller hill next to it.

Montaña Blanca from... er... Montaña Blanca.
The saddle between Montaña Blanca and Los Morretes.
Looking back down to the village.
Montaña Blanca's crater is concealed when you view it from the coast but from this perspective its volcanic origin was clear to see. There's a path from the village that takes you directly up into the caldera (this was to be my route back down) but my walk was going to take me almost completely around the mountain before starting the final ascent to the summit.

Dry stone walls on Los Morretes.
I'd been surrounded by higher ground as I made my way up to the col so my views had pretty much been limited to picon fields and dry stone walls. It was nice then to reach the saddle and have the hillside drop away in front of me: vistas opened up along the coast and into the badlands of the Montañas del Fuego. In front of me was the shapely cone of Montaña Tersa, which sits just to the west of Montaña Blanca, and across the sea I could make out Isola de Lobos and the mountains of Fuerteventura behind it.

In the valley below Montaña Tersa, what looked like a small procession caught my eye. It was some distance away but when I zoomed in with the camera I could see carriages and people in traditional dress. I couldn't find anything online about a religious festival taking place so it remains a mystery - perhaps a wedding or some other celebration...

The track took me around the western flank of Montaña Blanca. Eventually, following the detailed instructions in the guide book, I left the trail and had to negotiate some farmland before I set off across the open mountainside. The going underfoot was surprisingly easy, as the ravines that radiate from the summit were much higher than I was at this point.

Walking on a rough bearing, I arrived at a sketchy path and began to follow it through the dusty landscape. The twisted and broken scars in the rock began to reach further down the hillside as I made my way east but the path became more manicured as it carried on. Well, perhaps manicured isn't quite the right word, but concrete had been laid in some sections and this made crossing the ravines a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. It was fascinating terrain to walk through.

There's an intriguing historical feature on the southern aspect of the mountain, an abandoned mareta or reservoir. This definition of the Spanish word, which normally relates to the tides, is exclusive to the Canary Islands and refers to the structural modification of natural basins or ravines to store fresh water. It's thought their use dates back to the Guanche people who lived on Lanzarote before the Spanish arrived. There's more information here (in Spanish).

Sadly, the information board by the mareta had been vandalised and I haven't been able to find anything out about its size or history online either. I'm guessing it's some kind of cave and its role as a water store pre-dates the modern structures now there by some considerable time.

I left the mareta behind on a broad track. This had been cut into the hillside and provides vehicle access to the reservoir.

The weathered terrain continued to provide interest but, not long after leaving the reservoir, I was distracted by loud whistling from a farmhouse below. At first I was a bit alarmed and thought it was aimed at me. Had I somehow strayed onto private land? However, the tinkling of bells soon revealed it had been the call for a herd of goats to come down from the mountain. Accompanied by a couple of cattle egrets, hoping for some pickings from the dust disturbed by their hooves, they appeared from the slopes above and made their way down to the distant buildings.

Soon after this I had to strike out across pathless ground again, crossing a couple of shallow ravines in the process, until I reached the track the goats had been walking along. The handsome profile of Montaña Guatisea was directly in front of me now as I rounded the mountainside but it was glimpses of the views beyond that to the north east that made me eager to make the final push to the summit.

Montaña Guatisea

I arrived at another - modern - reservoir building and from here a path zig-zagged steeply up to a small, stone hut on the edge of the crater. It was nearing midday and the temperature was several degrees higher than it had been when I started off. It was quite an effort and I knew I had a further climb up around the rim of the caldera after I reached the crater floor.

Standing in the crater of Montaña Blanca.
Fortunately, that second ascent actually didn't turn out to be too strenuous. A cross marked a subsidiary summit and there was a short, scrambly section up natural rock "steps" to get to it, which proved to be quite fun. I gained height quickly and soon enough I was looking out from that vantage point across the island.

It was simply a case of following the rim of the crater now to the proper summit. The breeze felt a lot stronger up here on this exposed ridge and I can understand why there are warnings about hiking on Lanzarote's mountain tops when the prevailing winds pick up.

It didn't take long at all to get to the top. I'd anticipated breathtaking views from the summit marker and I wasn't disappointed when I arrived there.

I was standing almost 180 feet above Montaña Guatisea now and had uninterrupted views to the Famara Massif in the north east of the island, where we'd hiked the previous day. On our previous trip to the island we hadn't seen the massive cliffs of Risco de Famara, which millions of years ago formed the edge of a caldera over six miles in diameter. On this holiday, however, we seemed to encounter them on almost every outing.

The views in other directions from the summit were no less impressive, though, particularly into the Timanfaya National Park and over to the Los Ajaches mountain range in the south western corner of Lanzarote. I hung around up here for a good while after I'd eaten my lunch - I was in no rush to get back down and it was such a peaceful spot to sit and watch as the clouds drifted over the landscape in front of me, the whole scene framed by shimmering seas.

Looking NE: Montaña Blanca (the village!) and Montaña Guatisea below.
Looking NW: Montaña Tersa (left) and Timanfaya National Park in the background.
Looking SW: Montaña Tersa (right) and the Los Ajaches massif in the distance.
Having sated my appetite for peace, solitude and natural beauty, my thoughts began to wander to beer, bar snacks and possibly even a plate of well-salted French fries. Yes, I had just eaten sandwiches and a chocolate bar but - what can I say? - climbing volcanoes makes you hungry and I'm sure any vulcanologists out there will back me up on that.

I carried on around the ridge, descending on a slippery path of loose stones and earth. This headed roughly north before doubling sharply back on itself and descending to the crater floor.

Directly opposite on the far side of the crater was the small stone hut I'd passed earlier. From here there was a path that led off towards the farmland I'd walked through at the start of the walk. This is the route you would use if you just wanted to head straight up to the summit and back.  Before long, I was rejoining the track I'd been on earlier and making my way back into the village.

Montaña Blanca had been in my sights since our first trip to Lanzarote in 2019. We've stayed in Arrecife on both occasions and it's visible from several locations in the city, so it was great to finally climb to the summit. With far reaching views in all directions and plenty of interest along the way, this has become one of my favourite hikes on the island. There are still plenty of new places for us to explore on Lanzarote but I have a feeling this is a walk I'll definitely be returning to.


CLICK HERE  for more walks on Lanzarote and other useful information.


Date: January 2020

Walk length: 7.25 km

Total ascent: 450 metres


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