Hiking Mount Pico in the Azores
By: Frank Parrott from RoarLoud
TRAILS AROUND THE WORLD presents
Hiking Mount Pico
Mount Pico is a stratovolcano located on the Azores island of Pico, and the highest point of Portugal. Hiking Mount Pico was one of the activities we most looked forward to doing during our adventure to the Azores. Pico has a reputation for being very deceptive in its difficulty. In the days leading up to our hike, we heard stories from locals about how difficult Pico can be to climb. One thing we have learned over the years about hiking is to treat all trails with respect. Despite feeling confident from our recent hike of Mount Kilimanjaro, we felt it wise to listen when they said we absolutely needed a guide. The last thing we wanted was to have a fantastic adventure ruined because we thought we knew better about a mountain we had never climbed.
Tip: No matter what your experience level, always listen to locals advice about your climbs
We met our guide at the ferry dock on Pico, and he took us on a 30 minute drive through the picturesque countryside of Pico to the trailhead. The parking lot was empty. April is not a high tourist time of year, so if you like to avoid crowds this is a perfect time to go. Despite fighting the flu, my spirits were lifted seeing this volcano and having it all to ourselves. It is funny, but I always feel the worst right before a hike. The first 10 minutes I believe my mind is telling my body that this is a terrible idea and to give up. Looking at the summit in the far distance with an amazing under-cast of clouds, suddenly I realize that I didn’t feel sick anymore and the voice in my head telling me to quit is silent.
Our guide is dressed in the most unassuming gear. Plain casual clothes and looking more like he is ready for a relaxing cup of coffee at a café, than to be about to climb a mountain. He looks at us with a bit of confusion. He doesn’t quite peg us as hikers, but we are much more prepared that the usual tourist. Apparently, there is a significant number of failed attempts on this mountain, and he seemed to be gauging our likelihood of making the summit. Not exactly confidence boosting, but neither Cathy nor I quit easily (or ever). Being underrated actually, fuels our fire to prove the doubters wrong.
The terrain of Pico is very foreign to New Englanders like us. This volcano has left the remains of past eruptions all over. There is sharp jagged volcanic rock that slices anything it rubs against. There is smooth layers of colored rock that resemble ribbon candy. The smooth rock gets extremely slippery when wet. Combined with the jagged rock, I can see why this mountain is deceptively difficult. There are no trees on the mountain, just shrubs which provide no relief from the heat. It does, however, allow for almost constant scenic vistas on your hike.
As you ascend the mountain, you begin to see craters dotting the landscape. Above the clouds, the view is like seeing a lush green version of the moon. Craters of significant size are everywhere. It is amazing to see sprawling farm lands and livestock enjoying the rich fertile soil, and drinking out of a crater that is now used as a watering hole. Stopping for a quick snack and to catch our breaths, we can see under-cast clouds forming like a blanket of white cotton. Every so often there is a break in the clouds to reveal the scenery far below. Due to the slope of the terrain, you can see the base of the mountain the entire time you are hiking. At a moderate pace on this hike, the cows far below turn into ants very quickly.
A few hours later we find ourselves on the crest of the mountain top crater of the volcano. This enormous ring of volcanic rock reveals an asteroid like landscape inside the crater. At the center stands the summit of Pico, a steep and ominous looking peak rising a thousand feet from inside the crater. On the crater floor, there are shelters made many years ago from people who visited the summit. They are pits with stone stacked walls and ceiling. It is a popular spot for hikers to camp, and I can see why. Being able to be on the summit at the break of dawn or seeing the sunset from this spot must be an amazing sight. If our schedule would have allowed it, it would have been an awesome camping spot.
Now the hike gets a bit technical. Our guide insists on taking our hiking poles. You will need your hands he explains. He was right. You definitely need to use your hands. It is practically rock climbing. There is barely a trail to follow. It is just basically straight up and don’t look down. The adrenaline is high and it seems just a moment before we are on the summit. Climbing the last 10 feet we experience something we have never felt before on a summit this high….heat! A fissure in the peak releases a hot steam that makes the surrounding air very warm. On the pinnacle of the summit, there is barely enough room for Cathy and I to stand long enough for a picture and see the awesome 360 degree view around the mountain. This peak is a not to miss experience in the Azores.
The return journey has its challenges as well. Our guide was extremely helpful in navigating some tricky spots, that we saw other hikers (unaccompanied by a guide) struggling to navigate. Climbing over the crest rim of the crater, we are treated to nothing but sprawling lush landscape vistas the whole way down. It makes the return trip down the mountain seem to fly. Making good time down the mountain, we had some extra time to explore some of the huge craters near the base. Pico’s craters are very inviting to explore.
Tip: Be sure to save time to do some exploring of the craters after your hike. It is great fun and makes for good photos.
Pico was a great hike with lots of beauty, challenge, and surreal summit. Whether an avid hiker or adventure seeking tourist, Mt. Pico will not disappoint!
Big thanks to Cathy and Frank for sharing their amazing time hiking Mount Pico in the Azores! If you’d like to read more from them check out their website RoarLoud!
Have you gone hiking Mount Pico?
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