This log covers July 23rd and 24th, 2004 where we take on climbing Mount Pico. Mount Pico is a stratovolcano located on Pico Island in the mid-Atlantic archipelago of the Azores. It is the highest mountain of Portugal at 2351 metres above sea level and is one of the highest Atlantic mountains. This is quite the undertaking for our two families.
Assignment: hike to the top of Pico - 2351M above seal level
We took the morning ferry over to the island of Pico, only about a 20 minute ride.
Here's our team for the ascent. The crew of s/v Aventura (John and Laurie with Belle and Nate) and s/v Tioga (Chris and Sheila with Joel and Gerrit)
Well, we're on our way. We've come a long way and have lots of energy still. But, as you can see, there's lots left to climb. This is the easy part with a nice trail and lush vegetation.
We are out of the rich vegetation now and into scrub and rock
The last part is hand over hand.
On the top, above the clouds. Awesome!
Sensing station doing atmospheric studies on pollution.
The kids wanted to get a little fire going - it's cool up here.
John & Laurie get comfortable for the sleep over.
Our little hovel for the night - turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Pico from an aerial photograph. We slept in the calderia, not on the pinnacle.
The sleepy Pico, nicely dressed.
And what we can't show you...as we settle in to sleep overnight, we are unaware of an approaching storm system. Things get really bad at 2351 m above sea level...
Unedited, from the Log Book of SV Tioga: THE ASCENT TO THE TOP OF PICO THAT WENT BAD!!!
(July 23) We awoke early to look at Pico to decide if climbing it today made sense. It was a bit cloudy and the weather Chris pulled showed the low swinging back over us on Sunday so we were not sure if we should go. The Aventura's were already pretty set that they were going and taking all their gear to stay overnight. Our boys got all excited and put the pressure on us, and we got caught up in all the hype, and next thing we knew, we were frantically packing to catch the 10am ferry over to Pico and climbing the mountain with all our overnight gear. The boys packed their packs with warm clothes, their fleece blankets and water. We carried the blankets, tarp, lots of water and basic food. We caught the ferry on time along with the other 300 people and were crammed on board. Upon arrival, we walk to a little café where the adults have a coffee before finding a taxi to take us to the base camp of Pico.
Our taxi driver is a Portuguese man who lived in Canada for many years so he spoke perfect English and we made plans for him to pick us up tomorrow morning at 11:30 am. Chris and John register our families with the warden at the base camp and then with everyone carrying their pack on their backs, we begin the ascent as about 12:30pm! The trail is well marked and everyone is giddy with excitement and up we go. The landscape is stunning with various types of ferns, wild thyme with little purple flowers everywhere and juniper bushes. Sheila comments that it reminds her of what Scotland or Ireland would look like, very rugged and green. There is some cloud about so our views of the ocean come and go but, either way, it is really beautiful. The kids inspire each other onward and we are moving at a great pace, though the adults packs are quite heavy. We stop for a picnic lunch on a nice green spot the kids find and enjoy the fresh bread Joel and Gerrit walked to get this morning, along with Faial cheese. Just near the lunch spot is a small volcanic cave which we stop to explore before heading up again. After about the first 2 hours, the climb goes from medium effort to pretty much a straight up climb on less stable ground, which is noticeably harder to do. We take lots of breaks and everyone is still fine. The kids actually push ahead with every ledge they can see above, being the one they are sure must be the top. Every group of people coming down tell us we are about an hour away. We'd push on for an hour and then be told you are about an hour away! Joel is in the lead the entire way, with Belle, Nate and Gerrit not far behind. Finally, Joel reaches that next ledge and yells back…it's beautiful, hurry Mom! After 5 hours, we take the final step to the rim of the crater.
It is quite the sight looking down into the crater, with yet the final spike peak sprouting out of the crater! We pick our way down into the crater and the kids immediately find a piled up ring of lava rocks that they claim as the sleeping spot. They begin to play and gather bits of plant stock for a fire, while the adults do a little exploring around the crater. We walk over to the far north west edge where the crater had slid down, leaving an abrupt edge with an incredible drop if you fell off it! The cloud was rolling about and it was all quite wonderful. There was a remote sensing station for atmospheric/air quality studies at the top with all sorts of gas chronometers and such. Chris spoke to the person manning the station and got the feeling the guy was not too happy to be in such a desolate spot with all sorts of weird weather. On our way walking back to the kids, we find a small hole in the lava with rocks piled all about so that it was quite deep and out of the wind. We decide this is where our family will spend the night since we don't have sleeping bags and need to be out of the wind. Once back at the kids, we have supper sitting out on the volcanic rocks.
A cloud rolls over us and all of a sudden, it is wet with mist and about 10 c degrees cooler!! We are all thankful it passes as quick as it came but it is clear that it will be a cool night, as John realizes he forgot his long pants in the morning rush and Chris only has a thin fleece jacket! The kids light the tinder they have collected and have fun keeping the fire alive for awhile until about 9pm. . The Aventura's decide that climbing into their sleeping bags is best for them to keep warm so they pass on the sunset. We head over to our hole and get things set up for sleeping. We are going to head over to watch the sunset but the wind is up and clouds rolling in. We decide to just crawl in bed as well. We make the tarp like a sandwich and with Chris and Joel's head at one end, and Sheila and Gerrit's head at the other end, we fold the tarp over and are as snug under as can be. Sheila reads a campfire story and then we all say goodnight.
The wind begins to blow quite strong and we are happy about our decision to come down into this hole rather than staying up and exposed like the Aventura's. Then, the rain begins to fall. The tarp is pulled right over our heads and secretly we are all praying for it to stop. It does not stop and the tarp begins to leak! Sheila, being on the outside of the folded tent is getting soaked as the rain not only runs in but leaks in. We realize we must do something or all be soaked. At about 12:30am, we hop up and shift the tarp into a lean-to position. We get the boys under as quick as possible, sitting on our green cockpit cushions while Chris and Sheila try to secure things outside as good as possible. With everyone under, all wearing our plastic orange rain coats, we pull the soaking wet blankets over us and are amazed at the insulation ability they have combined with the candle Chris then lights. It is amazing what a difference it makes in the temperature to have a little candle burning. Chris and Sheila do all they can to keep the boys dry as the rain pours down and continues to leak in but at least most is running off the lean to.
It is really cold and now that both adults are wet, we are beginning to realize how serious this situation is. Gerrit is dry and warm for the most part so he sleeps pretty much the entire night, whereas Joel's pants had gotten wet so he is less comfortable and takes a long time to finally fall to sleep in exhaustion and then he would wake and whimper. Chris is trying to doze off in his frozen stupor but Sheila cannot close her eyes without beginning to shake uncontrollably. We begin to talk about what we will do at first light and how the hell we are going to get out of this mess. We are not sure at this point how the Aventura's are doing in all of this so that is another wild card. Sheila literally watches the clock and painstakingly watches the minutes pass like hours. She sings, tries to talk to Chris and prays, anything but to fall asleep.
(July 24) Finally 6:15 A.M. rolls about and you can tell it is dawn but the wind is howling, we are engulfed in clouds, and it is driving rain. At about 6:45, a grim John comes by and says they are just as wet and we have to get moving. We quickly pack up the boys whom begin to cry and say things like, I can't do this! We explain how serious this is and that we have to do this as we are not going to die up here as a family. We find our way through the clouds over to the Aventura's and are shocked at how wet they are. Little Nate is standing there with no coat, shaking and Belle is not much better off. Joel and Gerrit look at them and realize they are maybe a little better off as they are not yet soaked. The rain is driving so hard and it is so clouded in, we can barely see to find our way up and out of the cauldron.
Once the trail out is found, Joel pushes ahead and never looks back. With all of us safely out of the crater, Joel and Chris lead the way from marker to marker which you can barely see from one to the next. Gerrit is complaining of not feeling well and won't eat anything. The wind is howling so bad that is is knocking people off balance. What an ugly situation! All eight of us work together and slowly, put one foot ahead of the other and work our way down. Gerrit begins to throw up about half way down which is really scary. Sheila continually tests his blood sugars for fear of a low or hypothermia setting in. He is such a trooper and continues on after each stop to heave. Sheila uses his plastic rain coat as a belt to hold him from behind and helps him and steadies him. After about 2 hours of descending, Gerrit is getting weak and Sheila needs Chris's help in getting him down. Gerrit wants to lay down and is starting to give up but his Mom tells him she is not going to let him give up and die up here. Joel continues as the leader and gets the group from marker to marker and Chris falls back to help with Gerrit.
As we continue, we are getting concerned that we took a wrong trail somewhere as things are not looking familiar. Joel happily yells when he sees a small watering-well he remembers and then we are back to the small crater we ate lunch near yesterday!! With renewed energy all about, our family pulls ahead with the Aventura's just behind. It is really slippery near the bottom as the trail has turned to mud. We slide into the warden's office and sign our families as down. At this point, Sheila breaks down and starts to cry. We are all soaking wet and freezing with no dry clothes, but we are down!!! (3 hours later) The warden has a cell phone so we call the cab driver and have him pick us up early. He drops us at the laundromat in Madelana where we have some clothes dried while we all go for lunch. No one has eaten so we are all starved. Gerrit throws up yet again but insists he wants to eat french fries when they come out. We are hesitant but let him have some and he continues to eat. He eats a bun and more fries and begins to come back to life and never looks back. We put his sickness off to being hungry but too cold to eat and then more hungry and now too sick to eat…etc etc..vicious circle. Once in warm clothes, food settled in and his body recovered. Thank God. We still have to catch the 1:45pm ferry back to Horta so after lunch, we head to the terminal and are bound and determined to get inside seats this time. Everyone slouches into a seat and a few fall fast asleep on the 25 minute ride back. Then a last walk from the ferry to our boats where we can get out of all the remaining wet clothes and be thankful we are home!
Wow, what an experience that will never be forgotten. Sheila and Chris collapse for a few hours sleep, while the boys read. Later after supper, we put ourselves to bed a 8PM, and the boys put themselves down later.