Sunrise on the Volcano

Mount Teide, Tenerife, 6 April 2013

At 4 am we rise before anyone else, and see that it is still very dark. A couple of people tell us that it is too early, but we carry on. We don’t want to miss it and we like being alone on the hissing mountain. Efforts at silenced actions are confounded by creaking doors and wheezing pipes, but one visitor tops our nocturnal noises by banging at the wardens door, (around 4 am ) to demand more toilet paper in the ladies.
It is dark and cold and quiet outside. Even though no-one is about something about natures grand and expansive silence forces one to whisper, and so we did, gently and carefully picking our way back through the gnarled volcanic rocks and over the patches of snow which now were glazed and very shiny. We almost needed our mini crampons. The head torches cast strangulated shadow shapes dancing between anthropomorphic extrusions. Hanging above the horizon, a small gauze film best seen sideways, was the comet Panstarrs.

As we approached the plateau leading to the final steep ascent, the odour of sulphur leaked from unseen fissures. Walking was hard, – the altitude takes the puff out of the lungs. From a distance the final pull up the steep cone to the summit looked fearsome; gravelly, bouldery and steep. But a stone way has been built and the going is easy here, like going up Ben Nevis on the main path. The first stage is my favourite where the path has availed itself of a natural channel through the rock. Soon we entered the moonlike territory of the volcano summit. White rocks of strange shape hovered in the steam emitting from large holes, the odour became a stench, instead of seeming chemical, adding a visceral nauseating quality to the sulphur. The walk had made us very cold so we lingered by the outlets trying to warm our hands. Here the steam was so hot that it would burn you and gloves became soaked in seconds.

Perched on the summit were a few other sunseekers, watching the flat horizon formed by the sea of clouds and further, the sea itself. The wall of clouds is a phenomenon that makes the cloud layer appear to rise up vertically, and this could be seen here. We waited a log time, pointing to bright patches along the surface of the rim, disappointed when they did not develop. Finally there it was, a chink, a sliver, a quadrant, a crescent, a semicircle,  – the sun was up. Illuminated by  red milky ambience we rejoiced and ran round to the other side to see the volcano’s triangular shadow against the clouds, hoping to see our own tiny forms waving to themselves on the clouds.

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