Spending a night in volcano crater - solo trip

On top of what actually is the third largest volcano in the world

If you exclude the Alps and Caucasus, Pico del Teide is the highest mountain in Europe at its 3718 meters above sea level. It is a dormant volcano, with many small fumaroles letting out hot sulphur smoke. With a very short notice in the end of December 2013, I got a wild idea and decided to spend the new year's night inside of its crater. I wanted to walk all the way up from where the hiking trail starts, not using cabin lifts, or other aid.

The peak is situated on the island of Tenerife, one of the Canary islands. It is close to the West coast of Africa, and the temperatures near the sea level are almost always around +20 to 25 C. But the peak is so tall, there is snow already on the approach, snow-covered ice cap on the top, and down to -10 or even -15 C up there in the night.

Approach to the peak, a hiking trail at 2000+ meters. You can see the "eggs" that are formed by lava. These are 2-5 meters high.
Most of the tourists take the cable car, but I had decided to walk up. I was equipped with both tent, sleeping bag, shovel and ice axes - prepared for anything. I had equipment for melting snow, making my own food, taking care of injuries, and all the rest of the needful things to make one self-sufficient. However, it was possible to grab a berth at the Altaviste refuge hut at 3260 meters. It's a fair stop for managing the altitude symptoms, and helps the bureaucracy.

If you sleep there, you automatically get a permission to climb the top. The place is popular, and it was full. However, not everyone is prepared for the challenge. A lot of people had wrong equipment, and had to turn back; it can be deadly to try negotiate snow and ice in summer sneakers. A lady who was there with her relative's daughter became very sick because of the height. She was just not used or prepared to it, you never know when the altitude strikes. Me and a Norwegian doctor took turns taking care of her, and calming the daughter. It was great to find a doctor at that place and time. I myself was affected by the altitude and not feeling very good, but I kept calm and concentrated on the task. We made sure that she was feeling better, and sent her down at the first possibility. This awesome doctor guy was doing the trip with his mum, and I still keep in touch with both. She even went sailing East coast of Greenland with me a couple of years later!

The next day was spent waiting for the sunset, so the lift would close and the tourists would disappear. I camped behind some lava and ice formations, melted snow to make tea, and enjoyed the sun.

Lava and snow
Lava and ice
A study in ice-blue
As the sun went down, I hurried towards the top. You might not think that 500 meters height difference makes any difference, but past 3000 it does. The air is thinner, it's harder to climb. I had a headache (altitude or dehydration?) and a very bad pain in my stomach (altitude or chlorine that I used to clean the meltwater?) 

I reached the top just before the dark. This crazy idea, to spend the New Year's night alone in the volcano crater - I thought it was very special and unique. But hell, it wasn't. Two other persons thought about the same thing that year.

So here we are, 3 strangers, nobody knows each other. Each one was counting to be on their own. What do we do? We join together and party!

Everyone got out whatever food they got. Somebody had Pata Negra paté, somebody else had toasted bread. We made tea, and talked.

New Year's dinner on the top of a volcano
The other two people who were there turned out to be from Canary islands. Both guys were older than me, and their mountain climbing CV were much longer than mine. Most of the 7 Summits were listed, as well as quite extreme wall climbing, Patagonia etc. Much inspiring!

We went to sleep under the stars. I had carried up a tent, but when I found out that the others would be without the tent, I changed my mind! If you have a good sleeping bag, and it's not raining or snowing (or blowing too hard), then it's enough.

We put the alarm clocks to 23:45, and went up to the highest point of the volcano - and all the Canary Islands (and Spain). One of the guys had a portable radio, so we listened to the countdown. The Canarians ate grapes for every strike of the countdown clock, some Spanish tradition. Then we danced to the music, and watched the fireworks from 3700 meters distance. It was an amazing show: the sea, the sky, and the islands were dark, except for a few small villages on the mountain. But all of the coast line was illuminated, because that's where the hotels are. And the fireworks could just be seen, ever so small, like tiny never-ending glittering lights along the whole coast. Amazing.

We celebrated, without drinking a drop of alcohol, and went back to sleep. We all were looking forward to the sunrise, when we got to see the first rays of the sun, for this new year.

The morning was chilly, but to tell the truth - I have rarely seen such beauty in my life. The smoke from the crater and the golden rays from the sun created fairy-tale pictures.

New Year's morning at Pico de Teide
Posing on the edge of the volcano, early New Year's morning

Selfie in front of the crater
Golden sun, golden sky, golden sea

I have mentioned the chilliness several times, haven't I? The fumaroles are hot, the gas is hot, and there are some spots on the volcano floor where you definitely do not want to put your sleeping gear, because it will melt and burn (and you would suffocate). But otherwise it was 10 degrees below the freezing point. I was happy to have brought my winter sleeping bag. However, the shovel was not needed, as the snow and ice were outside of the volcano crater, not inside. I guess there is too much sulphur for the frost or ice build-up.

On the pictures, it looks warm because of the golden sunrays. But here is an example that shows otherwise. You better not walk away from your tea.

Do not walk away from your team, it will freeze in no time.
I walked down, hitchhiked down to the coast, and took a bus to my place. Altogether, a nice trip. If you want to do the same, make sure to book a bed in the refuge with good advance, or make sure you have a permit for coming to the peak (may take a long while to issue). Bear in mind that the peak may be closed in the winter because of too much snow and ice. (There are ways to find a solution for that, send a mail and I will be happy to answer). Also, bear in mind that all heights above 3000 meters may cause altitude symptoms, prepare accordingly. Same for the gear - it is much more chilly there than on the coast, so bring winter clothes, winter shoes (crampons etc), and preferably alpine poles.

This is what Teide looks like from the southern beaches. See that white peak far away on the horizon?