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Ascent of Pico Ruivo on 2009-12-07

Climber: Rob Woodall

Date:Monday, December 7, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Pico Ruivo
    Location:Portugal
    Elevation:1862 m / 6109 ft

Ascent Trip Report

This Ultra was the main goal of a long weekend trip to Madeira.

Sun a.m. I flew in from the UK, leaving Funchal airport in hire car at midday. I climbed Pico Ruivo do Paul da Serra, 1649m, P642m in the afternoon, (see report), spending the rest of the day exploring the north coast of the island. My intention was to sleep at the Ruivo trailhead, but the road above 900m (a lower car park) is closed at night - I was turned back by the Policia Forestal. The road opens at 07:00 so there is no difficulty making an early start or viewing the sunrise (supposing it is visible!).

Mon a.m. I arrived at the trailhead, Achada do Teixeira, N32 45 53, W16 55 16, 1592m just after 07:30. I had a nice view of the dawn sky from a viewpoint on the way up, but this was the nearest I came to seeing the sun for the rest of the morning.

The trail is paved all the way to the summit hence easy to follow. There is a fork at N32 45 36, W16 56 27, 1754m where the trail (PR1) is signposted L to Arieiro and R for Ruivo. Going R you soon reach a building, then the trail zigzags steeply (another fork at N32 45 36, W16 56 36, 1789m marks the point where the longer route - PR1.3 - from Boca Encumeada joins) to the summit, covered in 3 areas of wooden decking. The summit itself has a trig pillar (standard Portuguese square cross section - in this instance set on a 1m plinth). Next to the trig is a stone column topped with a metal stub which presumably used to be a cross. The cloud was down and it was drizzling - I had no company and no view.

Returning the same way the round trip could be done in under an hour (at steady hillrunning pace) but I was intent on the classic traverse to Pico do Arieiro and back before returning to the car.

See my Arieiro report for details of the traverse, also elevations and approx prominences of the main summits.

In the afternoon I did the celebrated levada route to Caldeirao Verde and Caldeirao do Inferno. I started at Queimadas, N32 47 01, W16 54 21 (parking) although an easy alternative would be N32 46 46 W16 53 47 on the Ruivo trailhead road, whence a 1km walk leads to Queimadas. The trail to Caldeirao Verde is well signposted (quoted distance 5.7km) and follows the almost-level levada (water channel), apart for some minor dips and detours. The scenery is impressive, with the route contouring around near-vertical valley sides (plenty of cable protection; several tunnels - take a torch). At the trail end, a signpost indicates the short route up into the deep caldeirao with its tall waterfall.

Beyond this point the levada trail is marked by a sign warning of impending dangers - in 5 languages! As this seems to be the only way of accessing the fabled Caldeirao do Inferno I continued, looking out for potential dangers, although these seem only to entail a much lesser degree of protection (thin wires; often nothing). On this stretch I met only 1 person - German of course (in contrast to the Verde trail which was quite busy). In maybe 2km, the levada ends at a waterfall (strictly speaking it starts here - the waterfall is its first and main source). The waterfall is dramatic but less so than its Verde neighbour. My GPSr (although reading to only 30m at best due to the vertical walls) suggested that Cal Inf was a further 300m distant (using a waypoint derived from Google Earth). A stretch of levada continued but in poor state of repair; round the next corner after some difficult steep overgrown ground it expired at a rock face.

However I had noted a flight of rough steps starting just before (E of) the last waterfall. Returning and ascending it, I came in maybe 100m vertical metres to another levada system, much newer than the lower one. Two levadas came from the E and W respectively, flowing into a tunnel which headed S, presumably under the E ridge of Ruivo. I followed it for 10 minutes, say half a mile, in which distance it continued dead straight; clearly the Caldeirao wasn't in this direction, and it wouldn't be a good place to succumb to low oxygen levels, so I retreated. I following the W branch which led into another tunnel, with windows looking out into a very impressive rock crevice / ravine; ahead was the sound of roaring water; shortly I emerged into a deep cleft, with waterfalls entering on two sides, rock walls continuing (at least) a hundred metres vertically upwards and the main ravine exiting roughly NE, completely dry with all incoming water having been diverted into the levada, which starts here. This I take it - is the Caldeirao do Inferno. Very impressive. By now it was 5pm so a brisk run (where the terrain permitted!) was called for to get back to the trailhead before dark. All in all a satisfying and fascinating day. (I took 1h30 to Verde, 2h to Inferno with a lot of timewasting, and 1h10 back to trailhead; round trip approx 16km; 150m ascent).

Tues a.m.: the other thing I fancied doing before my (11:35) flight home was an ascent of Pico Grande, 1654m, P~300m. With a pre-dawn start it looked possible, so I drove up to the Boca do Corida trailhead (N32 42 38, W16 59 12, 1231m) and slept there, recording a GPS track on the way up to help find the way back through the maze of roads to the ER101 afterwards. There was rain overnight but at 06:45 when I left, the sky was mostly clear, and with a half moon and headtorch the trail was easy to follow, mostly paved but rough underfoot in places. The trail (which leads ultimately to the Boca Encumeada) bypasses the first 3 peaks. By the time I reached the col S of Pico Grande it was almost full daylight. I saw the jagged profile of yesterday's ridge silhouetted against a pink sky, in the brief period between first light and the clouds closing in.

A little way N of the col, there is an obvious fork R (a few rough steps cut in the rock) at N32 43 51, W16 59 08. The path R leads between gorse bushes (fairly clear of vegetation), past a ruined farmstead - take the L (higher) fork - then makes a slanting ascent R, with some easy scrambling (YDS 2) and a cable handrail. This emerges on the SE shoulder of the mountain, then turns L and ascends easy grassy slopes heading directly for the summit. The final summit block (5m) looks forbidding but the S face has a route, starting at the centre, ascending R then back L (YDS 3). The upper part is protected by a cable but this is frayed so beware hand injury - or worse. I mostly avoided using it. The summit has a tiny cairn and a fine view, although the main ridge was firmly cloud capped and Pico Ruivo do Paul out west was only partially visible. Having taken 1h25 to the summit, in daylight I ran back in 50 mins (10km round trip, 650m ascent), and after an uneventful drive back, had over 30 minutes left before checkin closed!

Thus ended my first trip to Madeira - perhaps not my last ...
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:329 m / 1082 ft
    Elevation Loss:329 m / 1082 ft
    Distance:5.6 km / 3.5 mi
    Grade/Class:YDS 1
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool, Calm
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:300 m / 984 ft
    Extra Loss:29 m / 98 ft
    Distance:2.8 km / 1.7 mi
    Route:East ridge
    Trailhead:Achada do Teixeira  1591 m / 5223 ft
    Time Up:30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:300 m / 984 ft
    Extra Gain:29 m / 98 ft
    Distance:2.8 km / 1.7 mi
    Route:East ridge
    Trailhead:Achada do Teixera  1591 m / 5223 ft
    Time Down:20 Minutes



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