Mountains in Madeira

The weather forecast was pretty ropey and the official site said most of the paths I wanted to do were closed. But nonetheless I headed to Gatwick for an early flight to Funchal. The plane’s second engine wouldn’t start so we returned to the stand from the runway. And then there was an altercation with some rude passengers and we were further delayed while they were deboarded. We eventually made it to funchal and I was met by the excellent João – a local hiking guide who had sourced me some gas and tent pegs and was dropping me at the trail head.

Day 1 – to Terreiros – 20k, 1370 m up

I started at Machico – and took the excellent Boca de Risco trail all the way around the coast towards Porto Cruz – it was a stunning easy walk with lots of well equipped Germans on the trail. Then I veered up a steep and muddy hill from the coast to join the PR5 to Portela. After the hill the path was flat and easy. I stopped at a cold bar in Portela with a grumpy waiter for soup and coffee at 5pm

After Portela I took the PR10 towards Ribeiro Frio but diverted off and continued climbing up a grunty uphill towards my campsite for the night at Terreiros. Given airport shenanigans, I had had a late start and so it was 7.20 before I reached Terreiros in the mist. There hadn’t really been any visibility since Portela – just a big uphill slog :-). I found a flattish pitch in the wet and got the tent up and got inside to put on dry clothes and cook dinner. I was warm enough and fell asleep to the sound of copious rain hitting the tent

Day 2 – to Pico Ruivo 20k 1630m

I woke up at 6.30 to heavy rain and a forecast for rain until noon. Oh well – by noon I should have arrived at Pico de areiro so I figured the thought of the rain stopping would motivate me.

The trail left terreiros and gently meandered to chao De Feiteras, lulling me into a false sense of security. Then the path began a steep and muddy 400m descent to Ribeiro Frio, much of which I spent skidding down on my butt. I arrived in misty Ribeiro Frio and was delighted to find the bar open so I had two coffees. I was already pretty cold and knackered and i was only 6km in.

The path up to Areiro was not well walked. It was an unrelenting couple of hours which involved clambering over fallen trees, skidding and sliding up muddy rooty slopes, while the rain continued to piss down without respite.

I reached a flat bit a few km below areiro and stopped for a shivery cup of hot chocolate and an experimental dehydrated scrambled egg meal from LYO (not recommended). The sun was just starting to penetrate the clouds and I got going again. It was lovely to be warm and soon I was sweating buckets as I headed up the well formed steps to Areiro

I was worried that the famous path between the two highest points in Madeira would be closed – from Pico Areiro to Pico Ruivo, as the mountain website had said it was closed due to bad weather. As I approached the first peak I could see lots of people along the ridge line so that was a relief

I stopped for a Diet Coke and a pasteis de Nata at the overpriced cafe on areiro and headed out on the PR1 to Ruivo. The path was busy and incredible. The sheer drops were enough to keep me holding on to the railings where they existed. There were still some big snow drifts which required some careful footing. But the route wasn’t too sketchy, even for a chicken like me who is scared of heights.

It was a slow 7km to Pico Ruivo, and I was blessed with lots of patches of good light. The fog returned about 1km before the refuge….. and that was the end of the views. I walked all the way up Pico Ruivo before dripping back down to the refuge

Given a forecast of zero degrees and rain I decided to stay in the refuge rather than camp – it is unheated and has no power and didn’t feel much warmer than two degrees but at least I would be dry. I put all my dry clothes on and got inside my sleeping bag to cook dinner. It was proper cold, even inside, and I couldn’t really have my hands out of the gloves for any amount of time before my fingers went numb. I watched a movie on my phone and had an early night

Day 3 – to Ilha and to a shower in Funchal

I woke up at 7 and it was a complete white out. The mountain forecast was for clouds and winds. I decided to drop down to Ilha and reassess. My options were not fantastic as I didn’t want to go backwards to areiro (like a lot of hikers I hate backtracking) and I couldn’t go forward as the path to Encumeada was closed

The pr1.1 down to Ilha was remarkable. Sections carved out of the cliff side, sections dug through the mud. It was 1500m of unrelenting descent on muddy steps and I landed on my butt four times when I wasn’t paying enough attention. But it was a lovely stroll (though not much in the way of views). The sun came out as soon as I dropped below 1000m and stayed until I finished

I do love my life. I arrived in Ilha and the only bar was closed. There was a sign with a taxi number on it so I called – no response. A nice local man was watching me and he got out of his car to ask where I needed to go in Portuguese. We switched to French and he started calling around for me. He located someone who would take me to Funchal in half an hour and he didn’t want to leave me on the street so he drove me 2k to the nearest bar for a coffee to wait for the cab.

I eventually got a cab to Funchal and checked in to a nice hotel. Clean, I headed out for lunch, a healthy local picado- which is essentially chips with meat and gravy on top (delicious) with a side of local garlic bread – (bolo de caco).

I then went on a rainy stroll around town, taking in the art at of a hundred doors, the surreal mamma (museum of modern art), the old town and the marina. Not a wasted day, just a repurposed one

Day 4 – up to Monte and back

The forecast was for more rain, so I slept in and had a leisurely buffet breakfast (I love buffet breakfasts!!!). The most popular thing to do in Funchal is take the cable car to Monte to see the church and the palace garden. That seemed like a good destination but a wasted opportunity to get some hiking in. So I found a route up through a lush ravine from Funchal with some excellent muddy steps. It was a lovely 5k stroll with 600m of ascent.

It was pissing with rain by the time I got to the top, so I bypassed paying to visit the garden (I have seen a lot of trees here already). But I did pop up to the lovely church .

From there I just headed straight down the road, an unrelenting test of my quads. On dry days the locals take tourists down in cane Toboggans, but it was too wet today. One final walk along the waterfront and that was me done. Not quite the hike I had planned but a lovely weekend nonetheless.

Funchal, March 27, 2022

Additional information

Excellent website on the paths and also indicates if paths are open. Government website to book campsites, free but you need to register. I double booked most nights to have some flexibility. I mostly used the MIUT 115 website to plan the route, but also liked this guy’s blog was quite good for tips and I changed my route based on some of his details. My route is on strava. I also had the Cicerone guide to Madeira as a back up. Joao at joaoletshike@gmail.com and on instagram at joao_lets_hike can help you with hiking tours and is a highly recommended guide if you are not comfortable going solo

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