Pico De Las Nieves
The Canary Islands blew me away.
As I mentioned in Gran Canaria: Ayagaures, each island has its own climate, flora, and fauna. But I never expected a place so small as Gran Canaria to have so much diversity. This is a topic that I will dive into in a future post about the drastically different sides of the island, the north and south.
However, this post is about Pico De Las Nieves, the highest rideable point on Gran Canaria. I'll say this right off the bat, riding in the archipelago gave a new meaning to climb ratios I knew.
What do I mean by that?
Well, back in Portland, I used to chase golden & platinum ratios. A golden ratio is 1000ft per 10 miles, and a platinum ratio is almost double the elevation gain within the same distance. So it became some sort of a game trying to cram as much elevation in the shortest distance.
Why does this matter?
This is a way to identify the nature of a route & ride. It's also a preference for some cyclists. For example, I love to climb, while others prefer flats or rolling hills.
So what is the ratio for the Pico De Las Nieves route?
Good question! The climb from sea to summit was 29 miles / 7280ft, rendering this beyond the platinum ratio (Canary Ratio?)
So this is the most feet I've climbed in such a short distance! This record was shattered by the relentless Mt.Teide a few days later.
But more on that soon enough!
Up early and excited for the longest climb I've done up till that point.
The sun in the southern part of Gran Canaria gets hot, so getting a head start up the mountain is a good way to beat the heat in lower elevations.
The ride out of Maspalomas heads straight north of town and out of developed areas quickly, which is a plus. The dominant scene of the southern side of Gran Canaria is very arid, to the point that it looks, Martian. A vast sea of volcanic rubble covers the area.
A few miles up the climb, the vegetation gradually got thicker, cacti, palm trees, and other native desert flora.
Stopping here and there to admire the simple complexity of desert vegetation, like the cactus below.
The GC-60 (road) was oddly traffic free for such a touristy area. As a matter of fact, I saw a handful of cyclists heading up the mountain early to beat the heat and traffic, I bet.
Yet, another reason to love this island.
Pacing myself for the long day ahead of me, I followed the rhythm of the land. I relaxed back a bit and tried to immerse myself in all the senses. I still can't believe that I was actually there, to be completely honest. Apparently, it's a thing that I do often that was pointed out to me by my old friend Yousef "you always act like this is your first time visiting a place."
Although this was my first time riding up the GC-60, I had to acknowledge the charm of the island.
Climbing the road, I stopped to look back at the Atlantic ocean and visualized the Canary Ratio in real time! My starting point is slowly fading and blending with the Atlantic ocean.
Past the point where I snapped the photo above, I hit my first set of twisty hairpins up the road. As I was climbing, I felt this cool breeze rushing down the mountain, offsetting the already hot summer sun.
I followed some of the locals up the road to a viewpoint where you can see the GC-60 dive into a canyon splitting the mountain's south side, A massive deep valley with coast-to-summit views. Giving you a preview of what's yet to come. I stopped there to compose myself from laughing out of not believing what I was seeing.
A truly stupendous view.
Javier, a local cyclist from La Palma, was up there that morning and conversed with me about how lucky it feels to ride in the archipelago.
I couldn't agree more.
I followed Javier down the valley to the bottom. As we got to know each other, he shared with me that this was his first big ride after a motorbike accident months ago, which resulted in him breaking his back.
After fully recovering, he got back on his bike and started riding every day he could "today I ride 30km, tomorrow I ride 31km," and so on.
The fact that riding in Gran Canaria requires a high level of fitness makes seeing him on the bike, climbing up the GC-60, all that more impressive.
Javier pointed to the peak in the distance and said, "that's where you're going." You can easily see the first half of the ride up and the summit from any point after diving into the valley. A faint trace up of the road fades into the side of the mountain, blending with the environment and engulfed within Canary Pine at some point.
Riding in the shadows of the ridge was quite chilly. I'm not even halfway up, and I've already experienced a range of temperatures, vegetation, and changes in the topography.
We eventually got to a small village up the valley called Fataga, where we stopped for breakfast and met another one of the local cyclists, Gerd. A+75 German that's been living on the island for over 20 years or so.
Honestly, there are a few things that top meeting random strangers and befriending them on a ride. Javier and I just linked up like I've known him for years, and I look forward to riding with him next time.
I parted ways with the guys after breakfast and continued up the mountain. Now the majority of the climb up to Fataga was gradual. However, the real storm begins right past the church in the center of the village.
The gradients beyond the village get into the high double digits and a series of switchbacks up the valley.
Entering the inversed treeline zone, Canary Pine sporadically covers the land, getting thicker by the mile as you climb. The smell of the forest gave me flashbacks to early summer days in Bend, kinda dry, yet the air was still cool.
The first set of steep switchbacks puts into perspective why the islands are a dreamscape for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. It seriously feels like a simulation at some point throughout the day. A place where the weather is moderate year-round, with world-class climbs and laidback locals.
Sounds like a great place to be at!
The valley ends just past the town of San Bartolomé de Tirajana, which crowns the island's southern side. So far to that point, I've only ridden 16 miles, with +4100ft. I wasn't sure which took my breath away more, the elevation or the views.
The changes in topography throughout a climb is a theme you probably picked up reading some of my earlier posts. I guess Yousef was right; I do act like it's my first time seeing something I've seen before.
Perhaps that is what will keep me young at heart?
Only time will tell!
The climb from Fataga all the way to this point was brutal. Still, you just forget about it because of the scenery around you. I've also noticed a slight difference between cyclists on the Islands and the peninsula. Almost every cyclist I came across was very enthusiastic about riding there. They see you grinding up a pass, just as I was making my way up to Cruz Grande pass (photo above), and they seem as excited as you might be climbing up.
A sense of camaraderie.
Past the hairpin of Cruz Grande pass is the second descent on the route so far. Although not major in any way, it was a good distance to spin the legs after so much climbing. Going past the hairpin felt like entering a different climate pocket because that's what it was. The prevailing wind from the north carries moisture to the island's northwest side, where it could rain. While a place like Maspalomas can see temperatures of +75 and a full day of sun.
The sheer size of the dormant volcano that is the island itself blocks the moisture from traveling south past the peaks. Gran Canaria and the rest of the archipelago rise from the ocean's floor 6560ft (2000m) deep. They are some of the tallest volcanos on earth when measured from the earth's crust.
The GC-60 continues to the tiny village of Ayacata, where I stopped for a quick Canarian snack. Over the 10 days I spent in the archipelago, I must've eaten my weight in Papas Ahogadas, mojo, and Canarian cheese. A staple of the islands.
The next few miles past the town of Ayacata are arguably the toughest on this route. Turning don't the only turn in the village takes on GC-600. A steep set of switchbacks leads to the north side of the caldera.
Until you reach the second to last right turn where the GC-600 meets the GC-130, the area is a high desert environment, with fire-resistant Canary Pine and other desert flora. But as soon as you jump on the GC-130, you'll see the luscious northern side of Gran Canaria.
A completely different climate and scenery, just a few hundred yards apart. Now convince me that's not a simulation of some sort because the speed of transitioning between the different climates sure seems bogus. You can clearly see the distinct dividing lines between the various climate pockets around the island.
Pinch yourself and carry on.
A little over a mile down the GC-130 is the final right turn to the famous Pico De Las Nieves, The Snow Peak. Although the peak doesn't see as much snow as it used to, early Spaniard settlers transferred their knowledge of building snow storage structures "La Nevera" prevalent across southern Spain to the island. A structure invented by the Moors who ruled the peninsula. They used to store the snow found on the peaks in the Neveras before transferring them to Las Palmas to sell.
Reaching the summit was the icing on the cake because the ride had been nothing short of extraordinary. Comparing the starting point at Maspalomas to the Pico makes it hard to believe all that transition exists within a small island like Gran Canaria and a very short distance of 14 miles (as the crows fly).
It's a place you need to see for yourself.
Of course, I hung out at the summit for a while since it's not every day that you get to stand on top of a dormant volcano in the Atlantic ocean. But, perhaps, Javier, Gerd, Izz, and Maxi do since they call Gran Canaria home.
The cyclists I saw along the way were up there, some on their weekly ride up the Pico, while others were there for the first time, like me.
The view looking south reveals a contrasting perspective from the summit to the sea compared to earlier that day when I met Javier. You can see the Maspalomas dunes just below the horizon to the left. San Bartolomé de Tirajana is also visible from that point, putting the entire first leg of the climb up the caldera into perspective.
As beautiful as the climb was, I was ready for more Papas con mojo and Canarian cheese. As you might expect, the descent is never dull, especially on a climb like this one.
Until next time, I'll be daydreaming of the chance to revisit the islands with my beloved Breadwinner!