Walking in Madeira: Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Hiking on Madeira - Canical to MachicoCanical to Machico

Distance: 5.5km (3.4 miles)
Up: 390m
Down: 340m
Navigation: Rother Wanderführer Madeira Walk 11, Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 4 of 5 stars

Our last walk today. Another short one, but we planned it this way because we knew we would … appreciate … a shorter walk after 8 days of walking. And I was longing to get back to my Kindle to read the next book of the Clifton-Chronicles, so a short walk of 5k was very welcome.
Hiking on Madeira - Bridge between Canical to MachicoWe walked from Canical to Machico along the coast high up in the hills. Beautiful view over the ocean, very quite apart from the occasional air plane starting or landing nearby. The not so enjoyable thing was again the heat. It was really, really hot, again no shade, and it felt much harder than yesterday. Maybe we we’re carrying our 12-kilo-backpacks this time. But once we climbed over Pico do Facho, it was just downhill and a less gruelling walk. Below us spread the town of Machico and we even could make out our hotel already where we stayed 2 days before. We arrived there at 2pm and had the rest of the day for ourselves, doing last-minute souvenir shopping, buying dinner, having a well-deserved looong shower and falling into bed to finish my book. And our walking holiday was already over again.

Summary of our Madeira Walking Holiday


We’ve been backpacking across the Eastern part of Madeira for 8 days. We were carrying 12kg on our backs incl. food for lunch for these 8 walking days.
My first thought when we were crossing the island on our first bus journey was that it looked like Jurassic Park. Hilly, trees covering the hills, green, wild, beautiful. Madeira is 100% mountainous with spectacular cliffs, peaks and villages build on terraces.
Most walks are accessible via public transport and their paths well laid. Walks range from mountains up to 1900m to easy, level walks along the levadas. There is a bizarre routine around the weather: 20 degrees throughout, sunny in the morning with clouds coming in and covering the mountains from noon.
The food is like what you expect on an isolated island: fresh fish, fruits and veggies that don’t look standardised and were very likely grown in the backyards of the Madeirans’ homes. Desserts, especially cakes and puddings, and very recommendable: the soup acorda for all garlic lovers. The lizards are far too human-friendly and have a strange keenness for Magnum ice cream sticks. Over all, a very nice, relaxing walking holiday.
Madeira: tick. Time to plan the next trip.

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Canical to Machico
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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Walking in Madeira: Baia d’Abra / Tourism

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Hiking in Madeira - Baia d'abraCircular Walk Baia d’Abra

Distance: 8.2km (5.1 miles)
Up: 390m
Down: 390m
Navigation: Cicerone Walking in Madeira Walk 6, Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 5 of 5 stars

From Canical, we took the bus 113 to Baia d’Abra. This is the most Eastern tip of Madeira and just BEAUTIFUL. Very touristy but so worth seeing. It’s a circular walk over barren landscape. We had brilliant weather, a little too hot for that matter. There was no shade except a small house at the of the walk that provided toilets and benches under palm trees like an oasis in the middle of a barren, hilly desert. We had a nice break there, a bit of a chat with some English tourists and the one or other lizard on our arms.
At the tip of Baia d’Abra you are rewarded with a stunning view back on to the entire island of Madeira.
Hiking in Madeira - Baia d'abraLooking at the numbers it doesn’t seem such a strenuous walk, but the heat made it gruelling. Remember a hat and sunscreen. Because Baia d’Abra is extend so much into the ocean you’re basically offshore, disconnected from the weather circulation that seems to exist on the island. Sunny in the morning, clouds coming in during the day and hanging especially in the high mountains, evenings = sunny again. Clouds were nowhere near us.
When we finished our walk we took up the offer of the ice cream standing right at the finish line. Round 1: Solero. Round 2: Magnum Double Chocolate. I really deserved it.

Tourism in Madeira

Hiking in Madeira - Baia d'abraApart from trading and agriculture, tourism is one of the most important industries of the island. With 20% of the GDP, tourism is contributing significantly to Madeira’s economy. Because if its mild climate throughout the year tourists flock to Madeira all year round. The busiest months, however, are March and April when the island literally blossoms at its best. Most of the tourists are from EU, lead by the Germans, British, Scandinavian countries and the Portuguese. We also saw lots of big French groups, in my opinion even more than Germans…

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Baia d’Abra
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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Walking in Madeira: Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Walking in Madeira - Marocos to CanicalMarocos to Caniçal along Levada do Caniçal

Distance: 12km (7.5 miles)
Up: 3m
Down: 0m
Navigation: Cicerone Walking in Madeira Walk 7, Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 4 of 5 stars

Today we took the bus 156 from Canical to Marocos. Luckily the bus driver through us out directly at the start of the levada so that we didn’t have to climb up any hills. (It seems that I get lazier and lazier the more we’re into the holidays. Maybe the effect of relaxing…)
During the walk we ha nice views over Marocos and Ribeira Seca, passing lots of residential gardens where people grew all sorts of fruits and vegetables: onions, potatoes, beans, strawberries, bananas, grapes, radish, sugar cane, sweet corn, blackberries, peas and so on. That kept me interested and busy for the entire walk.
Walking in Madeira - Marocos to CanicalWe finished the walk after 12km at the Canical tunnel and took a taxi down to Canical. We weren’t sure if the tunnel is suitable for pedestrians. We only found out when we were already in the taxi. And it is. There is a separate pedestrian way, so we could have walked down to Canical for another 5k or so. But… ah well… it’s our holiday. So we were lazy once more and took the more comfortable way.
Drama of the day: I lost my travel towel. I had to use it to fit my backpack better by squeezing it between my hip and the backpack strap (I’m simply too thin for this backpack – how annoying. Not that I ever thought I would say that). I just can hope that they will have towels in our hotels and accommodations. Otherwise… bad luck.

Public transport on Madeira

Madeira is very well connected through a bus network. There are 4 major bus companies running services across the island. That means you definitely get even into the furthest and smallest town of Madeira. What we noticed especially in towns where several services run like in Machico, theses bus companies don’t interact with each other. It’s impossible to get any information from one bus company about the other one. Nevertheless, taking the bus is a brilliant way to get a round the island. You get stunning views from and the bus drivers are always helpful. If you ask them where exactly you need to get off they let you know when it’s time for you.

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Marocos to Canical
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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Walking in Madeira: Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Walking in Madeira - Santo da Serra to PortelaSanto da Serra to Portela along Levada da Portela

Distance: 7,7km (4.8 miles)
Up: 220m
Down: 830m
Navigation: Cicerone Walking in Madeira Walk 8, Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 4 of 5 stars

Today is our 5th day on the track and we’ve done 66km (41miles), a total ascent of 2200m and a total decent of 2100m, all with our 12-kilo backpacks on. Doesn’t sounds so dramatic actually, but we still decided to shorten our planned route today, skip the 10km between Portela and Marocos and do a lazy walk.
Walking in Madeira - Santo da Serra to PortelaThe walk between Santo da Serra and Portela is really, really pretty. Once you’re up at the levada, it’s again a very easy walk, with the water canal flowing right beside you. What make this levada interesting are the slopes it falls down. The walk is very quiet, we barely met any people, no big tourist groups, just to my liking.
When we arrived in Portela we just missed our bus to Caniçal. How lucky that we weren’t in a hurry and I had my Kindle with me. So we spend the next 2 hours reading and observing the clouds crawling up from the coast to the mountains.

Levadas – Water network of Madeira

Walking in Madeira - Santo da Serra to PortelaLevadas are artificial water canals build in the 15th century to carry water from the rainy mountains in the North to the drier South island and water the sugar cane fields there. Initially privately owed, a system of water canals was put in place sometimes using slaves to even out the paths, removing scree material and using explosives to make tunnels. Today, Madeira has the largest irrigation system of the world, a total system of 2150 km (1350 miles). Often it’s said that these days levadas are only used for tourists. However, we’ve seen Madeirans using them to water the crops and vegetables in their backyards or store their water in massive tanks for drought season or drinking water treatment. Yet, it is true that they are often used by hikers like us who enjoy the level walk with the water gently flowing down-slope beside them.

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Santo da Serra to Portela
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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Walking in Madeira: Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Walking in Madeira - Camatcha to Santo da SerraCamatcha to Santo da Serra along Levada da Serra

Distance: 17.9km (11.1 miles)
Up: 71m
Down: 146m
Navigation: Cicerone Walking in Madeira Walk 4, Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 3 of 5 stars

Leaving Camatcha in the morning, I heard police sirens for the first and only time on this Madeira holiday. And why? Because the freed the road for a cycling race. Isn’t that lovely? A cycling race. Quite a different flair in comparison to busy London.
What I really enjoyed about this walk, again along the Levada da Serra, was that we passed lots of eucalyptus trees. Not that I’ve ever seen any growing in the wild. They don’t smell unless you crack the leaves and here and there were light clouds of essential oil. I’m so easily impressed with things I don’t know. Like an indigenous clouds of eucalyptus smell…
Walking in Madeira - Camatcha to Santo da Serra
What I didn’t like so much was the decision we made about the last 3-4 kilometers of our walk: Towards the end of the walk we came to a junction where we had to decide to take the main road or a secondary road down to Santo da Serra. We decided to take the main road as it seemed shorter and we wanted to avoid any unnecessary, additional kilometers to walk. I wished we had taken the secondary road. The main road turned out to be incredibly busy, and as there was no pedestrian way, we had to walk on the road, constantly communicating if cars were coming from the front or back in case we needed to step aside. I felt really uncomfortable and stressed with so much traffic and would generally recommend to avoid all main roads on Madeira. On the Madeira tour & trail map these roads are marked red. So stay away from them and find an alternative route, even if you need to take the extra mile.

Madeira, the Flower Island

Walking in Madeira - Flower IslandMadeira is called the Island of Eternal Spring, so it’s not surprising that it’s also called Flower Island. Due to its mild weather throughout the year (24°C in summer, 17°C in winter), Madeira has the perfect conditions for flowers to bloom all year around and although at their best around Spring time, you’ll find a diversity of flowers across the island and across all seasons. With its colourful flora and fauna it’s a paradise for botanists.

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Camatcha to Santo da Serra
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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Walking in Madeira: Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Walking in Madeira - Monte to CamatchaMonte to Camatcha along the Levada dos Tornos

Distance: 15.1km (9.4 miles)
Up: 784m
Down: 306m
Navigation: Cicerone Walking in Madeira Walk 1, Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 3 of 5 stars

We started our walk from our hotel in Monte, which unfortunate for us, was kind of at the bottom of Monte, whereas the access point of our Cicerone walk was a 2k walk and ascent of 500m up. Good exercise before we even started :). On the way, we saw Monte’s traditional wicker sleigh riding. A wicker sleigh on wooden runners steered by two guys, sliding down the asphalt roads of Monte. Wicked!
Once we found the starting point of our walk it became much quieter, passing a few villages and private residential complexes, for my taste still a little close to civilisation. As the Levada dos Tornos is quite close to Funchal, we saw lots of big groups of tourists driven up the hill in a big coach and walking along the levada. For my taste a bit too many people.
Walking in Madeira . Monte to Camatcha Tearoom HortensiaHOWEVER, we passed the Hortensia tea room that advertised its amazing apple pie on a big wallpaper. So we decided to spend our lunch break there and I tell you, that cake was well worth it! (Isn’t it funny how you go for the things you love instead of trying new things?) Well, at least in this case.
Later that afternoon, we arrived in Camatcha after a 15k walk and stayed in a little self-catering bungalow with a very cute garden, waiting to get started again the next morning.

Wicker sledge riding – Toboggan Rides in Monte

Monte is famous for its wicker sledge riding or toboggan rides. The wicket sledges were primarily used for transport down to Funchal in the 1850s when they first appeared. 2 men in traditional white cotton shirts, trousers and a straw hat steer the sledge with their rubber-covered boots along a 2 kilometres long, mostly straight, narrow street. There are 2 sharp 90-degree curves that makes the steering really interesting, because you speed up to almost 50km/h. Nowadays, it’s one of Monte’s major tourist attractions and most tourists we’ve seen sliding passed us really enjoyed themselves. The starting point is at the top of Monte, at the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church. They have sleds for 2 or 3 people and prices are as follows: 1 person 25€, 2 people = 30€, 3 people = 40€ (as of June 2016).

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Monte to Camatcha
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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Walking in Madeira: Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Walking in Madeira - Teixeira to Poiso via Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro

Teixeira to Poiso via Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro

Distance: 17.7km (11 miles)
Up: 783m
Down: 985m
Navigation: Cicerone Walking in Madeira Walk 23 (reverse), Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the classic walks of Madeira. There is no public transport to Teixeira, so we booked a taxi from our hotel in Santana to Teixeira and started our walk around 8.45am. I was really looking forward to this walk as it covers the highest peak of Madeira, Pico Ruivo (1862m), the 3rd highest peak, Pico Arieiro (1818m), and we passed the 2nd highest peak of Madeira, Pico das Torres (1853m), which is located between Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro. The paths are well laid, save, and mostly wide enough to walk comfortably or they are secured by railings.

Walking in Madeira - Teixeira to Poiso via Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro

Stef’s Freak Out

Most people start at Pico Arieiro because it’s got a car park and do a circular walk from there to Pico Ruivo and back again. Now, this didn’t really fit into our plan so we decided to come from the back. Oh THANK GOD! Firstly, I wouldn’t have wanted to do the climbing up and down between Pico Arieiro and Pico Ruivo twice. JESUS! And secondly, ehm… I’m not a friend of heights, and there was one part close to the finish line that completely FREAKED ME OUT: we had brilliant weather, warm, sunny, but the clouds were hanging in the mountains, or more precise to left and right of that really narrow stretch with railings on both sides. Beautiful, but I’m not sure if the fact that I could see only clouds left and right helped my fear of heights or made it worse. But either way, I got such weak knees, I just ‘ran’ across that stretch which was what? 10 meters long? And it felt like an eternity. At the end of the stretch I couldn’t even look back on what I’ve just managed. The idea along made me feel sick. So I’m glad I had to do that only once and came from Teixeira rather than from Pico Arieiro. As a reward I got myself a Magnum Double Chocolate ice cream at one of the shops at Pico Arieiro. I even would have deserved two…

Walking in Madeira - Teixeira to Poiso via Pico Ruivo and Pico ArieiroFrom there we walked down to Poiso and got the 103 bus to Monte. Alternatively, we could have called a taxi to bring us down to Poiso/Monte, but this way I could walk off my Magnum a little and due to the fact that we had to walk another 2k from our bus stop in Monte to our hotel, but we had gorgeous views over Funchal and its harbour.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Did you know that Cristiano Ronaldo was born on Madeira? I didn’t either. He grew up in Santo Antonio, a neighbourhood of Funchal, the capital of Madeira.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened his own CR7 Museum in Funchal in 2013 which is dedicated to his life in football from his early days in Madeira till his time Manchester United and Real Madrid and contains some of Ronaldo’s greatest prizes and trophies as well as shirts, shoes and other personal things. Part of the museum is an 11ft statue of himself and can be found on Funchal’s Plaza del Mar. Entry fee: 5€.

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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Walking in Madeira: Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?

Madeira Walks

1. Walk – Ilha to Santana / Where is Madeira?
2. Walk – Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro / Cristiano Ronaldo
3. Walk – Monte to Camatcha / Wicker Sledge Riding
4. Walk – Camatcha to Santo da Serra / Madeira, the Flower Island
5. Walk – Santo da Serra to Portela / Levadas
6. Walk – Marocos to Caniçal / Public Transport on Madeira
7. Walk – Baia d’Abra / Tourism
8. Walk – Canical to Machico / Summary Walking Holiday

Walking in Madeira - Ilha to SantanaIlha to Santana via Vale da Lapa and Queimadas

Distance: 15.5km (8.6 miles)
Up: 590m
Down: 705m
Navigation: Cicerone Walking in Madeira Walk 24/26/25, Madeira Tour & Trail Map (1:40000)
Stef’s review: 5 of 5 stars

Ilha is about 8km from Santana where we stayed, so we got the bus from Santana to Ilha where we started our walk. Luckily, we met a group of French tourists and their travel guide showed us the access point to our walk. Then it was just climbing, climbing, climbing for about 1 hour until we reached the Levada do Caldeirão in about 850m altitude.
Walking in Madeira - Ilha to SantanaMy very first levada and probably the one I was most excited about. A fresh water canal shaded by high trees. And lots of tourists. Because levadas are levelled with no elevation at all it’s a comfy walk for everyone. It’s very green, mostly broad paths, and has a beautiful waterfall towards Queimadas.
Before the Queimadas car park is a very cute picnic area with the charismatic Queimadas guest house in the back. (A huge traditional Madeiranese house with a straw roof that, according to a German tour guide I overheard, can be rented for 35€/day.) Here, we had packed lunch before we descended down to Santana.

Where is Madeira?

Walking in Madeira - Ilha to SantanaHave you heard about Madeira before? It’s often talked about among hikers as a walking paradise. I had to look up where it is. Being part of Portugal, Madeira is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, about 560km (350 miles) off the coast of Morocco and about 900km (500 miles) away from Portugal. The closest civilisation is on the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, etc) about 500km (310 miles) away.

More about walking in Madeira:

More photos of Ilha to Santana
Itinerary Madeira Walking Holidays
Packing List Madeira Holidays

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What is a buff, how to wear it and how to customise it

What is a buff? How to wear a buff? How to customise your own buff? Answers here:

Custom Buff – My Highlight of the Week

Ok, it’s normal that I’m excited when buying new hiking gear and I wouldn’t even find it worth mentioning, but this is one is so *eeek*: I got my favourite climbing moment printed on a buff.

 

Custom Buff with your Picture on

One day when I browsed the internet and looked for something completely different I came across Bags of Love. They do photo gifts (cushions, blankets, canvases etc), but I wondered if they have sports/hiking equipment as well. And *eeek* they had. I wanted something with my favourite hiking/climbing moment on and found the buff. So I uploaded the picture which we took at the summit of Toubkal (4167m – North Africa’s highest mountain) onto their design platform and got it printed. Super easy. I could choose different pictures for the front and back of the buff, so I got something neutral on the back (a picture of a surface of snow) for when I use the buff as a head band. So basically I got a 2-1 design.

Wering a custom buffcustom buff with photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to get your own custom buff, here’s where I found it: Bags of Love.

 

What is a Buff?

Now, a buff is something that probably every other hiker has. It’s a piece of tube fabric and it’s super practical. You can wear it as a scarf, head band, cap, wrist band, face mask and probably 50 other ways. Ideal for hikers in any situation and weather condition it’s incredible versatile. I do have the one or other at home because it’s a really nice fashion accessory (for hikers) as well, but I was always looking for something more special.

 

How to wear a buff

There are generally 15 ways of wearing a buff. (Ok, 50 might have been a bit exaggerated :).)

How to wear a buff

How to wear a buff

And for the first time, it came a little inconvinient that I have short hair lol…

What kind of buffs do you guys have? Post a picture of it in the comments or on my Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and show me what you’ve got.

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Stok Kangri Peak – Climb the Himalayas in 4 Days

The Stok Kangri peak (6153m)… – a not well-known mountain although it’s the highest peak in the Stok range in the Himalayas. 6 years ago I started out on my Stok Kangri climb and what started as a casual climb ended as a near death experience. Walking down the memory lane of this difficult trek and climb revives my passion for trekking and climbing.

Walking Along the Valley – Reaching Chang Ma, Base Camp 1

Stok Kangri trek Chang Ma base camp

Chang Ma base camp

Arriving by jeep from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, we got to a small village café in Stok (3497 m) where I met my Sherpa, a mountain guide who would accompany me for the next 4 days. Once we had loaded our mules with our bags, tents, food and other equipment, my journey started along the valley towards base camp one.
For the first half of the day, we followed a stream, walked pass a stupa-sized water tank and an abandoned fort. We saw plenty of wild life including blue sheep, wild ponies, marmots and pigeons. It was fascinating to see how they had adapted to the extreme weather and high altitude of the Himalayas.

Stok Kangri trek Chang Ma base camp

Chang Ma base camp

We arrived at Chang Ma (3988m) base camp one in the late afternoon and quickly settled down by setting up a makeshift camp and kitchen tent. I heard the fascinating sound of a water stream running next to my tent. I walked a few yards by the side of the stream and laid down on a man-sized rock with my coolers on. I slept for a few minutes and felt the stream water splashing on me. The combination of heat from the sun and coldness of the water created a wonderful, blissful feeling.
When I woke up I saw additional tents set up in the camp. More people had arrived from Stok village as well as from base camp two. What started as a dot in the distance, over a period of time became a cavalry of people and ponies the closer they got to our camp. It was fascinating to observe. I also started to feel the thin air at high altitude. My appetite for food had dropped significantly since the start of our climb.

The Shortest but the Steepest Climb – Arriving at Mankorma, Base Camp 2

Stok Kangri trek

On the way to Mankorma

The second day was a short but steep climb to Mankorma (4320m), base camp two of the Stok Kangri trek. The lack of oxygen added to my tiredness and I had to put in more energy to climb the slopes. As my Sherpa grew up in the mountains he naturally had a larger lung capacity and was able to climb without much effort.
During our climb, climbers from base camp two were passing by after they had either successfully summited the Stok Kangri peak or returned without submitting. Everyone of them was saying that the ice was deeper than they had expected. It clearly set our expectations straight and made us mentally prepared for what we had to expect.
We also witnessed a wild chase between a mule and black sheep herd. We didn’t know what triggered it but it was an incredible high speed chase down the slopes.
After three hours of climbing, we arrived at the Stok Kangri base camp two. The view from here was amazing and climbers made an incredible effort to establish the camp in such a beautiful panoramic landscape. We set up our tents in high wind. The wind was howling but I could still hear the sound of the distant stream. Most of the tents in the camp were empty as the climbers had gone to the summit. Everyone who had descended from the Stok Kangri peak said it was bad up there. The ice was deeper than expected. The advanced based camp which was closer to the summit was shut down due to heavy snow. That’s why we had to summit from base camp two. It meant for us that we had to start climbing at midnight so that we could summit in the early morning before sunrise. If not, the sun would melt the ice and it would have been too difficult to descend in the deep, soft snow.

Into the Darkness – Starting to Summit Stok Kangri

I was unable to sleep that night as many things were haunting in my mind. Oxygen deprivation didn’t make it easier. Possibly, my nervous system was also slowing down and panicking. I packed my lightweight rucksack with a coat, two mid layers, my balaclava, sunglasses, a water bottle, first aid kit, camera, gloves and spare socks.
Around midnight, we left base camp two in the dark to summit Stok Kangri peak. The first hour was a steep climb which consumed most of my stored energy and I was constantly grasping for oxygen. The terrain on top of the hill was dry and loose and I had to climb cautiously, focusing my head torch on the path in front of me. I couldn’t see anything beyond the scope of my torch-light and it was pitch-dark around me. Not even the light from the night sky could help us.
After some time we reached a flat surface and hit the snow line after a few yards. On the slope, I was cautious about using my ice axe as I didn’t want to create an avalanche. The path narrowed down to a single file. I could feel that it was a ridge but I still didn’t have any visibility on either side. The ridge was slippery. I knew that if I fell it would have been lethal. But for unknown reasons this thought didn’t bother me at all.
After a few hours of walking, we came to a steady, gradual climb on a vast area of snow. My guess was that we reached a glacier which my guide confirmed. It meant we had to watch out for glacier crevasses. We were prepared with ropes, harnesses and fasteners in case anything would happen.
The only question was my energy level at that time. The climb became strenuous while my energy level went down. I was mentally strong to reach the summit at any cost unless the weather would turn bad. I suffered from slight altitude sickness but over a period of time it started to fade away. The Sherpa kept asking me whether I had a vomiting sensation, head ache or giddiness. I was truly aware that if this happened the climb would have been  abandoned.

Beyond Tiredness – Finally Reaching the Stok Kangri Peak

Stok Kangri peak summit

At Stok Kangri Summit

We started to use the path followed by previous climbers as it was tramped down by their footsteps and made our climb easier.
It was around 5am which usually was my peak sleeping hour. My body was naturally shutting down and I could feel it. The only way I could keep myself awake was to climb without resting or thinking.
Around 6am, the sun started to rise and we were able to see the summit of Stok Kangri. It looked close enough and my rough estimation was 20 minutes or at most an hour before we would reach it. We had our crampons on and connected each other with ropes through harness. We switched to Alpine climbing for the rest of the trek. It was a vertical climb and even the Sherpa didn’t anticipated such steepness and deep ice. It was one of the worst years for Stok Kangri climbers due to the heavy ice.

Stok Kangri peak

At Stok Kangri Summit

At that moment, my physical strength was close to zero but my mental strength was still strong. It was more like conquering your mind than summiting the peak. What looked like a 20-minute climb took 3 hours. I gasped for oxygen, I was tired, sleep deprived and had little food due to my loss of appetite. Strangely, giving up never occurred to me even once during that tenuous three hour climb in extreme icy conditions. Everything was falling apart around me. My brain was slowing down and my nervous system was an absolute wreck due to the lack of oxygen. My arms were shivering so badly that I had difficulties to set my ice axe. I kept slipping every now and then but managed to hold and climb.
Finally, we summited at 8am in the morning (6153m). The sun was fully out. The view of the clouds flowing through the mountain peaks of the Stok range was breathtaking and seeing it from the peak of the tallest mountain in the range was spectacular.

Steep Down into the Abyss – Leaving the Summit of Stok Kangri Peak

Stok Kangri peak summitting

Stok Range of the Himalayas

After a 20 minutes stay at the Stok Kangri peak, we started to descend. The descent was not bad as the ice was still hard. We were able to see the panoramic view of the landscape and the glacier on which we walked earlier in the dark. I was able to see the ridge on which we walked during the ascent. A slip or fall would have meant a certain death. Also the chance of triggering the avalanche was high. Descending was faster though tiredness almost killed us. I stopped counting how many time I fell during the descent. On the top of the final hill before camp 2, we took a break, put down our climbing tools and slept facing the sun with sunglasses on. Bizarre enough I slept like a baby. After all, it was a 13-hour strenuous endeavour since we left at midnight.

Stok Kangri – Death in Chang Ma, Base Camp 1

The following day we started our final descent back to Stok village. The estimated time to reach Stok village was 4pm if we started at 9am. That was when I heard the news of a German climber who died in base camp one due to altitude sickness just a few hours earlier. He was young, just 26, and came along with three other climbers. It looked like he misjudged the altitude sickness and possibly made a quick ascent without getting his body used to the high altitude. Altitude sickness has nothing to do with the strength of one’s body and everyone reacts differently to high altitude. High altitude can impact the performance of lungs and the heart due to the thin air. So they need time to adjust to the altitude. Unfortunately, most people die when they are asleep. (You can read more about altitude sickness and its symptoms, treatment and medication here.)

The Last Leg – Returning from My Stok Kangri Climb

Stok Kangri trek valley

Stok Kangri Valley to Stok

We continued to descend and reached Chang Ma base camp quicker than expected. There was a poignant silent atmosphere at the camp site. I looked at the tent where the dead body was kept. I realised heavy-hearted for the first time that mountains can kill. On the way down to Stok Village, we walked pass a group of police officers heading towards base camp one to fetch the body to Leh.
After that the descent was smooth, the thin air was vanishing and I was able to breathe more generously. We reached Stok at 4pm as planned and a pickup vehicle waited for us to take us back to Leh. We shared our stories with fellow climbers at the café at Stok Village before signing the log book that we had returned safely from our Stok Kangri climb.

 

Read more about Prasana’s adventure on his blog Incredible Travel Days or follow him on Twitter.

 

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