Visible except when there is heavy cloud cover I should say... we saw the mountain looming in the distance when we first disembarked our little puddle-jumper plane from Sao Miguel, but for the following two days it was so overcast that the clouds rendered it completely invisible.
Much debate was had. Much forecast-watching occurred... and as luck would have it, we caught a break on the day that we were scheduled to fly out at 6:15pm - sunny and clear skies! We arranged for a taxi to pick us up at our hotel (which graciously kept most of our luggage for the day), and were climbing shortly after 8am.
The hike is not exceptionally long, but it covers an elevation change of ~1000m over a difficult terrain of mostly lava rock... hard on the hands, knees, thighs, calves, you name it.
Our progress was measured in trail markers - little white posts labelled #1 through #45, spaced not by distance but merely put in places where you could hopefully see the next marker from the last. After marker 4, things got steep and challenging, and stayed that way until marker 41. This made for an interesting challenge... "it seems so close, and yet..."
There were highs, there were lows, but if at any time we needed to raise our spirits we simply turned around and looked back at the incredible view.
After making it through the "do we turn back or soldier on" stage of the climb, we eventually started seeing those morale-building numbers on the trail markers - 35...36...37... until finally the steep climb mercifully turned more into a walking path, which eventually led to the crater of the volcano. Here's the final trail marker, #45:
And here's two happy but tired hikers:
We've finally made it! Right? Well for some of us, the climb stopped here. For others, there was one final ascent remaining: "Little Pico", the volcano within the crater of the larger volcano.
Note: NOT MY PICTURE
So, up I went! Aside from one particularly steep segment, the climb wasn't much more difficult than the rest of our ascent. And boy was the view worth it.
By the way, that little wisp of what looks like a cloud at the edge of the rocks there? That's actually hot steam/gas escaping from a gap in the rocks. A nice little reminder that this is a volcano, after all.
Here is a quick video I took on my phone using a selfie stick (you can mock me all you want, I don't care).
After a brief break at the top to rest our feet and take in the view, we started our long painful descent. All told, it took us about 7.5 hours round-trip. Tired, sweaty, and no doubt smelly, we jumped in a taxi, swung by the hotel to pick up our luggage, and then immediately jumped on a plane taking us back to Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel.
Our plan is simply to rest and recuperate a little here, and then we're off to Madeira early on Wednesday morning.
That's all for now!