At last, a chance to write about walking the GR131, El Bastón, one of the two long-distance trekking routes on La Palma. I will hasten to add straight away though that this is not about me taking on this megga-route but about Steve Hughes, an experienced long-distance trekker.
For those who are not familiar with the route, let me just give you some background information.The route spans between Tazacorte at sea level in the west and the Fuencaliente lighthouse at sea level in the extreme south, a distance of roughly 70km. In between the two, it rises to the highest point of the island, the Roque de Muchachos, at 2426m above sea level in something like a walking stick shape, hence the name, El Bastón.
To add to the fun, for almost all of the three to four day route (apart from near the beginning and end) there is simply no habitation. That means no accommodation (apart from one refuge hut, the Punta de Los Roques) and nowhere to buy food or drink. And for even more added interest there is no guaranteed water on the 26km section between Roque de Muchachos and El Pilar which is at an average height of around 2000m above sea level. And let's just say that the terrain for much of the route is, well, challenging.
So. You're tempted, huh?
But of course, this doesn't put some people off, far from it. Steve contacted us to see if we had any input regarding the walk and we had an exchange of ideas about the best way to tackle the route. Unfortunately ... (shame, shame) we still haven't completed the middle section of the GR131 route ourselves so I can hardly call us experts - although we have walked from El Pilar to Fuencaliente lighthouse and from Andenes to Tazacorte. However, Steve has kindly sent us his notes from the walk along with some conclusions and some great photos (those within his text). So here you are - enjoy - and I think you will find the information on walking the GR131 and accommodation logistics extremely useful.
Saturday 8th Dec. – Arrived at La Palma airport from Tenerife late afternoon. Bus to SC de La Palma, staying at Pension La Cubana.
Sunday 9th Dec. – Bus to Fuencaliente in morning where I booked into Pension Los Volcanes. Left rucksack behind as I walked down to Faro (lighthouse) and back in afternoon to get my walking legs working again.
Noted that the marked path took me West of Volcan de San Antonio whereas route marked on Kompass 232 map was to the East. Wandered around rim of Volcan Teneguia before getting down to lighthouse and beach. Rained steadily on way back as I found the ‘old’ path to the East of Volcan de San Antonio. This came out into the car park of the volcano visitor centre, passing signs which, on looking behind me, instructed me not to go this way!
Monday 10th Dec. – Headed North from Pension on steady upward slope. Path easy to follow. Weather dry but cloudy at times. Diverted from GR131 to cross Volcan de San Martin, summited Volcan de la Deseada, then diverted again onto minor path crossing Montana de los Charcos to reach Pico Birigoyo before descending to Refugio de El Pilar where I camped. No warden to be seen which was handy since I didn’t have a camping permit anyway.
Tuesday 11th Dec. – Still no warden. Filled water bottles from taps saying it was non-potable, then added chlorine tablet just to be safe. Continued North in dry and warm but often misty weather. Path easy until Reventon, then fairly relentless upward climb across Pico Ovejas and Pico Corralejo until I arrived at Refugio Punta de los Roques where I met German guy. Down to 1 litre of water so refilled from ‘rain collection’ tank, but didn’t like the look of it as it had bits of paper floating about in it. Decided to carry it but only use it only if I really had too (after further filtering and chlorination).
I continued North as German guy headed South. Quite slow progress around caldera. Had intended to reach Roque de los Muchachos, but light fading by the time I reached Pico de la Cruz, so pitched tent on flat area by summit, using marker post and rocks to secure tent as I couldn’t stick pegs far into the rocky ground.
Wednesday 12th Dec. – Ice on inside and outside of tent after cold night. Finished remaining litre of ‘clean’ water and still feeling thirsty, but resisted drinking stuff collected from Refugio Punta de los Roques. Lucky to enjoy glorious sunrise and see telescopes across caldera to the East. Mist creeps in as I walk so that visibility is down to several metres by the time I get to los Muchachos.
Still cold, but tap by visitor centre is not frozen, so I can flush away unwanted water and refill with nice fresh stuff. Had a good drink to rehydrate. Continued onward toward Tazacorte. The downhill walk was relatively easy, but slowed at times by the need to take care with foot placement. It was around 4.00pm when I reached the road at El Time and I had not made any sleeping arrangements yet. However, a Dutch couple I met on the way down had their car parked at El Time and offered me a lift to Los Llanos de Aridane, which I accepted. Stayed in Hotel Eden, who charged me just 25 Euros for an en-suite room with a bath (a welcome luxury).
Thursday 13th Dec. – Caught bus from Los Llanos to El Time to walk final part of route down steep slopes to Puerto de Tazacorte and then on to Tazacorte. Gloriously sunny day and I was able to leave my rucksack at Hotel Eden, so no load to carry. Had I walked this part the previous day I wouldn’t have had this much pleasure. Returned to Los Llanos to collect rucksack then caught bus back to Pension La Cubana in Santa Cruz.
Friday 14th Dec. – Morning flight back to Tenerife.
Conclusions about the walk.
1. Firstly, on a multi-day walk it is much easier to be precise about your start time than your finish time. Thus, where one is using public transport, it works well to start from a place visited by relatively few buses (such as Fuencaliente and Faro) to a place where there are plenty (such as Tazacorte and Los Llanos).
2. Next, there is a lot more to see and do in Tazacorte and Los Llanos than Fuencaliente, so this is a better place to finish.
3. Walking North and then West means that the sun is behind you most of the time rather than in your eyes.
4. I would suggest that for someone carrying a heavy rucksack (like me) the slightly gentler slopes encountered by walking North from Fuencaliente are preferable to the more punishing slopes that rise out of Puerto Tazacorte.
5. The views walking the last few kilometres down into Tazacorte are far more spectacular than those walking down to Faro.
6. Although it is practical to complete the walk in three days, doing the very end sections (Faro to Fuencaliente and El Time to Puerto Tazacorte) as separate short walks without the hefty rucksack greatly increases the enjoyment factor.
7. Refugio El Pilar is a good place to camp, but take on plenty of water there before proceeding North as you might not fancy what water is available at Refugio Punta de los Roques and the next replenishment might not be until the following day.
8. Whilst it may be possible to camp discreetly at Roque de los Muchachos, it clearly gets busy with tourists early. Thus, in retrospect, it was probably a good thing that I wild camped on the summit Pico de la Cruz instead. Had the weather turned unfriendly, there were plenty of rocks on the summit to provide shelter and the road was very close.
Hope this provides some useful ideas and advice for others considering doing the walk in one go. Steve
Our sincere thanks to Steve for his work in compiling this information and allowing us to use it here. And of course congratulations on completing the GR131 El Bastón, La Palma.