Reaching the summit of Volcan del Teide - the highest point in Spain at 3,718m - is relatively easy. The road crossing the caldera leads to the base of the volcano, and from there it's possible to either hike (5 hours), or take a cable car, to a point just below the summit. The remaining half-hour walk, through a fragile alpine ecosystem, is restricted to a controlled number of visitors who purchase a permit beforehand. Visiting the actual summit was one of my main goals of the trip, and not primarily for the views. Mostly, I wanted to experience the crater that, from a distance, looks like a tiny indentation in a peak resembling the little tail at the top of an ice cream sundae. My fascination with volcanic craters atop prominent peaks stems largely from the sense of control I feel from being able to safely approach (and ideally enter) a landform that was shaped by such strong and inhospitable forces. Tiny craters - ones I can cross or circum-navigate in less than a minute or two - are the most entrancing because they feel especially "tamed," and even vulnerable. But I developed a particularly powerful obsession with Mt. Teide's summit crater not only because of its scale, but because of its diminutiveness juxtaposed with its position at the very top of such a large island, by volcanic island standards. Though the summit crater is the result of only one particular set of (relatively recent) eruptions, I pictured walking around and around it, imagining that it had managed to create the entire island.
To my dismay, I discovered that I had waited too long to apply online for a permit to reach the summit during my time on the island, or to book a room at the mountain lodge where a one-night stay included a sunrise hike to the top. I immediately began thinking about how likely it would be that I'd be able to return to the islands sometime soon (after all, there were four islands I'd be missing on this trip), and in the meantime, how I might make the best out of the situation by using my frustration as fuel for future artwork (more on this in a later post). I decided that in any event, I should at least go ahead and visit the observation point just below the summit. So, on an unusually clear morning, I took the 20-minute cable car ride, lacking the motivation to do a 5-hour hike to a point just short of where I ultimately wished I could go.
I managed to run into a guide who was leading a group of visitors to the summit, and she said I might pretend to be part of her group in the event that the rangers decided not to match each permit with each individual passport. Standing in line, at the same time I saw that they were indeed checking passports, I noticed how easy it would be to simply sneak around some big rocks and access the summit trail. So, in one of my few ever acts of unlawfullness, I managed to turn a major disappointment into one of the highlights of the trip. (I justified the transgression with the certainty that one day, publicity generated from the resulting artwork would more than outweigh the negligible ecological damage one extra person might have caused.)
The sensation of reaching the rim of the crater, and walking halfway around it, was everything I had hoped for. The interior was inaccessible, but the steaming surface (the volcano is technically still active) actually reinforced the idea that a massive, violent force beneath the earth was being constricted into a tiny dimple at the top of the island. Equally powerful was the feeling that the entire island was being "gathered up" into this one single point just a few meters in diameter. (I think this is a bit different from the typical "top-of-the-world" exhilaration that people tend to experience at the tops of summits.) It would've been even more dramatic had the island been one giant cinder cone - then the summit and the rest of the island would truly be inseparable parts of the same form. But, the Tenerife summit definitely doesn't feel - or look, from a distance - simply like a mountain plopped on top of an island, in the way Kilimanjaro just sits on top of a continent and happens to be its highest point.