Next up in gravel Gran Canaria, this time Constantin off on a solo exploit, into the heat and blossoming unseasonal green October we had in 2022. The plan was ambitious, totalling more than 6500m climbing, and taking in- amongst other exploration- the best gravel road on Gran Canaria: Tirma. More on that later.. !
I got to share the first kilometer with mi amor, Ewa commuting to work, me making the most of a day off: un beso and off I went into the morning chill of Soria valley. Going to the valleys early always means that the inland tailwind you typically have during the warmth of the day hasn’t started blowing yet: slightly harder work but tranquil and peaceful at this hour, and nice to climb Soria before the glaring midday heat!
The first gravel sectors today were the same as those we took the day we tackled ‘the GraVotT‘: continuing from the end of the tarmac of the GC-505 (Soria road), to connect up to Presa las Niñas, and then further up to El Juncal. The first section takes you behind Presa de Soria, and the major difference to last time I was here was the level of the water: from this angle it is very clear to see how little water is left in the dam..! The trail had also been slightly repaired from its rain damaged state last time, but large parts were still unrideable: loose boulders varying in size between fist- and head- sized, scattered on steep slopes: less gravel and more .. bouldering.. ! 😆😆
Having crossed the GC-605 (Presa las Niñas road), the next section to El Juncal was still as wonderful as last time, in surface type and vistas alike, a high perch amongst scattered trees, peering down onto the waters of Presa las Niñas.
Re-joining tarmac upon reaching the village in El Juncal, a short and initially steep climb gets you up onto the GC-60: then the gorgeous descent into Tejeda and thereby the ‘commute’ part of the ride completed: time for a quick pit stop in the Spar: water and zumo!
From here it was destination terra incognito: dive number one through the vast and magnificent Tejeda crater.
An iiinnsssaanely steep concrete descent zig-zagged its way down the plunging hillside, terminating at a small finca, with a hiking path leading off towards the river I was expecting to find separating me from the climb up the other side of the hollow.
A few short steps and indeed there was the river flowing through a rich green vein of vegetation; forded without any difficulty. 100m of overgrown weaving hiking path take you onto the start of the convolution of gravel hairpins to climb up the other side of the crater. Very loose and pretty steep, with my gearing (36-32..) I had to walk around a couple of the early sections, but it would be completely rideable with sensible gearing. Oh and did I mention the midday heat? Mother of holiness the sweat pouring out of me made that river seem barely worth a mention..!
The steep part of the climb bested, you emerge onto the Guardaya trail at an absolutely gorgeous plateau; gravel nirvana- in fact, any nirvana!
I continued on Guardaya back up to the GC-210 (Artenara-Tejeda) road, there taking the tarmac again until the next Spar oasis in Artenara- aguaa !!! Many of you may have been to Artenara, and noticed a monument of a cyclist there, yet now, it had been almost fully destroyed.. Que paso ..?! 😱😱😵💫
Turning away from such misfortune, the next gravel segment on the list was one I had heard absolutely terrific things about: if you have ever ridden from Artenara to Tejeda, you will know that there is a giiggaaantic cliff on your left above you, and friends had told me of a trail up on top of this ridge, offering views as impressive as the drop offs are terrifying. So it was that I headed up this way, almost immediately impeded by.. Stairs.. There was a fire road after that short obstacle was negotiated, quite a steep one and with a thick bed of soft pine needles; a lovely setting, but sternly testing the limits of purchase of my tyres! Indeed it was a fire road, as the aromas of incineration wafted through the trees: the forestry services doing some controlled burning to prevent a repeat of the like of the massive forest fire that ravaged much of Gran Canaria in 2019.
Climbing through the trees the views were only fleeting, but soon I was lead to a turn off the fire road and up a narrow trail- which two downhill MTB riders promptly blasted down, full face helmets and all. This part is where the edge-teetering reward-rich stretch really showed itself in full splendour: now at nearly 1500m altitiude, jagged rock formations plunging away before me at the rim of the massive crater at my feet, the caldera the only remnant of a volcano that was estimated to be double the current height of Gran Canaria millions of years ago.
Mainly too steep to be rideable, I pushed my bike up this narrow track, over roots and rocks, stopping to recollect my jaw from time to time, upon which gravity seemed to be acting with a force of many orders higher fortitude than that against which my muscles battled up the mountainside, gasping at attempts to absorb the sheer magnitude of the amphitheatre sprawling into the distance- truly heartstopping. One part of the trail had been claimed by a landslide, but a tentative scramble – bike in hand – and I was across to the other side, and onto a section that was actually rideable: but still I didn’t want to- there was too much to take in.. ! Towering guardians of rock over an abysmal precipice, these sights were still in my mind as I rejoined the beautifully smooth new asphalt of the GC-150.
It would be but a moment though: my next long overdue appointment beckoned: Monte Constantino!
Standing proud with a vantage over Cruz de Tejeda, my almost-namesake had been on my to-do list for quite a while, and since there’s a mast on top of it, I figured there must be a way for vehicles to get there.. !
At one point the access road would have been asphalt, but now all that remained was loose torn up chunks; lets call it gravel.. ! A short climb and I reached the mast and station there; some apple cores and pistachio shells suggested others have had their lunch breaks here.. ! The road ended before the very top, so I hiked the 100m to the mast to reach the day’s highest point: the 1708m Monte Constantino, and now 1.8m taller with another Constantin on it! Woohooo !!! Terrific 360 degree views, from what was once administratively considered the centre of the island: and what an island lay around me in all directions: wow woW WOOWWWW !!!
Making my way back down, I was already starting to rethink my day’s plan: time was ticking past and I didn’t want to expect to be on any gravel in the dark, let alone on a section I didn’t already know; as was the case for the last section of gravel I had in mind for the day. Letting that thought gestate, I rode down the glorious GC-150 towards the famous black slopes of ‘Montanon Negro’, before literally riding onto it.. ! An off-road shortcut down to the GC-21 took me right onto those ebony hillsides I had passed so many times: a surreal place up close, and definitely not one apt for bicycling: extremely sinky large grainy gravelly madness!! Heading for some trees I dodged chestnuts and gullies in the loose rock, then reached the GC21 and headed downhill towards Valleseco- ok via one more crazy shortcut deviation.. !
Yet another water refill in Valleseco (yep it was DAYUM hot- and I knew a long climb back up was coming), and I headed to one of my favourite places of this whole island: Barranco de la Virgen. Upriver from barranco de Azuaje- on the edge of which Firgas, town of so much bottled water lies- barranco de la Virgen is about as green as anywhere on Gran Canaria gets; the road has wet patches even on a dry day, the surrounding jungles heavy with humidity and saturated with vegetation big and small. Man I was thrilled to be back here- a drink of beautiful nature for the soul, whooping as I whooshed around the weaving corners of the descent into the valley.
Reaching Valsendero at the crux of the valley, it was time to turn towards undiscovered trails once more, with a degree of trepidation I might add, as all the signs saying ‘propieded privada’ tried to deter my progress.. I decided to continue, as I knew there was a strava segment here that people I know have ridden before, so I pressed on. An abandoned hotel or some such was near the start, and some industrial looking building, but other than that, just a gravel trail, and terrifically thick vegetation abounding all around. The smells, fresh and varied, and actual mud- real mud (!!) beneath my tyres. The gradients were steep, the traction questionable, and as ever my gearing wholly inappropriate, so in the scorching heat I had to walk a few times through this thick green paradise, before finding spots where I could remount and make a little more progress. There had been several landslides here too, boulders lying on the path in places, but up up up and up the path rose, steep and steeper, through mud, gravel, rocks and roots, wiggling through hairpins, carving through rock, and even playing mind games with me: I thought I heard some voices at one point, and mindful that I might be trespassing, tried to keep a low profile.. And as I neared the end of the trail I was sure I heard a 4×4 driving close behind, spurring me to push on the pedals harder to make my escape.. ! I looked back and could see nothing, and rejoined the GC21 after jumping the last barrier, back on the refuge of tarmac.. !
Not for long however, as I descended only partially towards Fontanales, before a left turn lead me down a singletrack.. Hiking trail.. ! Lost once more in forest magic- this time such a different arboreal hideaway than the last, weaving on a soft pine covered slope on a narrow trail, full focus and once more entranced.. ! The singletrack ended and left me with a huge eroded steep hillside to hike up, by the top of which I decided it was time to apply a blister plaster- too much hiking in shoes I hardly wear.. ! Thanks my kochana for putting one in my wallet whoever knows how long ago.. ! Mwah ! 😘
Following this random trail through the woods, I had a sensation that I haven’t had on Gran Canaria in the years time: I was actually lost, no idea where the hell I was or where I would see a familiar place again.. ! Relishing the sensation, the internal background dialogues had fully switched to skipping the additional long loop through Tirma on the west coast, and with that decision made, I now realised I had no time pressure any more.
So when I did emerge onto a place I recognised- the GC220, a little above Juncalillo- I decided to do some other exploring- finally riding a beautiful ‘S’ of road that you look down onto from the main road! It leads only to a little isolated village, and the connection back to the main road is an overgrown grassy track, covered in fallen boulders; well, it was worth it ..!
Headed back onto my route, at the Fuente Bruma spring water bottling station, I headed for my favourite tree on Gran Canaria- one with a majestic view, and which has an imperious presence when viewed from Agaete a thousand meters below it. This then brought me down to the wonderful trifecta of dams near Lugarejos, and from here I planned a small detour to make a final food and water stop: the gasolinera in Artenara: tomato bocadillo, agua, aquarius, 5mins of phone charging, and off I went towards the spectacular Guardaya trail, and the second crossing of the Tejeda crater that I had planned.
My first time along Guardaya was in February 2021, which was already after a significant period of rain. Those rains had left the trail ravaged; deep gullies, loose rock and large boulders tumbled all over it, and large parts were very sketchy to ride/ unrideable.
The recent rains of September 2022 had only worsened the situation, to the point that only a 2 wheeled vehicle could use the trail at all: huge boulders now impeded anything wider from using many parts of it. That couldn’t take away from the fact that this trail is simply out of this world extraordinary in its beauty: it courses up and down, left and right as it weaves a gorgeous ribbon along the northwestern part of the Tejeda crater, and every single inch offers what could be a prize-winning photo spot. More so than ever now, the resplendent green draped on the island not having shunned this marvelous spot. About half way along the trail, again the unknown beckoned, and I took a turn downhill, seeking the river bed once more. A much bouncier track navigated me past beehives, down tight hairpins with loose rock all over, despite the recent evidence of a JCB trying to repair the poor condition of the track. Down and down it weaved, bouncy-smash after smashy-bounce- my glutes working overtime keeping the saddle unweighted and the bike loose.
Eeeeventually I reached the end of the road. The VERY END END. This was not a way that people cross typically.. The river bed here was thick with reeds 3 meters high, and they obliterated any trace of a visible way through.
There was however a metal cable spanned from one side of the river to the other, with a hanging cart on it.. Aha.. So at some point someone had been shuttling things across here.. ! Unlikely to be operable by one person who also wanted to be the passenger, I passed-by the opportunity to experiment with this antique contraption, and instead set about trying to see a gap in the reeds. Another steep scramble down to the river bed itself, and the wall of vegetation started to show cracks, and yes, I think I could squeeze a handlebar through there.. ! Tip toeing over rocks and boulders, I could now see the flowing waters, much wider and deeper here- but still only a stream- impressive for Gran Canaria nonetheless!!
Second fording of the day completed without wet feet, I found a gate blocking my exit at the other river bank. Late as it was, in the absence of any other option, I lifted the bike over and hauled myself over after, again aware I was probably trespassing. This soon became the least of my worries, as I passed some vegetable patches which seemed to have only the faintest overgrown path leading to them. That way it was so, however, the path got steeper and steeper, teetering on the edge of a ravine, barely 2 footprints wide. Pushing, lifting, carrying, draaagging my bike, the sunlight well and truly gone out of this deep ravine at this late hour, wondering why I had chosen THIIISSSS over the iinnccredible Tirma trail that I had planned to include but then skipped, my back aching from the effort and not knowing how long this would go on until I might reach a rideable section, I let out a roar of arrrrghhhhggghhhhhhh !!!!!! This rose an echo that repeated my shout back to me, but eased my suffering a little as the unexpected sound let me laugh a little at the situation..
I battled up this hiking path, passing an abandoned hut, and then another.. Where I realised according to the Garmin’s map the gravel road was supposed to start, but it was behind a wall ontop of a slope above me… I left the bike behind, scrambled over the wall, and realised- yes !! Here was the gravel trail !!!
I descended back down the wall, and now was faced with the problem of how to get my bike up over the wall .. hmm; a loose and very steep gravelly slope, a stone wall ontop of it.. Well, there was a wooden post there, with a metal wire attached to it… I hung the bike on the metal wire by the saddle, climbed the wall, and reached down from the top of the wall for the tip of the saddle, getting as good a grip as I could to make sure it didn’t release from my clutches and off down the valley: one yank and it was up to safety.
Phew.. Now. Gravel road. Lets go !! I had chosen to attempt this trail as it is visible from the GC210 when riding from Artenara to Tejeda, rising up the opposite side of the valley, below Roque Bentayga, as a series of wonderful and tight switchbacks. It looks perfect from the distance, however, as ever.. The devil is in the details…
The next kilometers were little but a punishment. My body beaten and tired, the steep gradients of this trail would have been a challenge alone, but I had the impression no wheeled vehicle had been here in decades: the surface was completely covered in boulders, loose and scattered, gullies running through the trail, and covered in shrubs, vegetation, decaying and living. In every hairpin I tried to remount, but after a pedal stroke or two I was off the bike again cursing this infernal trail. Rusted husks of vehicles from the ’50s or ’60s had been left in some of the corners; the states of these vehicles very much summing up how I felt right now.
However, slowly my frustration at having chosen this route was turning into gratefulness that I had done this alone: this would have stayed on my list otherwise and I wouldn’t want to have dragged anyone else here!!
In the latter parts of the trail, some stretches became rideable, and, after what felt like an absolute eternity, at last, AT loooooonng last, I reached the asphalt road below Roque Bentayga. Thank. Heavens.
I messaged Ewcia to let her know I was on tarmac and should make good progress home from here, as daylight had now fully expired, and a beautiful orange ball was descending low between the rock formations of the west coast, a truly spectacular setting.
Now making haste with the dwindling twilight, my legs found a new lease of life; finally they could turn in circles again!!! I stormed up the final ridge above Ayacata, and then faced the 38km descent in pure darkness. Knowing the road intimately, it is still always somewhat different at night; corners come at you faster than you expect, or slower, bits get missed or feel longer.. And so a couple of rear tyre skids later, and I reached the valley floor in Las Filipinas. Now just 20 minutes of pedalling through the valley and I would be home !!
I had skipped some of the parts of the initial full route I had planned, but that nearly always happens with gravel routes we plan, and with 193km on the clock, 10hrs 40mins ride time (+1.5hrs hiking AT LEAST), and 5600m of climbing, I was happy to be home, hola mi amor ❤️❤️