Gran Canaria Cycling: Pico de las Nieves from Las Palmas

Route: 91km, +/-2855m, 5hrs, 20th Dec 2017

HC climb – for years I watched the Tour de France and didn’t really know what it meant. Hors Categorie – without categorisation. Climbs could be graded 1-4 depending on gradient and length. HC was invented for climbs off that scale – tougher than a Cat1. (In Ireland I don’t know where you’d find a HC – our mountain climbs aren’t long or steep enough – maybe Mount Leinster (6% over 13km) is the steepest I’ve done this year at home).

Catedral-Pico de las Nieves por Cueva Grande, Hors Catégorie (Perfil Juan Luis Quemada)

El Pico

So Pico de las Nieves – 1,949m to the top of Gran Canaria. Starting at the Catedral de Santa Ana in Vegueta, with the Atlantic waves crashing behind me, I set off after 8am. I knew that 40km and 2000m separated me from the summit. That’s over 3hrs of cycling with a 5% average gradient.

The Route

I found a nice route description online via Santa Brigada (from Pedaleando por Canarias). I chose it as it was shorter and thus steeper. I wanted to see what a HC climb was really like, no messing about with long gradual ascents. The climb was relentless – most of the time in my bottom cassette ring. Constant effort – not too hard but without much relief.

pico elevation
Strava route map & elevation

The Climb

The first hour went easy. Through towns on the mountain side like Tafira, Santa Brigada, San Mateo. Lots of traffic on a single lane road. Drivers were very patient and respectful.

The 2nd hour came slower – the incline was tiring me. Lots of time for negative thoughts – but I told myself it wasn’t a race, so take my time and enjoy the moment. The roads got quieter. Only one cyclist steamed past me. I couldn’t keep up.

WP_20171222_09_12_51_Rich 1
The view down to Las Palmas

The Final Push

The landscape changed to pine trees above 800m. Still in sunshine it was a bit colder. The turn at Cueva Grande came after 2hr 27min. Time for a pit stop before the final 10km push. I knew that would be tough, with gradients between 8% and 12%. It was brutal – barely moving forward at times. One 10km segment took me 59min (10kmph).

By now I was in full pine forest. Woodpeckers in the trees. Scorched tree trunks from forest fires. The air was fresh. At 40km I made it to the last main junction near Llanos de la Pez. Only 2.5km to go. Now I felt happy.

All smiles at the summit – Tenerife is hidden behind the clouds. It was cold – about 6C

The Summit

So 3h23m to climb 43km. At home 43km would get me to Laragh in Wicklow in less than 2hrs. At the summit, my 3rd time in recent years, it was windy and sunny, about 6-7C. I put on a windbreaker jacket, gloves and even socks as homemade gloves on my hands. The descent would be cold as I hit 30-50kmph on the way down.

The Descent

The descent got scary when I got immersed in the clouds. My headtorch was dead, so no illumination for oncoming cars. It passed quickly on the steep, twisty descent so I was back to good visibility. Cruz de Tejeda was too cold for a coffee stop, so I kept going back down to warmer climbs.

45min of fast descending, on sometimes rough surfaces, and I made it to Teror, for a well needed break. Café con leche and a local cream tart in the sun. Yum. Sitting in the square in front of the Basilica de la Virgin del Pino, the patron saint of the Canary Islands.

Coffee & cake in Teror in the sun – so nice

Back Home

Back down in Las Palmas I made a lovely lunch in the apartment, pechuga de pollo al ajillo con batata y verduras, con ensalada y una cervera bien fria.

Relaxed by reading, walking and swimming on the beach. Then out for dinner in El Bodegon de Roberto y Yeni. Croquetas, pimientos piquillos rellenos de bacalao y pan fresco. Oh, and I snacked in 100 Montaditos earlier, so well fed after all that work. A good day out.

A pint of Happyness – local stout brewed in Gran Canaria by Viva

Route Comparison

This route from Las Palmas was my first from the northern side of the island. I’ve gone up to el Pico in the prior years from Playa del Ingles in the south (read 2014 report here). This northern route is definitely steeper. The main options are via Santa Brigada or via Teror. Santa Brigada is steeper as it’s 38km from Vegueta. Via Teror it’s over 45km I think.

I comparison from Playa del Ingles I think it’s 52km via San Bartolome and Ayacata. So you’ve a lot more flat bits and recovery time on the way up from the south, whereas in the north it’s a pure endless climb.

However I would say the southern routes do have better road surfaces. The descent from Valleseco to Teror is on fairly rough tarmac in parts, easy to lose control if a bus appeared around a blind corner. The northern route is however much quieter, less cars and cyclists. I met only 1 cyclist on my way up – in the south you’d pass lots of groups going up the Fataga valley at any time of the day.


Pico de las Nieves from Las Palmas (2017)

Pico de las Nieves from Playa del Ingles (2015)

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