Photo Epic: Flow Exotic - The Search for Trail Treasures on Volcanic La Palma

May 15, 2020
by Nathan Hughes  



A diamond-shaped jewel floating out in the Atlantic, far from the African coast, this volcanic wedge of rock has been plundered for its treasure many times through the ages. Of course, now its coves and black sand beaches are more contested by territorial German tourists and their towels than the ruthless pirates and smugglers of yesteryear. Still, La Palma is a place that immediately captures the imagination. Since two-wheeled explorers discovered the Canary Island's great potential, the hills (read calderas) have been alive with the sound of freewheels.

Numerous guiding companies will gladly haul you up the full 2400 height metres to a trail-head above the clouds (be warned of drastic and ever-changing conditions) to begin some of the most epic descents of your MTB career. From a baron Mars-scape of red rock, wind down onto black lava-fields, enter mist-shrouded forests that spit loam and pine-needles, jump stone walls between prickly pear thickets and banana plantations before cork-screwing steeply down to the gently lapping waves of the sea in time for a calamari dinner.

The trails often start rocky, sometimes ultra-technical and it can take every shred of concentration not to flat or get ejected. But there's a rhythm to it and there's plenty of respite in the feature-laden woods of lower altitudes. You can be sure it's top-drawer riding when you actively have to calm yourself down in the saddle. After all, there could be 90 minutes of descending left to go. Besides you never know when the trail will make a sharp 90-degree left before dropping 4m down to a fire road. I found that one out the 'free-fall' way here before.

Angie Hohenwarter and Philip Waldez were two riders I found marooned on this exotic island shortly before Christmas last year. They seemed to have a nose for trail treasure and with the help of Atlantic Cycling we found the goods hiding in plain sight. And if you're wondering why you're seeing more jerseys than a jumble sale and bikes magically change color and frame material before your eyes, our mission was to shoot the new Propain Tyee enduro bike as we went along. Anyway, hopefully you agree La Palma is a spot worthy of your riding bucket-list/treasure map once we are free to travel and the best news; the riding goes all winter long...





Philip and Angie roaming free on one of La Palma's signature lava fields, a short drive from Puerto Naos.




Into the woods and dark twisted trees hide a happy mix helter-skelter of tech & flow.


La Palma has a ton of mini freeride spots and you can often incorporate some super fun jumps and berms into a much longer descent.


Dramatically different terrain just a short ride away.


The sun's always out somewhere on the island and at some point during a day out you are sure to find it.



The Rocque de Los Muchachos is home to some of the World's most powerful space telescopes and also the trail head for the longest descent on the island.


Red dirt ribbons to ride at the top of the enormous caldera that comprises the shape of the entire island.


Pressing on further into the ride, well-spaced trees and tropical shrubs surround the trail with occasional high-exposure, but continuous unreal views.


Life behind bars on La Palma. It's no prison.






Dropping back down to sea level at Tazacorte is one of the most dramatic and memorable rides on the island. Fun fact from a not-so cheerful, but fascinating history: In 1570 Pirate, Jacques De Sores, murdered 40 Portugese missionairies and threw them off these very cliffs. Never fear, La Palma is now 97% pirate-free.



An ocean POV to savour with gelatos and beers waiting at the bottom.


In need of a little more woods action for our photos on the final day, we found one of the flowiest loam areas of numerous intertwined trails.


Angie laments the trade-off between good times on the bike versus the sharp basalt stones that always fill you shoes on this island.



Philip quickly adapts to the changing light in the dark forest and brings some style.


You can always guarantee a sunset is going down somewhere on this island and we were stoked to find it, while the town and beaches below were stuck under the cloud.




Philip with some strong turn-bar, silhouette action in the last light as the sun dipped behind the cloud-smothered Atlantic.


A sunset inversion for our last evening on treasure island. Never not epic.



22 Comments

  • 33 3
 Nice Story... One must note however, that many of the best Trails on La Palma are now forbidden since the last 10 years many of these were damaged by recless Trail shredding. This is a Volcanic Island with much erosion.

The Trailbuilders on La Palma are employees of the local tourism boards, and mostly maintaining these very old paths is manual work on elevations from 800 to 2200 m altitude. 1/3rd of La Palma is a Unesco Biosphere, and a National Park is located right within the Roque de los Muchachos Caldera, which hosts plants and animals endemic to the Island.

Some of the most epic trails are at the edge of the National Park abd they have been closed to bikers (enforced by Park Rangers - and they don‘t mess around) plus Guardia Civil, Spains Military Police.

I‘ve visited La Palma since 2002 for Bike Riding, and there were always Rider Groups that would carelessly shred down these trails, shortcutting, leaving skidmarks. Over the years you could see the trails erode, and hear about a growing frustration of the Trailworkers.

All these Trails described in the Article are Hiking Trails. La Palma has had 200.000 Hikers per Season, and usually 10.000 Bikers visiting per season. Guess who is more important to the Ministry of Environmental protection. So thanks to these Shredders many trails are now closed down for Bikers. Trails we rode carefully without any problems for many years.

I doubt that the Propain Team knew about this.
Next time you do such an article think about what shredding trails actually means and which impact it has for local riders.
Cheers
  • 8 3
 Hi dropperposter, we were guided by official and registered bike guides from La Palma on these trails, and there is no doubt that they knew where to shred legally and officially with our bikes. So your concerns should be unfounded. Cheers
  • 4 1
 @PROPAIN-Bicycles: not true, as most of the guides ride illegal trails (really! - I did that too), and as long the guides are La Palma based, the local forces tolerate it most of the time, but not on all of the trails (e.g. Kante Ost, Ruta de los Volcanes and some parts of Kante West are illegal and are NOT tolerated).
You can see a lot of erosion on the more popular trails, and this is only because of guiding - I doubt anyway that those trails (LP3, LP4, LP8 ) ever see a lot of hikers, they are too far off.
  • 8 2
 @PROPAIN-Bicycles: So, @dropperposter respectfully complimented you on your article yet shed some light on the conflict they're having there over trail use and on the regulations in place. You responded with a two sentence explanation that those who make their money guiding tourists over these trails surely must have been aware of the regulations and "no doubt" stuck to them. Makes me wonder, did the riders explicitly request to "shred legally and officially" or did they merely assume they would? Dismissing @dropperposter 's concerns as "unfounded" comes across as a bit disrespectful unless you counter it with a more solid explanation. This doesn't quite cut it, please try again.
  • 1 0
 This is weird, I spent 5 days in La Palma 3 years ago, riding this amazing island with rented mtbikes from a local shop. We even used a local map made for mtbikers and we used a shuttle service to get to the departure of the trails. We've never heard anything about these restrictions. We knew that was tricky to find a campsite spot though.
  • 2 0
 throwing shit with a fan aint very nice mr.
  • 4 0
 I am not going to discuss what you said, but I would like to shed part of the negativity that your post transmits about the island, and its riding ops. The local government has understood that MTB is a sustainable form of business and allows, and promotes, plenty of riding (on the contrary, the neighbor island of Tenerife has forbidden most of its trails).
I know live in Gran Canaria, but I was the construction manager for the Port of Tazacorte (the one that is shown in a couple of the pics), and I also fly regularly there to ride. There are many operators to ride there, and most, if not all, will know which trails are legal (the vast majority of them). There are even Marathon, Enduro & DH races legally organized (I have raced in all three kinds):

www.facebook.com/flowtrailslapalma/videos/479402876169472

www.transvulcaniabike.com

and the island is very pro-MTB, rustic, and laid back (I believe you think the same, but reading your post could lead someone to believe otherwise regarding close rails, military police etc...)
  • 4 0
 I spent 10 days in February of '19 on the island and rode many of the trails with our friends Julia and Dan, who are part-time residents. One of my best bike trips yet and it is all about the culture, the food, the people AND the riding. Not the easiest location to travel to from BC's Interior, but well worth the trip. Expect many challenging, technical trails that would be rated black/expert here in North America. Check out lapalmafreeride.com for a great shuttle app. Many of the island's taxi drivers are signed up and will shuttle you to and from your chosen trailhead. Amazing service and well worth looking into.

I can't speak about the trail closure or environmental concerns raised in the comments. It just wasn't an issue as far as I can tell. We only rode sanctioned, legal trails and there are plenty of them to keep you riding for weeks.I understand and acknowledge the damage riding sensitive areas can do and the resulting trail closures. As a trail planner/builder that works with stakeholders across the Province, I see a huge push towards respecting the land we ride on. I can only hope this is true for remote riding locations like LaPalma.
  • 3 0
 La Palma is magic. I was there just before the Covid lock down in februari. We were guided by www.flowtrailslapalma.com whom I can really recommend. I can really recommend local guiding and shuttle service as the climbing is tough and you get a whole lot more descending when shuttling. Flow Trails are also really local, knowing all the local habits and good places to eat. As far as I know we played by the rules, even greating some park rangers underway. Defenitely a bucket list destination!!!
  • 3 0
 I live in Gran Canaria, just a short local flight from La Palma, and we visit it regularly. We always go with www.flowtrailslapalma.com . They will do whatever they can to make your trip as good as it can get, plus they are involved in trail management&maintenance and in Rally, Enduro and DH competitions:

www.facebook.com/flowtrailslapalma/videos/479402876169472

They also know all of the trails (they were born in the island) including some remote and rarely ridden "jewels".
  • 4 0
 So glad i went there in february just before the corona thingy ... love the island, the people, the atmosphere, the trails, the nature, the food, almost everything!
  • 2 0
 @PROPAIN-Bicycles and all Folks: Just to make it clear, this is a great article and I congratulate everyone involved. Just with Covid-19 La Palma can use all promotion it can get, and we all long getting back there riding with our friends and support the local community.

La Palma has always been good to us in the past, and we all love to give positive things back. But, dear Propain, you‘d be amazed to see what trails were possible to ride and carefully being enjoyed 10-15 years ago which are illegal today. one of which was called one of the 7 holy trails by a german magazine even once.

In a nutshell, however, there is one thing you can watch at La Palma in a blackbox, that is recently seen all over Europe (ecxept for some Eastern Destinations like Romania where you can still roam freely even with a MX/Dirt Bike): Trails are being closed down due to trail destroying riding style. La Palma is not a Bike Park were Trail Crews fix trails daily, weekly etc, or were trails are specifically built for bike riders (except for some illegaly built trails somewhere in the pine forests).

99,9% of the trails on La Palma are hikers trails in a very very erosive volcanic soil landscape. Scandianvian flicking yourself down from Roque to Tazacorte, leaving skid marks all over the place is a No-Go on these trails. If rain falls on La Palma, there falls a lot in short times.

I admit we rode some steep trails on some loose slopes in the past, did these rides a few times and after a week it looked like a train of cattle had run trough in panic.

What I am saying is, that due to Bikepark, shredding, short cutting riding styles that repeatedly damaged trails - erosion set in then during rainfalls - the trail crews that put in insanely hard work into these trails, were more and more pissed of.

Add to this that mountain trailrunning is since many years (Transvulcania etc) super popular on the Island. I‘d say today there even more local trailrunners than bikers there. So, if Propain or any other Bikebrand or Ambassador does Stories on the Island, lets agree that everyone promotes a trail preserving riding style.

That this does not go so well with the local DH community, that builds illegal trails into super erosive landscapes, is a different story. Here 1:1 the same errors are repeated, that lead to trail closures in Europe Mainland in regions.

Add to this, that Hiking Tourism is still times X more important overall to the economy of the Island than biking.

And would you like to see the same thing like on Tenerife happening on La Palma finally as well? that ALL trails are closed?

What is allowed for carefully guided Groups (not speaking about dumb organized non-guided taxi shuttle services) is a fraction of the trails that were allowed 10-15 years ago. That‘s how we, as a MTB community have managed to popular outreach our sport since more than a decade. by destroying trails.

just if everyone keeps that in mind, riding palma trails as much as carefully as possible would benefit all of us.

National Park rangers and personnel as well as Environmental protection services at the Island always have the final word on the Island. Since the vast majority of the Islands Visitors come for the National Parks, Biosphere, unspoiled nature, and less for the few beaches. We in our Bike Bubble tend to believe we are super important. That is not the case.
Cheers ????
  • 2 0
 La palma is for sure a beautiful island with a wide variety of some of the best enduro trails in Europe.

The trails are amazing and some even very challenging.

From steep rocky stuff to flowy loamy trails. And the best way to experience this is with www.flowtrailslapalma.com

Excellent guiding. Great guys with the local knowledge and passion for enduro and freeriding
  • 2 0
 La palma is for sure a beautiful island with a wide variety of some of the best enduro trails in Europe.

The trails are amazing and some even very challenging.

From steep rocky stuff to flowy loamy trails. And the best way to experience this is with www.flowtrailslapalma.com

Excellent guiding. Great guys with the local knowledge and passion for enduro and freeriding
  • 2 0
 Wow, some of those pics are really good, I love the one while they are enjoying view above clouds, so cool. Good job Nathan!
  • 1 0
 La Palma is magic!, most mesmerising island I've ever been. I can't wait to go back!
  • 1 0
 Ich bin baron Mars, das erste singlespeeder der Universum!
  • 2 0
 Amazing photos!
  • 2 1
 yeeees good Job Nathan ! & Angie & Philip. La Palma Rules.
  • 1 0
 Awesome pictures Nathan!!!
  • 1 0
 wooow, incredible
  • 1 3
 Magical... ... ....

Capitão De Areia

youtu.be/dtUIrhFp2nM

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