Pico dominated the view from my hotel. A classic cone of a mountain jutting out from the sea, it seemed to call to me as it peeked out from the clouds. I set my sights on this mighty peak, the tallest of Portugal’s mountains, towering 7,713 feet above the choppy Atlantic, but it would elude me, wrapped in the clouds during much of my visit to the nine-island archipelago of the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, about 900 miles from the mainland.

Pico is known for offering challenging, though not technically difficult, climbing. A ’round-trip hike is a day-long outing, though locals recommend ascending in late afternoon, tenting out on the mountain, and catching the sunrise from Pico’s peak.

As those hikers familiar with our own Presidential Range are aware, mountains often attract, or create, their own weather. Such was the case on Pico, and I decided to return to climb on a clear day to best enjoy its wide-ranging views.

I’d traveled to the Azores last fall with lots of hiking in mind, and I was pleased to find great hiking, an extensive trail network, and inspiring views of verdant countryside on the islands of Faial and Sao Miguel. Natural attractions are the draw here, and such activities as hiking, sailing and scuba diving are readily available.

With assistance from my guide, Laurent Le Baron, I explored an area known as Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) on Sao Miguel, hiking through a dormant volcano crater grown lush with vegetation in every imaginable shade of green.

We hiked along the rim of a crater in an area known as Vista do Rei (View of the King), where waves of green peaks on one side of us and the blue Atlantic Ocean on the other truly were sights fit for a king.

The mountain of Pico is the centerpiece of the island of Pico, which is famed for its extensive vineyards and flavorful wines. Traveling to the island via ferry, I was struck by the similarities between Pico and New Hampshire’s own Mt. Washington.

Both are superlative peaks—Pico the tallest in Portugal and the tallest in the Azores, and Mt. Washington the tallest in the Northeastern United States. At 7,713 feet, Pico is even taller than 6,288-foot Mt. Washington by more than 1400 feet, adding to its allure. Views from each are impressive and extensive.

Given their elevations, both are often enshrouded in clouds. Mt. Washington is cloud-covered as much as 70 percent of the time, making a clear day an extra special occasion for climbers.

While the climbs don’t require technical expertise, they are challenging. Mt. Washington climbs take about four hours, on average, each way. It’s similar on Pico. Guidebooks recommend planning on anywhere from 2-1?2 to five hours up, with 2-1?2- to 3-1?2-hour ascents the most common.

Safety is a concern on both mountains. Search-and-rescue teams are often called to assist lost or injured hikers on the Northeast’s highest peak, and hiking organizations and natural resource agencies put great effort and resources into hiker education and promoting proper hike preparation.

The Azorean government produces useful pamphlets describing various routes and offering maps to various hikes in the islands. With many maps and guidebooks available, Pico hikers can prepare for their climbs as well. In addition, hikers on Pico are required to hire a guide and to register at the local fire station. The Civil Protection Service is involved in rescues.

The Azores were formed by volcanic activity, and everywhere you look, you see the craggy rims of long-silent volcano craters. Today, they are gardens of green, offering a variety of hiking options, including easy, around-the-lake walks, such as I enjoyed at Lagoa das Furnas on Sao Miguel; scenic routes such as I followed at Sete Cidades, which provided pleasant trails, weather, and views; and the most challenging of all, Pico. I guess it’s human nature to seek out the highest, the biggest, the most formidable, so 7,713-foot Pico is still on my list. The good news is, that just means I’ll have to go back to try it again.

Azores International Night Jan. 16

As part of its popular International Night series at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the culture and cuisine of the Azores are set to be featured on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

A dinner of Azorean specialties created by chef Paul Santos will be served at 6 p.m., followed by a photography presentation by yours truly that will cover the villages, vineyards and volcano craters of Sao Miguel, Faial and Pico, three of the nine islands in the Azores archipelago.

The free presentation starts around 7:30 or so, following dinner, and is open to all. Dinner reservations may be made by calling 466-2727.

The AMC International Night series is a wintertime tradition in the notch, and a different country’s cuisine and culture are featured each Wednesday evening through March 12. Other countries to be featured include Costa Rica, Italy, France and Finland.

Program and menu details are available by clicking on the “AMC Events” link at outdoors.org.

Rob Burbank is the public affairs director for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch. His column, “Outdoors with the AMC,” appears in the “Get Out!” section of the New Hampshire Union Leader. He can be reached at rburbank@outdoors.org.


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