The Empenas hike is a challenging ascent in Nun’s Valley to reach a small passageway between two huge rock walls, which is known as ‘The Window’. The route involves lots of bouldering, using safety ropes, and over a vertical kilometer of climbing as you navigate your way up the steep, crumbly cliff-side.
EMPENAS HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of my hike was 12.6 kilometers for the loop trail.
Hike Duration: The hike duration was 4.5 hours but only 2.5 hours of moving time. We had to clear many sections of the path so it was slow-going and there are a few technical parts. The downhill back to the valley is very steep and slippery so it is a slow section.
Hike Difficulty: This hike is in the difficult category. The main reason for this is the many sections of trail that require ropes for safety. There’s lots of scrambling and bouldering. The incline is more than a vertical kilometer, which is a challenge in itself. The route is not clear at all and not signed. I went with a hiking group who led the way and cut invasive plants where necessary. The details of the group are below.
Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike was 1,166 meters.
My Strava Map Upload: The Window
HOW TO GET TO THE EMPENAS HIKE
The Empenas hike begins deep within Nun’s Valley basically at the final part of the road there is a parking lot. You can find that on my map link above but because this route is very dependent on local knowledge, there isn’t a possibility to name every turn for you. I did this hike with Madeira Lés a Lés, which is a hiking group that does off-the-beaten-path adventures every Saturday. They offer specialized tours through their small business Madeira Wonder Hikes where they take people on alternative hiking adventures. They led the way on this alternative loop hike in Nun’s Valley. The map below shows the approximate starting point.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE EMPENAS HIKE
So many of the great hikes on Madeira begin in the depths of Nun’s Valley. There seem to be endless possibilities to rise out of Curral das Freiras and join incredible ridges or reach remarkable viewpoints. Today was no different although we had a specific landmark in mind for or target of the day. The Empenas hike leads you up a difficult series of steep ravines to reach ‘The Window’ at the top of the ridge. The window is two huge rock walls that lean on each other, giving hikers a chance to pass underneath.
The trail begins from the road in Nuns’s Valley and immediately heads straight up the hill through the Eucalyptus trees with an aggressive slope. You will be out of breath quickly as the first couple of kilometers are a relentless climb.
After emerging from the plantations, you will now have to contend with overgrown bushes and an off-the-beaten-path experience. Narrow pathways, sharp bushes, unstable ground, and high drop-offs confront you in this section before you meet the first of many rocky sections that require a rope for a safer descent.
That is the ‘warm-up’ done and it’s time to get into the real action. After a few kilometers, the trail joins a very steep stream, which is usually only with a slight amount of water unless it’s raining or after a big storm. The trail is therefore slippery, rocky, and at times quite hard to move at a good pace. There were many decisions to be made as we zig-zagged our way up the cliff by following the path made from water. Every now and again, we used the ropes to help safely climb up a rocky wall but for the most part, it was old-fashioned scrambling.
The higher we climbed, the more unstable the rocky surface became. In our big group we had to take extreme care not to dislodge any rocks and have them fall on our team-members below us. This was very hard when the terrain at times was almost entirely loose rocks.
The final push up the cliff-side gave us some incredible views looking back towards Nun’s Valley. The clouds swirled around us but every so often they would clear enough to show us Pico Ruivo in the distance. From the drone, I could see ‘The Window’ clearly on the ridge above us, but we still had some work ahead of us to get there.
Reaching ‘The Window’ was a bit surreal. It was much bigger than I expected and was truly a window to the next valley. A slippery final section was all that remained before we could stand under the archway, at what was the halfway point of the journey. It’s a unique rock formation and definitely something unique to visit on Madeira Island.
After passing through the window, the journey now leads us up to the base of Pico Grande. With incredible late afternoon light flowing onto the trail, it was one of my favorite sections of the route.
The final section of the trail leads you back down from Pico Grande to the base of Nun’s Valley. Along the way you will pass a section of trail I like to call the Machu Picchu of Madeira. With ancient stone walls and an incredible backdrop of mountains surely you can see how it got this name.
The loop is completed once you make it down back into Nun’s Valley and that is the Empenas hike done. I hope you enjoyed that one and stay safe out there on the trails.
MY AWESOME GUIDES FOR THIS HIKE
This isn’t your regular hiking route so although I’ve given you a map and a lot of directions and advice, it’s best to link up with a local if you want to do this route. Don’t expect too many signs throughout the trail or to find most of the routes on a map. I did this hike with the Madeira Lés a Lés, which is a hiking group that does off-the-beaten-path adventures every Saturday. They offer specialized tours through their small business Madeira Wonder Hikes, where they can tour you on a trail that suits you and your group. Anyway, I just joined the group as a friend but thought you might find that information of value if you want to do some serious adventure on Madeira but aren’t sure who to get in contact with. If you meet any of the Madeira Lés a Lés crew, you will see what I’m talking about.