Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mountaineering--the Island Version

The iconic feature that Saint Lucia is known for is the twin peaks of the Pitons. Rising a half-mile above the sea, these two steep, conical towers are impressive. Since our group will be split up to the four islands of Eastern Caribbean that Peace Corps supports (St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) later this month, we wanted to hike Gros Piton before some of us leave St. Lucia on August 1.

I knew this would be a physically demanding hike, and I am not in peak condition at the moment. However, I counted on the stubborn attitude I have about "finishing what I start" that has served me well in the various long-distance bicyling trips as well as 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons that I have completed. Besides, I'm from West Virginia--the Mountain State. I've done a lot of hikes at places such as Seneca Rocks, Nelson Rocks, and other places. I knew that I didn't want to pass up this opportunity for this unique St. Lucian experience.

So most all of us filled a tour bus and headed to the southeastern edge of the island. It was a beautiful (albeit long) trip, but finally the town of Soufriere came into view, with the peaks of Gros and Petite Piton visible just beyond.

Soon we were beginning our climb up Gros Piton. It started off as part hike and part "rock scramble," but eventually we made it to the overlook that is quarter-way up the mountain.

We kept working our way upward in the Caribbean heat. Soon we made it to the half-way point, with a beautiful view of the other Piton as it stands above the sea.

Between the half and the three-quarter marks, the trail became steeper. Sometimes there were make-shift hand-rails, but most of the time it was like a demon-possessed stair-climber machine in a gym. Undaunted, our Peace Corps group continued skyward.

The higher we went, the more our group got strung out. I realized that I could not keep up the pace of the young folks at the front of the group. During this phase, I was getting more fatigued, and began to have some self-doubts. I was thinking maybe I should just give up when we arrive at the three-quarter point, and just say I gave it a good try. I was really getting tired of the unrelenting steep climb (that is me in the picture below with my Peace Corps backpack).

Fortunately, we arrived at the benches that mark the three-quarter point, and some of us took a rest under a huge mango tree that was reported to be over 200 years old. I had only been drinking water up to this point, but I realized I needed the quart of home-made guava juice that my host mom had frozen the night before. I don't think I've ever tasted anything better than that now melting guava juice. The well-deserved rest as well as the cold juice gave me the impetus to fight that voice in my head that had suggested quitting. I couldn't get that close to the end and give up! This was probably my one chance to go all the way to the peak. Besides, I had to uphold my Mountain State dignity. Even if I am an alum, how could I consider myself a WVU Mountaineer if I gave up?

So I started trudging further up the mountain. Between the steepness and my fatigue, I found myself bending over more and using my hands as well as my feet. Besides, by being bent over, I'd have less momentum if I happened to fall. So I was climbing by hand and foot, clinging to whatever tree root or rock presented itself to gain elevation. I told myself to take it one step at a time, over and over again.

Although I had my head down choosing my handholds and footholds, I could sense that the circumference of this cone-shaped mountain was getting smaller, which meant that we were getting closer to the top. That gave me the adrenaline I needed for the final phase, which included a lot of rock scrambling.

Finally, we arrived at the top! I was beat, but at least I accomplished something incredible. The views from the top were majestic. Although it hurts this West Virginia native to say it, I must admit that the view was even more impressive than Seneca or Nelson Rocks. It was as if we were flying in an airplane, looking out at the combination of the island and the Caribbean Sea.

After resting at the top for awhile, it was time to begin the journey back down. Let me tell you that the downhill "climb" was no picnic! The steep nature of the trail makes it very difficult regardless of which direction you are going. I was glad when we finally made it to the bottom! [Actually, it might be more accurate to say I was "elated" but I was too tired by that point to show much emotion, regardless of how I felt inside.]

Once we all made it back to the bus, we ventured back to the nearby town of Soufriere, where we stopped at the beachfront and enjoyed a meal. It really is an interesting town. I walked along the waterfront and saw lots of fish, and even a sea snake! I pointed it out to a local who explained that it wasn't an eel and that it is not venomous.

It was a heckuva long day, and I am going to sleep very well tonight! I snapped this picture of the Soufriere waterfront with the Piton overlooking it--a nice way to end a memorable day!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats! As an older and Returned Saint Lucia Volunteer I know how satisfying these hikes can be! Dominica has Morne Trais Piton hike to the boiling lake - a beautiful hike. Make sure you get there during your time! I'll be a follower. Enjoy your adventure. It's one of a kind!