Three Saturdays in May: Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 – Part 2

Yes, I did it!  Gwendominica points to the Boiling Lake behind (and below) her.  Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

Yes, I did it! Gwendominica points to the Boiling Lake behind (and below) her. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

My successful foray to Dominica’s famous Boiling Lake as part of Hike Fest 2013 was a dream come true! On Saturday May 11th, 45 willing and

By the Titou Gorge, Gwendominica was really 'psyched to start the long and challenging  hike to the Boiling Lake.  Photo taken by Liz Madisettit.

By the Titou Gorge, Gwendominica was really ‘psyched’ to start the long and challenging hike to the Boiling Lake. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

enthusiastic hikers gathered at the trail-head by the  Titou Gorge near the village of Laudat in Dominica’s interior.  While quite a number of the assembled intrepids had previously experienced this challenging and difficult hike, a number of us had never done it – including me!

One of the added perks of Hike Fest is the easy ability to meet people from all over the world, most of whom are resident in Dominica.  The cultural diversity adds to the richness of the adventure!

One of the added perks of Hike Fest is the easy ability to meet people, including Dominicans and others from all over the world, most of whom are resident in Dominica. The cultural diversity adds to the richness of the adventure!

Hike Fest's Boiling Lake organizer Simon Walsh gave us a rousing pep talk, after which there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it!

Hike Fest‘s Boiling Lake organizer Simon Walsh gave us a rousing pep talk, after which there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it!

Once again this May, the weather gods cooperated and we started up the trail under partly cloudy skies, refreshing breezes and shady trees in the rainforest.  We were also at a relatively high elevation (about 2,000 feet to start) so we had the benefit of a cooler temperature than that of the sea-coast.

Jennifer, a sign-language interpreter for hearing impaired students at Ross University bubbled with energy and enthusiasm on the enture trek!

Jennifer, a sign-language interpreter for hearing impaired students at Ross University bubbled with energy and enthusiasm on the entire trek!

The more-or-less gentle ‘walk’ up and down to the Breakfast River (so-called because hikers would restore themselves here before the

The start of the Boiling Lake trail is a gradual climb and then a gentle descent to the Breakfast River.

The start of the Boiling Lake trail is a gradual climb and then a gentle descent to the Breakfast River.

long uphill to the look-off on Morne Nicholls) took about an hour.  The going was relatively smooth – some might dare to say monotonous, but I felt it was the perfect warm-up for the grueling trek ahead of us.  We were accompanied by the melodious trill of the Mountain Whistler (Siffleur Montagne), which to me is always a sign that I am in the rainforest.  As usual, my ‘pod’ of  the more-or-less 50 plus club and some novices (on this trail) tagged along at the tail-end of the group.  We didn’t mind because we concentrated as much on getting to know each other as on where to place our feet.  The ‘youngsters’ in our crowd were all affiliated with Ross University Medical School – not as students but as staff!  They were bubbling over with good cheer and energy.  I think their collective pleasant demeanor helped to sustain me for the whole trip.  What a lovely group of young(er) women!

Cynthia of HHV Whitchurch Tours is an amazing guide.  She is a great coach too!

Cynthia of HHV Whitchurch Tours is an amazing guide. She is a great coach too!

The Boiling Lake Trail would take us well into the interior of Dominica and its renowned

The Boiling Lake is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Boiling Lake is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 and the first of its kind in the Eastern Caribbean. This particular trek is world-famous, in terms of  hiking enthusiasts and adventure seekers. It is also a notable thing-to-do when visiting the Nature Island.  Its presence was first announced to the world in the late 1800’s by two British men, after whom two mountains in close proximity along the route are named: Nicholls and Watt.  Shortly thereafter, a formal track was cut out of the varied terrain and thousands of people have been over it ever since.  Another similar ‘cauldron’ of geothermal activity exists in New Zealand, which is officially said to be slightly larger and unofficially declared much less dramatic than Dominica’s own!

When we reached the Breakfast River after one hour, the crossing was a little tricky.

Crossing the Breakfast River, after about an hour on the trail.  This is often where hikers have a break and snack before the long and steep ascent up Morne Nicholls.

Crossing the Breakfast River, after about an hour on the trail. This is often where hikers have a break and snack before the long and steep ascent up Morne Nicholls.

Even with help, I managed to get one boot sopping wet.  Oh well, that is part of the experience.  A dry pair of socks would wait until that ultimate destination  a few hours further on.  We did not stop here for a snack.  It seems that the group was focused on the next intense uphill slog to the look-off at the top of Morne Nicholls. The trail was well-groomed and easy to manage in this area, except for the occasional too high step for my too short legs.  I was thankful for my hiking pole and the occasional boost from behind!  The

At the look-off on Morne Nicholls, Morne Anglais features prominently in the southwestern.  distance, l think Morne John is the lower peak in front of it.

At the look-off on Morne Nicholls, Morne Anglais features prominently in the southwest. l think Morne John (r) is the lower peak in front of it.

Morne Watt, at just over 4,000 feet, was directly south of our vantage point on Morne Nicholls.

Morne Watt, at just over 4,000 feet, was directly south of our vantage point on Morne Nicholls.

The village of Laudat (l) is not far from the trail-head.  majestic Morne Micotrin (r) is shrouded in cloud!

The village of Laudat (l) is not far from the trail-head. Majestic Morne Micotrin (r) is shrouded in cloud!

steep ascent  to the highest point of the day’s  foray (3,200 feet)was well  worth it once at the pinnacle.  The circumferential views were spectacular!

After this breathtaking/restorative (!) pause, we were off again – this time down-down-down en route to the Valley of Desolation.  There were a few little teasers along the way – not far

As we commenced the long descent to the Valley of Desolation, we could see the steam rising from the Boiling Lake in the distance.

As we commenced the long descent to the Valley of Desolation, we could see the steam rising from the Boiling Lake in the distance.

from the look-off.  The steam rising from Boiling Lake in the distance looked so near – and yet it was still  so far – another couple of hours at least!

I really wondered about my capabilities on this section of the trail.  Some of the hand-made steps had been washed away in a recent torrential rainfall. The gradient in the area was practically precipitous and the slick mud reminded me of walking on ice.  Sometimes I hoisted myself over and around treacherous spots with my arms supporting the rest of my body weight.  What a work-out!

In order to take in the breathtaking scenery, it wa necessary to stop and then look.  Otherwise, one cuold easily slip on the tricky downward track.

In order to take in the breathtaking scenery, it was necessary to stop and then look. Otherwise, one could easily slip on the tricky downward track.

I mumbled aloud: “I got down this thing, but how am I going to get back up?”  “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!” seemed to be the resounding reply that I received from more than one experienced trekker.

Then, all of a sudden, we arrived on more or less even ground in the most unusual landscape  I have ever seen.  It was hard to believe that I was looking at and situated in the renowned Valley of Desolation.  I felt as if I had stumbled upon another planet.  I

The first glimpse of the Valley of Desolation was spellbinding. It would still take teh better part of an hour to reach it!

The first glimpse of the Valley of Desolation was spellbinding. It took the better part of an hour to descend to it from the summit of Morne Nicholls!

As I walked through the Valley of Desolation, I admired God's handiwork.

As I walked through the Valley of Desolation, I admired God’s handiwork.

can’t really put words to it- so I will let the pictures do the talking.  I can only say if your spirit is willing, you’ve just got to see this exceptional place!

Liz, a member of the 50+ club (!) knows this trail well.  She has now seen the Boiling Lake 17 (!) times since 1993.

Liz, a member of the 50+ club (!) knows this trail well. She has seen the Boiling Lake 17  times since 1993. Now that’s impressive!

As we walked through it, with less than an hour to the Boiling Lake, we marveled at the seemingly extra-terrestrial appearance of the landscape while inhaling heavy sulphur-laden air.

A few people took advantage of a natural facial from Guide Cynthia. The sulphuric mud is reputed to be filled with many healthful minerals.

Cynthia takes a little time out to give herself and a few others a natural beauty treatment - a mud face mask which contains healthy nutrients for the skin that are found in the Valley of Desolation.

Cynthia takes a little time out to give herself and a few others a natural beauty treatment – a mud face mask which has healthy nutrients for the skin that are found in the Valley of Desolation.

At 14, Andrew was the youngest hiker on the trail.  He got to the Boiling Lake in 1 hour, 50 minutes, stayed there for 40 minutes and returned to the start in one hour, 15 minutes.  Isn't that fantastic!!!

At 14, Andrew was the youngest hiker on the trail. He got to the Boiling Lake in 1 hour, 50 minutes, stayed there for 40 minutes and returned to the start in one hour, 45 minutes. Isn’t that fantastic!!!

At this point, there was another wondrous sight to behold: the faster hikers in the group were passing us on their return from the Boiling Lake!  I marvelled at their prowess, particularly that of young Andrew.  He has been hiking since he was a little tot.    I would only wish that more  youths would experience the buzz of a day in nature, even if they aren’t as agile as Andrew!

As we passed though the Valley of Desolation, we followed along a little river and crossed over it here and there.  I stuck my hand in it a few

We found this boiling hot pool in the Valley of Desolation.  I am sure one could cook an egg in it very quickly, if you had a long spoon to remove it!

We found this boiling hot pool in the Valley of Desolation. I am sure one could cook an egg in it very quickly, if you had a long spoon to remove it!

times and was amazed at the diverse temperatures: boiling,  hot, warm,cool, cold and everything in between!

By now we encountered more returnees, who assured us that we were almost there. There were high-fives from everyone we met and the excitement quickly mounted. At last, we were there!!! Although we were in the slower ‘pod’, we congratulated ourselves for our timing – just a little under four hours.

Niya, an instructor at Ross University is triumphant at having finally made it to the Boiling Lake!

Naila, an instructor at Ross University is triumphant at having finally made it to the Boiling Lake!

And what a sight to behold!  Steep cliffs of 60 – 100 feet surrounded the steaming cauldron on all four sides.  Low clouds often shrouded the entire lake and distant views. Occasionally, a glimpse into its depths revealed  massive roiling bubbles which surged for a few moments and then as quickly subsided. Talk about mesmerizing!

Sulpherous smelling steam rises from the Boliling Lake about 60 - 100 feet below.

Sulphurous smelling steam rises from the Boiling Lake  below.  Steep cliffs of 60 – 100′ in depth surround it.

Looking down at the roiling Boiling Lake inspires awe and fear.

Looking down at the roiling Boiling Lake inspires awe, fear and great respect for our Father’s world.

Ibrahim (aka the Sign Man) takes a break at the Boiling Lake.  He is one of Dominica's most accomplished hikers.  We were grateful for his guidance and his strength in a few tricky spots.

Ibrahim (aka the Sign Man) takes a break at the Boiling Lake. He is one of Dominica’s most accomplished hikers. We were grateful for his guidance and extra strength in tricky spots.

For a short while, we lunched and laughed and lingered a safe distance from the steep cliffs where potential danger lurked below.  As  most of the group had by now moved off, it was Ibrahim (aka the Sign Man), one of Dominica’s most seasoned hikers and guides who urged us not to tarry.  We had to do the trail in reverse, after all!

A southeasterly view to the Atlantic Ocean and the Delices area.  Steam from the Boiling Lake can sometimes be seen from a certain point on the Petite Savanne Road approaching Delices.

A southeasterly view to the Atlantic Ocean and the Delices area. Steam from the Boiling Lake can sometimes be seen from a certain point on the Petite Savanne Road approaching Delices.

The waters around the Boiling Lake are milky-white in apperance due to high mineral content.  The White River near Delices is aptly named because of this.

The waters around the Boiling Lake are milky-white in appearance due to high mineral content. The White River near Delices in the southeast is aptly named because of this.

By now, we all admitted that legs were feeling a bit wobbly and it was definitely “mind over matter,” as I heard Ibrahim say more than once.

Sometimes people take a little break under this lovely little waterfall on the return to Valley of Desolation.  I think Simon spent a little time there, but he was well ahead of us!

Sometimes people take a little break under this lovely little waterfall on the return to Valley of Desolation. I think Simon spent a little time there, but he was well ahead of us!

Fatigued as we were, there was no stopping us now!  As we carefully retraced our steps, we only regretted that there was not time to refresh in a pretty little waterfall pool on the approach to the Valley of Desolation. I concentrated really hard so that my short little legs would not fail me.  From time to time, Naila, a physician by training, kindly gave me a hand or suggested where I should place my feet.  Every bit helped!

The uphill return to the look-off on Morne Nicholls was no easier than the downhill from it.

The uphill return to the look-off on Morne Nicholls was no easier than the downhill from it. Photo taken by Liz Madisetti.

Once we were through the Valley of Desolation, the most daunting section confronted us: what seemed extremely challenging coming down Morne Nicholls must now be done in reverse.  It reminded me of what it would be like to scale a cliff (well, I guess I was! ).  Slowly and carefully I took a big breath and oomphed (for extra energy), crawled, clung and clamoured over and around slippery, steep steps,big stones and little streams.

When I looked back at the steam rising from the Boiling Lake on the outbound journey, I knew at once that I was captivated by its mystery.  I hope to return to it again!

When I looked back at the steam rising from the Boiling Lake on the outbound journey, I knew at once that I was captivated by its mystery. I hope to return to it again!

Our chatter was more subdued here as a light rain began to fall.  In no time (well, an hour or so), we were back at the summit!

From there, the collective focus was on the trails end and a hot meal at the new kiosk at Titou Gorge.  Weary, but relaxed and happy, we chattered away to each other, occasionally broke into song and frequently ‘whooped’ and awaited return ‘whoops’ from those who were further behind us.

The last  hour beyond the Breakfast River seemed endless, but that Mountain Whistler trilled us along and then we were back at the Titou Gorge trail head exactly seven and one half hours later.  Did I squeal with glee!  I gobbled down a delicious chicken lunch and then carefully hopped on the bus with many other weary and sore but satisfied souls.  Now that I’ve finally done it, I have just have to go back there again.  You should too!

But first, there are some more things in Hike Fest to do.  Be sure to check it out!

* Special thanks to phenomenal coaches and guides Liz, Simon, Cynthia, Ibrahim and Naila.  You definitely helped to make my long-awaited Boiling Lake hike so worthwhile!

References:

Dominica: Isle of Adventure by Lennox Honychurch. London: MacMillan, 1998.

Hike Dominica by the Discover Dominica Authority (with the support of the European Commission). Trinidad and Tobago: Zenith Printing Services, [no date]

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6 comments on “Three Saturdays in May: Dominica’s Hike Fest 2013 – Part 2

  1. lizziemad says:

    Awesome, thanks for such fantastic description of our spectacular day!

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    • gwendominica says:

      You’re welcome Liz. It was a most memorable day which has become one of my new Dominica highlights. I won’t soon forget it. I hope we will do it again…

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  2. Panman says:

    Hi Gweneth, thanks for the “step by step” commentary. I felt like I was walking with you all on this journey of adventure

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    • gwendominica says:

      Good vibes, Panman! Hope you and yours will be back to revisit the Boiling Lake someday soon. Thanks for being on this journey, albeit vicariously!

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  3. Naila says:

    Hi Gwen! What a wonderful and melodious post! Can you hear us woot woot!!! 🙂 we’re calling you from this end! Thank you for making out trip enjoyable too! You guys were an inspiration. While I recover and share my adventure story with students, you, Liz and belle are my frequent ideals! 🙂
    Hope our paths cross again!!! As Orla would say… Woohoo!!!

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    • gwendominica says:

      Thanks Naila! (My apologies for misspelling your name, which I have corrected on the post). You and your Ross University colleagues were a real inspiration to me as well. I enjoyed your good cheer and exuberance. We did have a super day, in all respects. Hope you can come to Hike Fest again to partake of another adventure! Woot! Woot!

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