The Boeri and Freshwater Lake Trails: Lovely Little Treks in Dominica’s Mountainous Interior

Gwendominica takes on the Boeri Lake Trail in Dominca's Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  Photo taken by Jenny.

Gwendominica takes on the Boeri Lake Trail in  Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Freshwater Lake appears in the upper left hand corner. Photo taken by Jenny.

With Dominica’s popular annual Hike Fest on the horizon, and my almost complete recovery from a bout of Chikungunya  about one year ago, I felt ready to tackle a couple of moderately challenging mountain trails. I had not been on a hike since my revisit to Middleham Falls in November 2014. At that outing, I still did feel some after-effects from my lingering tropical illness.  Therefore,  I let a few months pass, and filled them with other fun activities, including a memorable trip to Paris.

When I approached Jenny Spencer about a foray to the Freshwater Lake area in Morne Trois Pitons National Park  near the village of Laudat, she eagerly accepted.  In her profession as a herpetologist (amphibian researcher), she spends considerable time outdoors, no matter what country she is in.  It is obvious to me that she truly loves nature and wants to be immersed in it when possible. Her descriptions of searches for the elusive critically endangered Mountain Chicken (Crapaud) Frog with some of Dominica’s Forestry Officers indicate that she is able to tackle any type of terrain in any kind of tropical weather.  Therefore, I knew that this trek would be easy for her, and that if need be, I would have a good hiking coach!

I suggested that we start with the Boeri Lake trail, as it is (to me) a bit more challenging than the track around Freshwater Lake. Although the weather was cool, but “not too bad,” I laughingly recalled my last outing to this remote body of water. I told Jenny about how my brother Edwin and I slogged through mud, a landslide and very slippery rocks in torrential rain to reach the shore of this lake in February 2009.  When we arrived a good 45 minutes after our departure, we could not see the lake at all! It was completely covered in low clouds. ( I hope my bro will come back to tackle it again someday soon and we’ll hope for fine weather next time!)

Jenny is ready to  hike to Boeri Lake!

Jenny is ready to hike to Boeri Lake!

When Jenny and I arrived in the parking lot by the Freshwater Lake Visitor Centre,  in the shadow of

Plentiful rainwater run-off  in the Boeri Lake area is a source for  nearby hydorelectric power stations.

Plentiful rainwater run-off in the Boeri Lake area is a source for nearby hydro-electric power stations.

majestic Morne Micotrin , there was not another soul to be seen. While it was not raining, it definitely appeared to be imminent.  We donned our hiking gear and headed to the Boeri Lake Trail-head, a 15 minute walk away.  We did then encounter a pair of hikers who rushed past us on their way to the same destination.  Along the concreted road, we observed an abundant flow of water in the ditch, and marvelled at its force and the colour of the rocks beneath it.  This area forms part of Dominica’s hydro-electric power source, and the water flows to stations found in lower areas of the Roseau Valley.

We started off on the well maintained trail with the intention of taking our time and enjoying the beauty all around us. It would have been difficult not to pause along the early part of the track to admire the breathtaking views of Freshwater Lake to the south and the distant east coast.  I did huff and puff until my muscles warmed up:  I attributed that condition to the higher elevations and the low moist clouds all around us. Boeri Lake sits at 2,800 feet and at that

The Boeri Lake trail offers wonderful views of the mountains towards the east coast in the proximity of the village of Grand Fond.

The Boeri Lake trail offers wonderful views of the mountains towards the east coast in the proximity of the village of Grand Fond.

elevation is the highest body of water on the Nature Island. The going did get a little tricky when we reached the area of the trail made up of slippery rocks!  I stepped carefully and slowly, and balanced myself with the aid of my hiking pole.  A recent tailbone injury reminded me that I would not want to land ‘bottom down’ anytime soon!  Evidently, I fared well, and Jenny,  who patiently kept my pace by following behind me stayed upright due to her superb intrepid skills!  Admittedly, we both broke down and took off our boots when we traversed the Clarke’s  River.  No regrets about that – as the cool water refreshed our warmed up feet!

The rocky part of the Boeri Lake Trail requires patience and agility as those rocks are notoriously slippery!

The rocky part of the Boeri Lake Trail requires patience and agility as those rocks are notoriously slippery!

In this cooler, very humid tropical environment, moss grows easily on the trees.

In this cooler, very humid tropical environment, moss grows easily on the trees.

Jenny contemplates the removal of her hiking shoes before crossing the Clarke Hall River.  Yes, she did do it, and loved it!

Jenny contemplates the removal of her hiking shoes before crossing the shallow Clarke’s River. Yes, she did do it, and loved it!

I had not seen Boeri Lake in sunshine since 1999! I was overjoyed to see it 'in colour' instead of black and gray on my fourth trip!

I had not seen Boeri Lake in sunshine since 1999! I was overjoyed to see it ‘in colour’ instead of black and gray on my fourth trip there!

By the time we arrived at an old platform near the shoreline of this 4 acre lake, the sun actually broke through the clouds.  While snacking and relaxing seated on the boards, we quietly thrilled to the serenity all around us.  The predominant sound of silence was only broken by our sporadic conversation, occasional finch or mountain whistler calls or the wind  rustling leaves in the nearby trees. Over about half an hour, we observed clouds  constantly lifting and lowering, and misty shades of blue, green, gray and white enveloped us in this ethereal atmosphere.

The colours on and around Boeri Lake are constant changing - from moment to moment!

The colours on and around Boeri Lake are constantly changing – from moment to moment!

Suddenly, we noticed a very dark sky approaching from the east, so we moved off quickly and started the return journey as heavy rain fell from the heavens and dampened our clothes, but not our spirits! We emerged from the forest about one hour later, with high hopes of finding  hot chocolate to warm us up at the kiosk in the Visitor Reception Centre!

As it turned out, we were in luck, as the friendly attendant was able to grant our wish, even though she had just arrived to do a little maintenance and did not plan to stay long on this quiet Sunday. (For opening hours, contact Freshwater Lake Adventures at 767-245-7061)  While we sipped the sweetness and munched on other sustenance , the wind howled and torrents of rain pounded against the side of the building.  We were thankful to have sheltered only moments before this intense deluge.  However, we remained hopeful that the weather would soon change for the better so that we could continue with the second half of our agenda: a trek around Freshwater Lake. (It would be my first time back on this lovely trail since 2007, when my brother Edwin was also on-island.  I have  previously written about that wonderful outing here.)

Freshwater Lake is lovely from any vantage point.  It is a reservoir which is one of the sources for hydro-electric power stations on island.

Freshwater Lake is lovely from any vantage point. It is a reservoir which is one of the sources for hydro-electric power stations on island.

Wishes do come true, and after about half an hour, the worst of it was over.  We decided to chance it and were

Getting arounfd Freshwater Lake involves  a lot of ups and downs, as seen here.  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Getting around Freshwater Lake involves a lot of  dramatic ups and downs, as seen here. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

duly rewarded for our efforts! The start of the trail was very steep and  some of the boards on the maintained steps were wet and slippery.  We proceeded with caution and stopped often to admire the gorgeous scenery in all directions.  While we never got a peek at the peak of Morne Micotrin, we acknowledged her powerful presence by frequently glancing at the changing clouds around this 4, 006′ massif. We were so captivated with the splendour that encompassed us that we never considered the possibility of  a monster lurking in the depths of this lake.  It was  earlier when we were seated by the shore of Boeri that Jenny had remarked about its similarity to a certain Scottish lake and its famous myth!

Plentiful bromiliads were attached to a mossy tree along the Freshwater Lake trail.

Plentiful bromeliads were attached to a mossy tree along the Freshwater Lake trail.

Nature enthusiast Jenny smiles after having discovered a large female grasshopper ( I call it a crack-crack bug) as she moved along the Freshwater Lake Trail.

Nature enthusiast Jenny smiles after having discovered a large female grasshopper ( I call it a ‘crack-crack’ bug) as she moved along the easterly side of the  Freshwater Lake Trail.

When Freshwater Lake looks like this, the possibility of monsters and myths comes to mind.

When Freshwater Lake looks like this, the possibility of monsters and myths come to mind.

From this easterly view point above Freshwater Lake, it is easy to understand why the Kalinago people named Dominica 'Waitukubuli', which means 'tall is her body'.

From this easterly view-point above Freshwater Lake, it is easy to understand why the Kalinago people named Dominica ‘Waitukubuli’, which means ‘tall is her body’.

Those east coast views, in the direction of Rosalie Bay and the village of Grand Fond in the foreground gave us plenty of reasons for pause.  Luckily, the rain held off and the sun made valiant attempts to come out of the dense cloud cover.  It didn’t matter to us.  We had both succumbed to numerous charms and multiple blessings of a day in a pristine place that epitomizes the essence of the Nature Island.  No wonder UNESCO has bestowed the

Jenny took plenty of photos as she carefully stepped along the Freshwater Lake circumferential trail.

Jenny took plenty of photos as she carefully stepped along the Freshwater Lake circumferential trail.

The hour or so hike around the heights of Freshwater Lake is not for the faint of heart.

The hour or so hike around the heights of Freshwater Lake is not for the faint of heart.

honour of World Heritage Site upon this remarkable park in the wilderness interior of Dominica.

After having spent several hours in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Jenny and I both felt refreshed and revitalized from our forays around Boeri and Freshwater lakes.   We agreed that time spent in this outstanding natural setting can only be good for the soul. Of that, we are certain!

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]