Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Mud, vertical climbs and volcano number two

The jungle on Nevis Peak
“That was your warm up. Now you climb.”

Those were the words of our buff 57-year-old guide as we stood in a scraggly jungle of moss-covered trees, vines and ferns, staring at a criss-cross ladder of tree roots that ascended heavenward. We’d been walking up hill for the past 20 or so minutes, going deeper into the thick lush bush that carpeted the slopes of the volcano dominating the small Caribbean island Nevis. If I wanted to get to the summit in my quest to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40, then the only way was up.

What attracted me to Nevis Peak was its height – just 985m, so not too difficult (at least in my head) – and the interesting descriptions on various websites claiming that a muddy scramble with ropes was needed to get to the summit. Oh and, of course, Nevis is a beautiful, sparsely populated island in the Caribbean with golden sand beaches. My boxes were ticked.

Well the internet research wasn’t wrong. For two hours we hauled ourselves up the volcano, clambering over horizontal tree trunks and boulders, shimmying up tree roots, and finding muscles to pull ourselves up mud-slick ropes when tree roots weren’t present. Around us, the sounds of nature rang out; the creaking and groaning of tree on tree as the wind whipped the branches and leaves, while the sing-song of birds cheered us on.  

The midway point

The higher we went, the more moist it became; outside the jungle, we caught glimpses of whirling mist, but under cover, moss was laden with dew drops and decomposing plant matter turned into a viscous brown sludge at my feet. It smelt of earth, and wet and rot. For a hot and dry island, this was one soggy centre.

Gailey and his pristine white t-shirt
And where there was water, there was mud. Great loads of it, in fact. I was smeared in it, my arms and legs coated, my finger nails caked. Gailey, our guide, wore a white t-shirt – I looked at him enviously; it was still pristine. 

Finally, after a particularly tortuous push through a gorge of mud, we walked out of the jungle into the light. Here we were at the summit – a small grassy clearing surrounded by bramble-like brush and ferns.

View from the summit

Bizarrely the patch was dry – I sat down thankfully and surveyed my surroundings. We were cocooned in cloud; there was no view, which was common for the summit of Nevis Peak. Somewhere out there, supposedly, were golden beaches, the mountainous form of St Kitts and, further in the distance, Antigua. I couldn’t even see the crater. Yet, regardless, celebrations were in order – I’d bagged volcano number two on my #40by40 quest. Inside, I danced a jig.

After a quick break – and an attempt to wipe off as much mud as possible – we were off, slipping and sliding our way down the volcano, and in search of a shower or at least the sea for a cooling dip.   

How to do it:
British Airways flies from London to St Kitts, then jump on a 45-minute ferry to Nevis. The volcano hike requires a good level of fitness (and no aversion to mud) and takes around 3-5 hours return. It is recommended that you have a guide, as some parts of the trail, particularly at the base, are hard to follow and other parts are dangerous. I used Sunrise Tours

My trip to Nevis and climb of Nevis Peak was done independently. All opinions are my own. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Volcano number 2 update

Lizard Point - most southerly part of the UK
It’s all rather busy at the moment. My folks from New Zealand are currently visiting the UK. After a delightful week and a half of entertaining them in London they have gone off on a road trip of England. I decided, right at the last minute (after having a mini meltdown), that I would indeed join them for a few days to enjoy the sights of Cornwall. It was bliss.

Eden Project

Now I’m back in London and I have three days before I jet off to St Kitts and Nevis – a two-island nation in the west Caribbean featuring beaches, volcanoes, rainforests, monkeys, former sugarcane plantations, and thankfully no Zika virus (yet). It is here that I will be climbing volcano number two in my #40by40 quest.

The volcano in question is Nevis Peak. This 985m stratovolcano sits in the centre of Nevis, the smaller of the two islands, with its summit often shrouded in a layer of cloud. Although less than 1,000m in height, the hike to the top is described as challenging (a guide is recommended), including a treacherous and muddy scramble. It’s this that attracted me. It sounds great!   

I was hoping to attempt Mt Liamuiga on St Kitts but I’m having trouble coinciding times and guides so it looks like I will have to give this one a miss, much to my annoyance.

Besides lounging on the beach with cocktail in hand, there are plenty of activities to keep me occupied. I certainly intend to check out the monkeys and do some exploring by foot.

I have been nervous about this trip – from travelling solo, to going to a part of the world I haven’t been to before, to having to figure out how to get from one island to the other, to hoping my questionable cardiovascular fitness won’t be a problem, and obviously worrying about the Zika outbreak and possible terrorist attacks. I’ve even had a couple of sleepless nights worrying about what might go wrong. But now the trip is just around the corner and I’m trying to tame the nerves – although I have to admit, I equally can’t wait for a bit of rest and relaxation and to cross off my second volcano.

This week away is set to be a challenge in more ways than one. Nervousness aside, bring it on!

Have you been to St Kitts and Nevis? Any travel tips?