This multi-country high point adventure would encompass 3 country high points that eluded me last year due to being stranded in Curacao after 5 cancelled flights over 5 days forcing me to abandon the rest of that trip. So this time the plan was Saint Lucia and Dominica highest point and then continue onto Sint Maarten, St Kitts and finally Antigua as planned last year. I would also be looking to squeeze in Anguilla and Saint Martin as territorial high points over the 15 days also.
I had read from previous climbs of Mount Gimie in Saint Lucia (pronounced “Jimie”) That a guide was required by law. I contacted Exciting Tours St Lucia and quickly and efficiently organised a plan of action flexible enough to fit my time scale. My flight from Manchester to St Lucia was delayed by 1hr 45 mins, So I contacted Smith from Exciting tours via FaceBook chat to notify him that I would be arriving late. He said no problem and that he would be there.
As usual, I would be carrying 7kg of hand luggage for the entire trip to keep my costs down but I was surprised when I saw the bag disappear at the scanner and head around the back into the security check lane. I waited until being told I had liquid in my bag which I knew I didn’t. They opened the bag, examined the area twice and looked at one another bemused. They rescanned it and said it is still showing a large mass of liquid. It turned out that to squeeze everything into my bag I may have compressed my large bag of chocolate and sweets a bit too much so that it appeared as a liquidy mass on the scanners. They looked again and said they hadn’t seen it do that before but it was ok for me to continue. The flight went well, I had the window seat next to me free so was able to stretch out and relax while watching a few films.
I arrived at Saint Lucia (UVF) in the south of the Island about 40 minutes later than expected, So waited 30 minutes for Smith to arrive for transport to my hotel as previously arranged via Facebook. We had a good chat en route to the Downtown hotel in Soufriere that would serve as my base while in Saint Lucia. We arranged that he would pick me up at 05:45 the following morning, picking up my guide for the climb from a small village near the trailhead on the way.
I headed to a bank of St Lucia ATM nearby but It refused to accept any of my cards… Not good, although I had more than enough cash and other options to cover any unforeseen circumstances for the duration of my trip. I checked in at the hotel and told them I would pay on departure and asked where another ATM was. The hotel was quite nice with large rooms and a stunning view of the surrounding town and mountains. Unfortunately though as the receptionist had just finished showing me around my room and mentioning in great detail I would imagine every restaurant in town, She paused by the door and stamped… I went over to see what was going on, It was a massive 3inch/8cm cockroach. It evaded her shoe and ran past her into the wardrobe. I opened the door as stamped on it. The lady was very apologetic and insisted on removing the remains even though I said I didn’t mind. At least she had noticed it and I now knew to store my bag and boots on the table while in the room.
I freshened out and went to another ATM this time it was “First Caribbean Bank” and I had no problem withdrawing cash although it did include a quite large withdrawal fee. I headed from there to the supermarket getting there with just 5 minutes to spare before closing. I needed water and pop for that evening and for the Mount Gimie climb the following day. After getting back to the hotel I watched the TV for a while before getting some sleep ready for my first country high point of what I wanted to be a busy and successful year.
I woke up about 10 minutes before my alarm which I had set for 04:00, had a shave and sorted my bag out ready for today’s fun. It’s always a gamble how much of my important gear to take with me, like passport and the amount of cash as I don’t want it to get damaged or soaked up the mountain but leaving it in the room is also a risk. I had decided to take it with me in a sealed see-through bag along with half of my cash. It was still dark outside an I was there at 05:35. I was 10 minutes early as I prefer to be but 05:45 quickly came and went with no sign of Smith. The small town of Soufriere was coming to life with quite a few people now passing me as I sat on the hotel step, every time saying hello. Very friendly indeed! I was pleased when Smith’s car came around the corner shortly after and before long we were heading straight to the trailhead. The road wound through forests and passed small villages and sporadic colourful houses. We stopped and picked up the guide before pushing on until the track ended and became two raised tracks. We slowed but continued uphill. After a few moments having to reverse and scraping the underneath of the car due to the raised track being almost too wide for the car wheels, we finally reached the trailhead.
It was raining quite heavily and I thought maybe just a Tshirt isn’t ideal as I had purposefully left my coat in the hotel. But it was still early and from previous experience, I knew even around 1000m in heavy rain on the mountains in the Caribbean it was still a pleasant temperature. I took the first video of the trip and me and Miguel the guide headed straight into the jungle. The trail was clearly visible and we made good progress despite initially descending which always feels counterproductive but is quite often the nature of the beast. The rain was causing steeper sections to become muddy and slippery but there were many strong roots exposed to use as handholds if required. We were now heading deeper into the vegetation with mist obscuring every point a potential view would have been possible. Miguel had climbed the mountain many times and also had a very extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna giving me an interesting slant compared to my usual solo ascents.
After we had ascended and descended several times we reached a small river with plenty of large boulders making it fun to cross. We followed the course of the river a few hundred meters before turning to the right and we’re now starting the actual ascent of Mount Gimie. It was quite steep but with plenty of worn placed to step and the roots once again proving useful to pull yourself up, balance and swing on your way past giving extra stability. Some of the trees were bizarre with the roots seemingly 10 feet out of the ground and vines dropping from high in them searching for the ground. It was still misty but we reached a point where Miguel assured me was a fantastic viewpoint in clear weather of the Pitons near Soufriere. We waited for 10 minutes and the cloud intermittently lifted and passed us by giving us glimpses of the steep Pitons that certainly looked impressive even though we were slightly higher than them.
We pushed on, the terrain became even more muddy and slippery as I now knew was quite a common trait of climbing in the junglesque Caribbean region. Using trees and roots to pull ourselves up higher we soon emerged above the tree line and I could see the horizon, I knew we were almost there. I took out my camera and recorded the final few meters to the highest point in Saint Lucia, Mount Gimie. Visibility was poor but the wind came to the rescue soon moving any low cloud out of the way leading to a fantastic panoramic view where you could see the sea 360 degrees. I spend a few minutes watching the cloud below hitting the ridge and being forced upwards. I took all the usual photos and videos and shared a few sweets with Miguel before starting on the long descent back to the trailhead. It was the first high point of the year and I remember not looking forward to all of the ups and downs before reaching the track but Miguel had a little treat in store on the way back. We descended quickly and started drying off in the process as the rain had abated. We soon met back up with the river but we followed it uphill this time instead of crossing and emerged at the base of two tall waterfalls.
I had a drink from the river before we started climbing again, uphill quite steeply taking us higher than the waterfall and continuing beyond them. We went up and down several times before it levelled out and left just one ascent to the track. Miguel had been in contact with Smith and he told me he was waiting further down the track as not wanting to risk scraping the underside of his car again. After a pleasant 20 minute walk, we reached Smith and dropped the guide off before heading back to Soufriere. I hadn’t noticed how dirty I was until I popped into a nearby shop by my hotel and looked down at my legs and boots, Thick of dried on mud. I spent the next few hours showering and washing my boots in the hand basin, Knowing I had some time for them to dry before my next high point. I was pleased to get this trip off to a good start as logistically climbing high points depends on many separate factors going your way but so far so good.
I spend the following day (Contingency day) relaxing around Soufriere, I popped to the beach which offered stunning views of the Pitons that certainly looked even more impressive from beach level. The next day, my last on the Island I had organised with Smith for a transfer to Castries ferry port in the North of Saint Lucia where I would be catching a ferry to Dominica. I checked out of the hotel and the driver was already waiting for me, I popped to the ATM machine to withdraw some Eastern Caribbean Dollars just in case I encountered a similar problem I had faced here while in Dominica. We had a good chat en route and after about an hour I reached the ferry port in Castries. I listened to music and laughed along with a few other people at a passenger who had a rather noisy chicken with them. It certainly helped to pass the spare few hours and we soon were boarding the ferry heading to Roseau, Dominica via Martinique.