Saturday, November 3, 2012

Conquering Nevis Peak

One of the many attractive features of St. Kitts and Nevis is their natural, untouched beauty. Although a lot of St. Kitts has become developed in the past ten years, the vast majority of the island still remains jungle, forest, and overgrown cane fields.

What better way to see the twin island federation than by foot? Each island has ample opportunities for the hiker and nature lover alike, and last weekend I got the chance to hike on Nevis.

When you ask most of the people here on St. Kitts about their sister island, Nevis, they'll tell you that it's a lot different than St. Kitts.

First, they'll tell you that it's a lot smaller than St. Kitts but St. Kitts is small compared to anywhere in the U.S. Nevis does have only around 35 square miles of land and around 12,000 people compared to St. Kitts 35,000 people and 540 square miles.

 Secondly, people will tell you that the pace of life on Nevis is a lot slower. With a capital city of less than 2,000 people I imagine that is probably true.

Nevis is also said to be the less developed of the two islands and more natural.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to find out for myself just how true all of these statements were when the Ross Hiker's Club, a small informal group of avid hikers conducted a hike to the top of Nevis peak.

A group of four of us met at the ferry terminal in downtown Basseterre to catch the 8 a.m. ferry to Nevis. We just made it in time, as it appears that one of the few extremely punctual businesses in St. Kitts was pulling away from the dock at 8 a.m. sharp.

Looking at St. Kitts in a northeasterly direction from the ferry.

Once aboard, a man came around and collected around 10 U.S. dollars from each person for the one way ferry ride.

 I suppose if you don't have the 10 dollars they make you walk the plank or scrub barnacles off the side of the ferry to pay your way, since they didn't expect payment until after you were on the boat.

Looking back towards St. Kitts and other ferry passengers.

The morning weather was beautiful and the water was dead calm for the ride over to Nevis. This gave me the perfect opportunity to take some pictures of St. Kitts from the ferry as well as our destination, Nevis.

What a smooth sea.
The trip took us almost 45 minutes as we moseyed across the channel. Looking up to our left stood the stunning yet intimidating Nevis Peak, a potentially active volcano that hasn't erupted in written history and we were on our way to the top.

Nevis Peak 3232 feet above sea level.

When the ferry landed in Charlestown we were told by the hike's organizer that we'd have to wait for our transportation to the other side of the island and were encouraged to explore for a few minutes.

I still haven't figured out if the town was dead quiet because it was an early Sunday morning or if it was always that quiet. I'm sure it gets a little busier, but the town almost felt abandoned.

Finally our transportation or "trans" as they say here in St. Kitts arrived. At that point I also realized that some of the other people on the ferry were actually going on the hike also, so we piled into this random bus from a Nevisian church.

The fastest bus on Nevis and also most crowded.
The fact that the bus was from a church wasn't as random as the fact that the bus driver traveled at warp speed in it. This bus must've had someone watching over it because just the fact that it never left the road, crashed, and was still running was simply supernatural.

I told everyone that I didn't realize we were taking a roller coaster ride on the way to the hiking trail.

20 people in a 12 person bus. Impressive.

As we burned rubber, literally down the surprisingly smooth Nevisian roads I thought, "Well this is rather comfortable with around 12 people in the bus. I didn't know we were stopping at Oualie Beach Resort to pick up another 8 people, Yikes! "Tighten up that space and make your buddy smile," they would always yell to us in the Army.

And,, We're off.
A few more kilometers and bus parts later we arrived on the Eastern side of Nevis, where we disembarked and headed up Nevis Peak.

Almost unnatural looking forest trees at the beginning of the hike.
Everywhere I've been on St. Kitts so far has had a different type of flora and fauna. Nevis was no different, in the fact that it was also unique from anywhere else I'd seen so far.

The first part of the trail was mostly tree lined and had the look of a planned forest or planted trees. Maybe they were, but I had no way of knowing.

As the trail got steeper and we got further from civilization, the vegetation began to look more jungle like with numerous ferns, banyan trees, and huge leafed plants.

One of my favorite trees on the trip. Creepy, just in time for Halloween.

As usual, I hung towards the back of the group so I could shoot pictures and gaze at my surroundings. After probably 30 minutes the front of the group stopped and waited for everyone to catch up and then we all climbed our first steep cliff of the day.

Up we go!
I honestly had no idea what kind of hike this was going to be. It is tough. I consider myself a fit person, but this hike was challenging. Most of the later part of the hike you're using ropes or cargo straps that have been permanently placed to help climb up the mountain's face. I also forgot to mention that we hiked the trail not long after Tropical Storm Rafael had pounded the island which had washed out a lot of the dirt on the trail. The deluges of water left exposed roots and rocks scattered everywhere and made the ground very muddy and slippery.

One of the examples of a steeper portion of the trail.
A nice part about hiking in the jungle is that most of the time you're shaded from the sun. The humidity is high but the higher we got in elevation the cooler it became.

Occasionally on the way up there was a break in the canopy which made for some impressive photos of the Nevisian countryside.

One of the nicest openings in the canopy that reveals a beautiful view of Nevis.

Another photo in a canopy opening on the way to the top.

After almost two hours to the dot (I timed the hike on my watch), we had finally reached the summit. The view from the summit was incredible. The only problem was the clouds. The climate makes for low clouds and sometimes you couldn't see anything but misty white clouds.

A view from Nevis Peak
If you were patient enough and waited, the wind would blow the clouds out of your way and you could see all the way past St. Kitts and to several other islands such as Montserrat.

Another clearer view from 3232 feet
For a mountain that looks so huge there sure wasn't much room at the summit for 20 hikers. You had to be careful because our guide said you could step off the edge of the mountain if you stepped on certain places that were covered in vegetation that looked solid but really weren't.

We made it!
Below is the geological marker that shows the exact location of the mountain's height. Wish I would've brought my GPS to mark this spot for a geocache.

The marker identifying Nevis Peak's summit at 3232 feet above sea level.

If you strain your eyes in the photo below you can see the edge of the western edge of St. Kitt's coastline.

An amazing view looking north west towards St. Kitts.
The whole group took a well needed break at the summit to eat snacks, drinks, and some to repair equipment. This girl started losing the bottom of her shoe halfway up the trail, but luckily a fellow hiker had duct tape and it held the rest of the hike.

Nevis Peak's shoe fatality.
As I mentioned earlier the tropical storm had really tore up the trails. Normally a person would hike up the east side of Nevis Peak and down the western side, but the guide told us the western slope had washed out too much so we'd have to go back down the way we came.

Hey, no problem, I don't mind being cautious and besides we already knew the way we came.

Usually coming down a mountain during a hike takes you a lot less time for many reasons than coming up, but this hike took us almost the same amount of time coming down as it did going up because of how steep the trail was and how muddy it got after having 20 people climb it.

On the way down everyone got covered in mud because you didn't have much of a choice but to keep your haunches low and hang on to the ropes like you were rappelling frontwards and backwards.

Muddy and steep mountain face on the way down.

What a cool, natural flower.

Above I attached a short video clip of what it was like to get down using ropes. Without the ropes we wouldn't have made it.

Some people had problems even with the ropes, staying on the trail. In the photo earlier with everyone climbing the first steep part of the trail, you got an idea of how steep it was. On the way down a guy attempted to climb down that same hill but got off too far to one side. He was hanging on to a root when it snapped and sent him careening down the hill feet first with his hands dragging the whole way down.

All I could see was his fearful face the whole way down. Below there were some large rocks and a stream bed. I was almost certain that when he landed at the bottom disaster was going to ensue when he slammed the rocks with the back of his head.

Unbelievably he slid the entire way down, landed on his feet, and didn't fall backwards. Incredible! I talked to him for around 15 minutes before he was calmed down enough to continue on. That was scary for him and me, mostly for him.

The steep cliff portion of the hike where a guy slid the whole way down. Can you see the trail on the right? He slid down on the left

At the bottom of the mountain everyone crashed and posed for this neat group picture.

A slightly muddier crew after the hike.
Everyone looks happy, but we were all hot, exhausted, and hungry after hiking the mountain.

After waiting for no more than 15 minutes our church bus appeared and we all squeezed back in.

Back on the church bus.

The plan was that we'd all head to Sunshine Beach Bar and Grill for some drinks and dinner. When we got there the employees were burning some kind of green leafy branches inside the bar and outside. It soon became obvious that they were burning them to keep the hummingbird size mosquitoes at bay. When I asked them if they were using a special tree or bush they replied to me that they weren't using anything special, just anything green that would create smoke. hmm.

Sunshine Beach Bar and Grill
Most of us tried the famous Killer Bee rum drink and some of us ordered some food, but I never received mine because we decided collectively to hit the 5 P.M. ferry back to St. Kitts.

"Bye Ma," our Kittitian guide yelled to the owner and off we went in the bus for Charlestown again.

The ride back on the ferry was just as beautiful, if not better because we had spent all day hiking and had conquered Nevis Peak.

Looking back at Charlestown, Nevis on the way back to St. Kitts.

Booby Island in the center. The tip of the Southeast Peninsula of St. Kitts is on the far left.