Lava and Ash: Climbing La Soufriere Volcano on St Vincent

Posted on April 30, 2013 by

We’re reporting live from Liming Live Week in St Vincent and the Grenadines! We’re having a fantastic week chilling, island-hopping, exploring and hanging out with friends. Read more about it here

The air is hot and steamy, and I’m completely drenched in sweat. Emerald palm trees and beautiful yellow-and-red heliconia surround us but I’m too tired to care. I’m out of breathe and low in energy level, gasping for breathe and working hard to keep up with the rest. By this time, we’ve been walking for just two hours, but it feels like eternity on this seemingly never-ending trek.

We are here on a mission to hike all the way to the top of La Soufriere volcano – the highest point on the island of St Vincent standing at 4,048 feet above sea level. Located in the northern part of the island, La Soufriere occupies almost a one third of the island, and features many geographical formations such as hot springs, several craters and dry rivers.

A view of the volcano crater

As an active volcano, La Soufriere sure has made some history. The biggest eruption took place in 1902, killing almost 1,680 people during this destructive explosion. The death zone was inhabited by mostly Caribs, destroying this last large remnant of Carib culture. The last recorded eruption was in April 1979; there were no casualties due to advance warning.

Our guide Ozzie tells us it usually erupts every 50 to 60 years, and it’s definitely safe to climb now. Having been a local guide for nine years with Sailor’s Wilderness Tours, he’s accumulated quite an impressive collection of knowledge on La Soufriere and St Vincent and the Grenadines, and has climbed this monster of a volcano more than a hundred times. When I ask what is it that keeps him motivated, he answers, “The look on your face when you reach the top of the volcano.”

“It’s priceless.”

Hiking in the rainforest

Walking through Eden

Earlier that morning, we started our walk at the base of the volcano in the midst of a thick, luscious rainforest. Tall coconut trees, banana shoots and stick-thin bamboo stood elbow to elbow in the thick luscious forest, vying for sunlight, while curly vines dangled carelessly from the canopy. Cute little green lizards scuttled past us along with a few other millipedes and spiders. Mosquitoes buzzed above our heads and dragonflies whizzed from one flower to another.

Along the way, Ozzie pointed out plants commonly used by locals, such as the trumpet leaves, often boiled with water as a remedy for cold. We also came across a fern plant with an interesting name, jumanju; each of its leaves curled up like a chameleon’s tail, lime green on the outside and brown underneath. Another plant I found interesting was the strangular fig, also known as the monkey goblin, that had long winding roots resembling those in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

We constantly heard distinctive high-pitched ringing sounds echoing from the distance. Ozzie pointed out the sounds came from the whistling waddle, one of the two endemic birds from St Vincent and the Grenadines. In fact, La Soufriere is home to five endemic plants of St Vincent and the Grenadines, two endemic birds and four endemic reptiles. The volcano has been a proposed National Park and once its status gets approved, it will be the first declared National Park for SVG. It is now under the National Protected Areas System Plan managed under the National Parks Rivers and Beaches Authority.

Vincentian lizard

jumanju

The Trail to Heaven

As we ventured higher and higher into the rainforest, the gently sloping trail eventually turned into a series of steep bamboo steps. We had to take big strides and haul our bodies up the steps with the help of our bamboo walking stick. Two of the girls in our trip, Sarah and Ruth, had already thrown in the white towel and headed back down the trail, but the few of us were determined to forge ahead.

The ascent became tougher and tougher with each step we took. We didn’t dare ask Ozzie how long more we had left to reach the top, worried that it would only lower our morale. But Ozzie pushed us further, enticing us with the view that would await. We scrambled over muddy rocks, crossed river streams, and hiked up ridges — all with the aim of getting to our destination.

After a seemingly endless steep ascent, we finally emerged from the rain forest to a rugged and rocky terrain. “We are now walking on lava,” announced Ozzie. The volcano had spewed out these lava almost four decades ago, but they have since solidified and formed a new environment. The tree line had faded by now and we were surrounded by low bushes and pretty flowers.

“This is the Soufriere flower,” said Ozzie, pointing to a simple, purple flower sprouting out from the small bushes that grew around the lava rocks. The volcano was named after this plant, La Soufriere, meaning Sulfurer, which only grows near the top of the volcano.

Our spirits grew. We knew what this meant — we were almost at the top.

La Soufriere flower

Almost at the top

Top of the World

Now back on the trail, we’re ready for the last stretch of the ascent. But the view behind us is so distracting, we constantly stop in our tracks to snap photos of the stunning landscape. The greenery of the lush rainforest splashes beneath our feet, covering every inch of the volcano base, stretching all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Ozzie points out to a hut with a tin roof in the far distance – that was where we started our trek. We find it hard to believe how far we’ve come.

The large lava boulders are now gone; in their place are steep mounts of small, black sandy rocks. Trudging up on this volcanic ash is akin to walking on a Stairmaster — no matter how hard I try, I seem to stay at the same spot. Ozzie encourages me further, “Just twenty more minutes and we’ll be there.”

“Trust me, it’s worth the hard work.”

With much determination (and constantly stopping to catch my breathe), I press on and finally catch up with Alberto and the rest of the group to be greeted by a mind-blowing view.

Before us, the circular rim of the volcanic crater plunges down 700 feet or so to the bottom. On the crater floor is a dome-shaped mount that rises approximately up to 500 feet, covered completely in green vegetation. The crater bottom too is blanketed in green grass and splashed with milky water that has been accumulated from the rain. And somewhere in the distance, covered by the clouds, lies the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. The scenery is so dramatic and the landscape so rugged and alien that it almost feels like another galaxy here.

Two and a half hours of steep walking later, we’re finally here, at the peak of La Soufriere.

“I’ve done this for nine years, but I never get tired of this,” Ozzie exclaims as we sit and drink in the fantastic view. Indeed, it’s easy to see why.

Reaching the top!
Alberto and I


Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Discover SVG, but all opinions expressed above are our own.

 

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

8 Responses to “Lava and Ash: Climbing La Soufriere Volcano on St Vincent”

  1. Visa USA May 8, 2013 9:07 pm #

    I love the second to the last picture because it looks like you can almost touch the sky from there. I love it!

  2. Jenn July 27, 2013 5:35 pm #

    I consider myself a pretty decent hiker, but just that description tired me out! For that view though, I think it would be worth it. And I'm sure it's thousands of times better in person too. Photographs can never capture the magic of turning a corner and being greeted by that.

  3. Ryan August 8, 2013 3:28 pm #

    Definitely worth the view, but woowee it seems like one helluva hike! Kind of remind me of New Zealand's Tongariro crossing, just more green. Stellar photos!

  4. Neal October 30, 2013 1:03 pm #

    From your description (bamboo steps, 2.5 hours) it sounds like you did the "easy" hike? We did a hike last year of the back (west) side and it was actually intense. Started directly along the waterthe beach and up through cow paths and the weed fields. Left 7:30am and got back at 4:45. It was pretty terrifying in spots.

    • Nellie October 30, 2013 1:18 pm #

      Yes Neal, we did the easy route. It wasnt that bad but I guess we are quite unfit and it was still a challenge for us. A beautiful hike though!

  5. @redhunttravel December 2, 2013 8:42 pm #

    Love the lizard shot and how lush the vegetation is around the volcano….very very cool!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] vegetation and sweeping coastlines, the island is dominated by the 4,048-foot-high active volcano La Soufriere, which erupted violently in 1812 and 1902. (Read about our experience climbing it.) Due to its [...]

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