On the Edge of the Volcano: La Soufrière in St. Vincent

“Did you spit in it?” Christine asked, the first time she saw me after our trip to St Vincent.

It had been my standing joke before we went. Anyone who had been here two years before understood. When La Soufrière erupted and the jet stream brought clouds of ash eastward to Barbados, we were trapped inside as the dust fell, unable to open the windows or turn on the air conditioners. The air stung my eyes the first few times I ventured out, and I was glad that my N95 masks were good for more than just Covid. Even with all the windows shut the ash still filtered inside, and we spent weeks clearing in. For months after, if it was dry and windy, ash on the fields and bushes would blow and travel again.

Two years ago. We though the first rain would clean things up. We were wrong.

So when we had a day in St Vincent before our catamaran cruise in the Grenadines, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. We were going to climb to the top of La Soufrière and I was going to spit into the crater.

“Are you sure?” Scott asked, one last time, as we were driving from the airport to the trailhead with Fred from Stays Taxi and Tours. Scott knows I love to hike (we climbed Gros Piton in St. Lucia last year) but last summer, choosing the Extreme Difficult hikes on my Arctic Expedition, I had injured my ankle and it was still giving me grief.

That’s the plan.

“We can turn back if it’s too much,” I assured him. After all, it was only a 2000 foot elevation change in a couple of miles. It was quite similar to our Gros Piton hike. On the slopes of a recently erupted volcano. What could be tough about that?

Are you sure we should be hiking here?

“Are you sure we can go?” I asked Fred, looking at the trailhead sign that said the area was closed.

“They’re just working on the trails,” he reassured us. “I’ve been up here 12 times since the eruption.” So off we set.

On Bamboo Ridge

The first section was along the aptly named Bamboo Ridge and although there was definitely uphill grade it was a lovely hike through Rainforest. Then it was steeper in the Montane forest with its tree ferns, air plants and mosses. About halfway up we were in Elfin woodland and the sparse trees were windswept and stunted.

Here we saw the effects of the eruption. We’d seen some ash and trees with broken tops earlier, but now there were swathes of dead trees, although low plants seemed to be recovering.

Used to be woodland. Now just the low plants are growing.

Our guide suggested a longer rest stop, with water and a snack, before we tackled the last third. Now it was steep, and the layers of ash and volcanic clasts, sand to gravel size, made for unstable footing. The cloud drifted past us and Fred gave us a flashlight for signaling in case it got too thick for us to see each other. We caught brief glimpses of the summit and had our fingers crossed for visibility when we made the top.

Challenging hiking, not just because of the steepness.
Smoke still rising from the new crater.

When we reached the lip of the crater it cleared enough to see the smoking inner crater and past it to the Caribbean Sea. Fred showed us pictures he’d taken before the eruption, and it was hard to reconcile the verdant green bowl with the devastation in front of us.

Coming down the cinder slopes was even more challenging than going up. We slipped and stumbled but made it safely to the well kept trails of the lower slopes.

It took us 2 1/2 hours to reach the summit and about an hour less on the way back. I took 13 thousand steps over 8.25 km, my Fitbit told me, and, according to my phone, climbed 143 floors. My ankle didn’t bother me at all, but when we reached our hotel we decided that the 500 m walk to a nearby restaurant was too far, and we ate on the veranda, close to our room.

So did I spit in the volcano? Standing on the edge, looking at the rising steam and the blackened, fractured cliffs, I decided against it. It just didn’t seem wise.

I found a limit to my brave.

2 thoughts on “On the Edge of the Volcano: La Soufrière in St. Vincent

    1. Of course I remember! Hollyhock was where I decided radical openness was the path I would follow— and look where it’s taken me! And you all got to share in the substantial leaking that accompanied that momentous change! 😉


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