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Ascent of Montagne Pelée in 2003-03

Climber: Josh Carlson

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:March, 2003
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Montagne Pelée
    Location:Martinique
    Elevation:1395 m / 4577 ft

Ascent Trip Report

This trip report might be more humorous than helpful, but it might save some other unlucky peakbagger from my predicament. I was on a cruise ship for the week and Martinique was the height of the trip for me because it was a full day at the island that I thought would allow me plenty of time to climb Mt Pelee.

The boat docked in Fort De France and I was one of the first off the boat to try and find the right taxi. I asked for a cab driver who would be able to take me round trip to the far side of the island to climb the mountain. I agreed to pay him 1/3 up front (which would be the standard fair for that distance) and then the other 2/3rds to wait and take me back. Even though my French was not completely fluent, I was 100% confident this guy agreed to the terms so that I would be able to climb, come back down and be driven back to my ship with plenty of time to spare.

So I'm dropped off at the parking lot at the base of the volcano. There is a very nice trail sign at the parking lot that lays out the entire route on a well marked trail. Much of the hike I was in a cloud bank and intermittently being rained on, but it was very beautiful terrain. Once I got to the lower rim I was 'fortunate' enough to have to descend into the crater (where they warn you at the trailhead not to idle in) and then back up to the true summit. This was my first and still only summit where the summit way literally swaying ever so slightly from the steady wind. It was kinda freaky knowing this summit had really only been there for about 100 years since the last eruption.

Anyway so I descend. At the parking lot I get down with 45 minutes to spare before our agreed upon meeting time. There was a little grill place there so I had a burger and waited patiently. The time came and went. I started to get worried. I then looked at my map and realized my predicament. If he didn't show, I had only 2 hours to traverse the entire island (about 20 miles) and get back to the cruise ship. It was a about a mile and a half downhill to the main road so I figured best to at least get started downhill. 15 minutes and I was at the main road. No taxi, 45 minutes late, and 1:45 left til my ship left. Desperation set end. I began asking people along the streets for a ride. I finally met with success. A very friendly family picked me up and rushed me to the bus depot which had a van just then departing for Fort De France. Awesome, I'm saved, I thought. But the problem with a bus service is it keeps stopping to pick up people. As the minutes ticked away I was becoming resigned to my fate. As we finally entered Fort de France I was already 10 minutes past the departure time, but I saw in the distance my ship was still docked! I took what was going to be the 2/3rds fare for the cab driver and split it amongst the patrons and driver in the van if they would let me by pass all stops and head straight to the ship. They were all laughing as we got into port and I jumped out of the still moving bus and climbed the ladder onto the ship, the last person to board as they were pulling out of port at the last minute.
The moral of the story is, never trust a cabbie in Martinique to come back and get you :D
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