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Ascent of Mount Gimie on 2014-06-21

Climber: Joel Wilner

Others in Party:Laura Wilner
Date:Saturday, June 21, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Gimie
    Location:Saint Lucia
    Elevation:3117 ft / 950 m

Ascent Trip Report

World Country Highpoint: 002/196


“Surely you mean Gros Piton?” the hotel activities concierge asked, puzzled. Clearly, she wasn’t used to vacationers attempting Mt. Gimie, the highest point on St. Lucia.

“Nope,” I replied, “we’ve done a lot of research on Mt. Gimie, and we coordinated a guide.” We were wondering if the hotel, which organized a hike of Gros Piton, would be able to drop off my Mom and I at the Mt. Gimie trailhead en route to its scheduled tourist hike of Gros Piton, half of St. Lucia’s trademark Piton peaks and a much more popular hiking destination.

She whipped out a map. “But Mt. Gimie is in the exact center of the island! It will take forever for you to walk there!”

“Um, it’s actually not really in the center of the island,” I corrected, pointing to the icon for Mt. Gimie on her map, showing it clearly not in the dead center of the island. “It’s fairly close to Soufrière. And there’s a road to the trailhead.” I could tell that the concierge was embarrassed that a foreigner corrected her on St. Lucian geography.

The hotel wasn’t able to drop us off, so we scheduled a taxi to bring us from the hotel to Soufrière to meet our guide. My sister and Dad had no such intention of conquering St. Lucia’s high point, so it would be my Mom and I making the hike – my second country highpoint, and my Mom’s first.


“Excitingtours”

Before heading to St. Lucia and after some perusing on the Internet, my Mom and I contacted Smith Jean-Philip, one of the certified Mt. Gimie guides (apparently, the St. Lucian government requires by law that anyone trying to hike Gimie must do so with a certified guide). Smith was the coordinator and business head of his own tour company, “Excitingtours,” and the Mt. Gimie guide was his friend Miguel. According to the Internet, Miguel had led at least 25 hikes of Mt. Gimie. We set the hike date for two days after we arrived in St. Lucia. There would be plenty of time for the beach afterwards, but for the start of the vacation we had to be focused on Gimie, supposedly a brutal hike, from what we’ve read.

As the sun was rising and the island was waking up (but probably all other tourists on the island asleep), we took a taxi from our hotel in Gros Islet (in the north of the island) to the city of Soufrière on the southwest coast. We were to meet Smith next to Soufrière’s main church at 7:30. When we arrived, Smith wasn’t there yet, so my Mom and I sat inside the church where an early morning service was going on. Scattered amongst the pews were a few locals singing a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” in the regional French patois.

After about fifteen minutes, I saw a young, athletic-looking man outside the church on the sidewalk. My Mom and I walked outside and greeted Smith as he introduced himself to us. We all hopped in the taxi and began heading into the interior of the island. Smith, sporting a chain and a sharp haircut, was very enthusiastic, especially about his new company. He described in detail the process he went through to certify Excitingtours as a company, and was particularly eager to talk about how he went about choosing a name.

“I was talking with a tourist,” Smith explained, “and wanted his opinion: should I call my company ‘Reliable Tours,’ ‘Exciting Tours,’ or ‘Engaging Tours?’ He says to me, ‘Smith, I think you’re reliable, exciting, and engaging, but exciting – that has a nice ring to it mon.’”

Thus, Excitingtours (Smith insists that it must be one word) was born.


Into the Wild

A few miles into the interior, we passed through the village of Migny, where both Smith and Miguel grew up and lived. I was surprised when the taxi driver asked Smith to describe certain buildings in the village - evidently the taxi driver hadn’t been here before. It became clear that this wasn’t a part of the tiny island where even most St. Lucians go.

After a bit more driving, we saw a guy standing on the side of the road. “That’s Miguel,” Smith said. “You guys will start the hike here.” We got out of the taxi van and greeted Miguel, who was brandishing a machete and big rubber boots. It was obvious from the start that Miguel was nowhere near as loquacious as Smith, but he seemed friendly. We quietly took off walking down the road.

It soon became clear why we had to get out of the van and start hiking, as the road conditions quickly deteriorated and only an all-wheel drive vehicle would be able to make this drive. Some houses lined the sides of this sketchy road, and Miguel explained that this area was predominantly inhabited by farmers. Some great views of the Pitons and the southern edge of the Gimie massif emerged through the vegetation on both sides of the road, and I became more and more compelled to stop for pictures. My Mom asked Miguel who the oldest person he’s ever guided up is. “You are,” was his immediate reply, and we all shared a laugh. My Mom starting walking briskly and assumed the lead position. “We’d better catch up,” Miguel told me. “We wouldn't want her to beat us!”

Forty minutes into the road hike, we approached a large, circular house and an open field that appeared to be a farm. We finally could see the entire three-peak massif of Gimie, the peaks shrouded in thick clouds. Miguel pointed to the peak on the left. “That’s the summit of Gimie, that’s where we’re heading,” he said. We took a right turn into the field, meeting some very talkative cows on the side of the trail. Soon we hit the wall of the forest, where a tiny, one-foot-wide gap in the vegetation marked the start of the real hike. We took a deep breath and stepped into the wild.


Uphills, Downhills, and Roots

The trail started off somewhat gently, but I knew it would change. And oh boy, did it change. We spent about an hour making our way down a series of extremely precipitous descents, and the ground was absolutely covered in very slippery roots. If you took your eye off the ground for one second, you would probably trip on a root and tumble thirty feet. Still, it was incredible to be in an environment like that – it was truly a jungle. The shrieks of tropical birds ricocheted through the trees, and vines hung down from the canopies, occasionally obscuring the path. Miguel was keen to clear any overgrown part of the path with his trusty machete, which was quite helpful on many points in the climb. My Mom was struggling a bit during this steep descent, so Miguel fashioned a walking stick for her by slicing off a branch with his machete and sharpening the tip. Unfortunately, during one especially steep part, my Mom inadvertently jabbed tip of the walking stick into my neck. It was a scary moment, but luckily I wasn’t badly hurt.

Eventually, we reached a stream, marking the end of the ascent’s annoying descent. Up the stream were two angelic-looking waterfalls and swimming pools, and I had read that Miguel takes his hikers there on a side trip for a refreshing cool-off during the descent. I would be looking forward to that immensely for the next few hours, but right now the focus had to be on gaining the summit. We marched down the stream for a short while and the back up into the trees, starting the uphill portion of the ascent.

“Uphill” is a grand understatement, actually. The hike soon became a legitimate climb at times, making me actually thankful for those irritating roots, which were now functioning as handholds. When roots weren’t present, Miguel would sometimes carve out handholds in the soft dirt with his machete, which was very nice of him. I noticed that the insides of the full length of my pants were absolutely drenched in sweat. I wasn’t previously aware that I could sweat there. Meanwhile, Miguel literally was not breaking a sweat. Miguel broke up the monotony of the brutal ascent by pointing out various kinds of local forest plants and bird calls, and as much as I appreciated this, I just wanted to see the summit at this point!


The Summit

After what seemed like days, we made it into the clouds. “In five minutes, we’ll be sitting on the top,” Miguel announced. Hallelujah. On the sides of the trail, some very rough plants attached onto our pants as we walked. Razor grass! I had read that there was razor grass on the summit! Soon enough, a small clearing appeared, two sticks jutting out of the ground. We were standing on the highest point in St. Lucia!

“Yeah! Thanks Miguel!” my Mom and I exclaimed. I got my required summit photo of my feet on the exact high point, in addition to one of me with Miguel, who kindly let me hold his machete. Unfortunately, the fact that we were in a cloud took away the views, but being on the summit was good enough. We all sat down for some well-deserved rest and some lunch. As my Mom and I ate our lunches, we noticed that Miguel didn’t pack a lunch; he only had water and a soda. We offered him half of our sandwiches, some cookies, and a bag of chips, all of which he gratefully accepted.

Surprisingly, we hadn’t seen any wildlife on the way up (we had heard some tropical birds), but on the summit we encountered pretty much all of the exotic wildlife that we would see on the whole hike: a large snail and a lizard. After Miguel cleared away some of the razor grass on the fringes of the summit clearing, we said goodbye to the highest point in the country and started on our way down.

The descent was just as agonizing as the ascent, if not more so, as tends to be the case with most mountains. After about two and a half hours we reached the stream and the waterfalls. I eagerly took off my shoes and waded in the blissful pool of water, standing right under the waterfall. Now this is awesome, I thought. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes before heading off on the trail again.

Two hours later, we finally reached the edge of the forest and walked across the farm. We walked down the road for a while, until we heard a pickup truck rolling behind us. It slowed down and stopped next to us, and Miguel asked the driver if we could hop in the back. The driver happily said yes and we jumped into the bed of the truck. However, after a few minutes of driving, the bumps in the road became painful and we had to hop out. Probably a good thing, because there were several ominous machetes sliding around in the bed of the truck.

Finally, after about nine hours total of hiking, we reached the point where we started, and saw Smith and our taxi driver waiting for us. “Nice job guys!” Smith said. He looked at my Mom. “I didn’t think she was going to make it to the top!”

We thanked Smith and Miguel, paid them, and bid them farewell, hopping back into the taxi. Mt. Gimie was certainly an amazing experience, but now it seemed like a good time to hit the beach.









Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The summit of Mount Gimie is the peak farthest left (2014-06-21). Photo by Joel Wilner.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3172 ft / 966 m
    Extra Gain:660 ft / 201 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.5 mi / 8.9 km
    Route:Mt. Gimie Trail
    Trailhead:1265 ft / 385 m
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Guide
    Weather:Drizzle, Hot, Calm, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 45 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 15 Minutes



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