• close family • small boat • big world •

Hiking Martinique: Mt. Pelee

July 26, 2015

by Paula
A boatyard cottage, Carriacou

It has become the hike to which all other hikes are compared. “This is steep – but it’s no Pelee.” How long will this hike take? “Not nearly as long as Pelee.” Do you think we can do this hike? “Come on – we did Pelee.”

Greg recently wrote about the history of this volcanic mountain in northern Martinique and its stranger-than-fiction eruption in 1902. We set out to conquer Pelee with friends on a hot and bright afternoon in early June.

Pelee looms in the distance.
Sardined into two very-mini-vans rented in Fort de France, sixteen of us enjoyed a winding ride on the seaside roadway and bit our fingernails as the cars strained to make it up the steep and narrow dirt road that rose along the verdant base of the mountain. Traversing the deep ruts in the increasingly rustic roadway required a delicate balance between clutch and gas pedal, as the high altitude diminished the car’s power and threatened to stall if driven too slowly. A stubborn bull blocking the path did not help matters, either.

Luckily, we were at a wide spot in the road
when a car passed going the other direction.
The bull, tied on a short line at the
roadside, finally moves aside for us.

It was not long after we started out on foot that our thighs were already burning, but we had far, far to go. We chose
the west side trail, originating up the mountain from the town of Le Precheur. Pelee rises 4,583 feet above sea level, and our hike started at well below that. A reasonably inclined grassy path quickly gave way to a long and exceedingly steep trail that culminated in an hour of stair-like rock-scrambling.

St. Pierre, wiped out by Pelee in 1902, at the seaside below.
Unlike many Caribbean hikes whose trails meander beneath a dense canopy of tropical trees, Pelee’s path is open and exposed to  the scorching sun. To compensate for the blazing heat is a breathtaking view at every step. Impenetrable chasms cut deep into the mountain and broad planes slope steeply to the sea. Far below, to the southwest, is the village St. Pierre, wiped away by the swift nuee argent propelled by Pelee’s 1902 eruption.

Our friend, Anna, does the
entire hike barefoot.
Beauty in the littlest detail
amidst the grand scenery.

The modest science station near the apex.

Near the top is a small cement structure, once housing scientific endeavors to monitor volcanic activity. Here, the atmosphere is wet with regular cloud-cover, and thick moss grew on everything, including the other plant life. It was not long, though, after continuing to climb, that the small structure appeared to us as a tiny toy block.

Moss grows on other vegetation.
The science station, now below.
The summit, a crooked tumble of boulders, did not disappoint. We arrived to find a thick cloud-cover that made the view past the precipitous edge nothing but a spooky mist.

Inevitably, the tropical breeze blew it past, and the amazing vista spread before us. Here it was easy to feel small - insignificant specks amidst an immense and glorious landscape, lives a mere instant in time.

This spot atop Pelee, a magnificent mountain whose slopes, richly desolate, descend to an endless panorama of the sapphire sea, is one the best places I have ever been.

Trails Unblazed said...

Awesome photos! Jealous that you got such a clear day to hike Pelee.

x said...

Thanks, Trails Unblazed. It was actually one of the hottest hikes we've done in the Caribbean with no little tree cover, not much wind (S side), and no cloud cover 'til the very top.