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Hiking Guadeloupe: La Soufriere

August 3, 2015

by Cash
A boatyard cottage, Carriacou
The sulfurous vent

How often do you get to hike up an active volcano? Actually, we've done it several times.

One of these volcanoes is La Grande Soufrière, on the French Island of Guadeloupe. Soufrière means sulfur, so the volcano is named the Big Sulfur. La Soufrière most recently erupted in 1976. An island-wide evacuation took place to be safe, but it turns out the volcano did not actually damage anything.We went with our friends from a couple other boats, S/V (sailing vessel) Day Dreamer and S/V Proud Mary.

 A previous avalanche carved a   
    deep well on the side of a cliff.     

The mountain is very high up; the summit is 1,467 meters (around 4,736 feet) high. To get there, we had to drive our small rental cars up a steep, twisting road that was so narrow that at points it was one-way. At one point, a bus came down the mountain and we had to back down the mountain until we could find a place to pull off to let it by. Even then, the bus passed only inches away from us.

When we got to the end of the road, we had to walk up a path that led to the base of the actual volcano. At the base of the volcano the view was amazing. La Soufrière was directly ahead, its peak obscured by thick clouds. Other mountains were to the left and right, so that we couldn't see the ocean at all. It felt like we were in a completely different place, alone in the mountains.

From there it took us a few hours to get to the top of the mountain. The walk was very steep but very enjoyable, and the views were great. The path spiraled up around the mountain. Whenever we were
down-wind of the summit, we could smell the sulfur fumes.

A lush, jagged valley carved into the
side of the mountain

Looking down at a lower section of the trail.

The hole that would be very bad to fall into

The top was the main attraction. There was a very large hole that dropped off into darkness. Sulfur fumes billowed out of it. Two of our group had to stay behind because the sulfur fumes were restricting their breathing. Clouds were everywhere.

The cloudy summit.  To the left is
the sulfurous pit.

The highest point we could get to was a large flat area with clouds so thick that I could see only 30 feet in front of me. The wind howled, and the air was chilly. The metal guard rail around the pit was cold and soaked with condensation.

There was an area separated off by a rail fence, and my dad was saying, "Let's just hop over the fence and see what's back there.  That's when I noticed the sign on the fence that said "Poison Gas.  No Admitted Way," (translation from French).

The large grassy field (Nicole and Anna are down there).

When the clouds cleared, we found a vent in the ground, spewing sulfurous gases. (Pictured at the start of this post). 

A path close to the summit led down to a flat, grassy field, a sharp contrast from the barren, sulfurous, cloudy area close by. (at right).

To see some of this for yourself, watch this video:

Hiking in the clouds near the summit

Some of the trails got pretty steep 

Coming down from the sulfur vent

Another view of the valley
Looking up out of the deep valley

The hikers