The steep Petit Piton, rising steeply and dramatically from the sea surface just south of Soufrière, it could well be a stone guard of the former capital. It exerted an irresistible power on me to hike up, even more so than its slightly higher Gros Piton sister which is easier to climb. To avoid the heat of the day, I started hiking to the foot of the mountain early that morning. All the reports I had read, strongly advised going up with a guide, and I hoped to find one in a village close to the Petit Piton. As I was walking closer, the mountain seemed always more impossible to climb, and I felt awe for it in my body, while feeling strong at the same time. It turned out that the most important guide had barely survived a brain tumor, and was not able anymore to climb to the summit, while his sons were working on a construction project and his son in law was not willing (or daring) to join me. I was determined to go, but not sure it was wise to go alone. The Petit Piton has a name for not being easy at all, and accidents or getting lost seemed real risks.
Initially, the older man convinced me he could tell me how to go alone, but eventually, he agreed that he would take me up half-way the Petit Piton. I bought some water, and just hoped for the best of it; going back without climbing was not an option, really. So I followed the resilient man, and we gained altitude quite fast on the easy beginning of the trail. The views were limited, as we were climbing in a dense forest, but when we had views, they were always better. Stepping on stones, roots, and sometimes pushing myself up using the roots, I found out that my half-guide had climbed hundreds of times to the summit, and imagined if he could climb in the middle of the night. He was friendly enough to engrave markings in the rocks, arrows pointing the right way, so I would not get lost on my way down. My initial worries were confirmed when he told me that half a group with a guide got lost anyway not long before, so I tried to make mental notes on my way up, to facilitate the return hike. When my guide turned around, I felt a little apprehensive of the task that lied ahead: climbing a difficult mountain without a guide or even a clear trail. Indeed, I lost the way several times, in one case ending up in a few cacti bushes, but always found the way in the end. When I reached the northern ridge, there was a small opening in the vegetation on the sea side, and I realized how steeply the old volcanic plug rises from the sea: it was almost directly under me, with a few hundred metres between us.
The final ridge was not always easy: I had to scale boulders, sometimes using the ropes, and in one case, cursing my way up on a particularly big boulder. Meanwhile, I noticed that the vegetation around me changed with the altitude: I found different plants and trees, and even came across eucalyptus trees which I had not seen before in this region. But the hard work was rewarded abudantly when I found myself taking the last steps to the summit. Here I was, on the very summit of Petit Piton at 743m altitude. The sweeping views were nothing but breathtaking, as I could not only see the Gros Piton which seemed very close, but also the mountain range in the middle of the island, and even the bays around Castries, far away in the north. Soufrière now seemed like a white spot in an otherwise totally green island. I soaked in the views on all sides, until I realized that the way down was not going to be easy. Determined not to get lost, I climbed down cautiously, trying to recall all the mental notes I had taken on the way up. When I finally reached the first arrow scratched in the rock surface, I knew I was going to be safe, and when I eventually returned to the doorstep of the lovely house of the guide, he offered me fruit from his garden. Walking back to Soufriere, I often looked back at the giant towering high above me, and it continued to fill me with awe, mixed with pride at having conquered the mountain all by myself.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Petit Piton (Saint Lucia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Petit Piton.
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