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A view of Mont Pele from St. Pierre

The Civilized Explorer

Climbing Mont Pelé, Martinique

Picking the right day to climb Mont Pelé is important.

Unfortunately, we cannot always pick the right day to climb.

We spoke to the director of the Volcano Society in Morne Rouge on the morning we decided to hike up Mont Pelé. The hotel where we stayed had a guided tour, but it seemed to be a hike from sea level to the peak on the western side, with a guide. They claimed we could climb up and back in four hours, leaving at 8:00 o'clock in the morning. We preferred to drive up the eastern side to the snack bar and walk from there.

The director suggested that it would be too cloudy in the morning and to try in the afternoon. He also said the climb would be about three hours round trip, that it was as easy as La Soufrière on Guadeloupe, and that it would be sunny in the afternoon. He was right only once.

We did other things, then had lunch at the restaurant below the peak at noon. The drive to the snack bar was short, and we set off for the peak. Clouds obscured the peak at the start, but the sun broke through with increasing frequency. The beginning climb is extremely steep, and we stopped frequently for our breaths. We started at 1:00 pm, and it quickly became clear that eating a steak and fried potatoes just before starting the climb was a mistake.

A view of the clouds from the green sides of Pele.

From our viewpoint, it looked like the climb was straight up the side of the volcano to a level area a few hundred meters up.

We were wrong.

The climb was steep to a point about half way up. Then it became even steeper. The steak and potatoes were constantly reminding one of us of the grease they contain. It took about a half hour to get to the point where we thought it levelled off. Then the trail became a nearly vertical scramble in another direction which could not be seen from lower on the mountain. The sun gave up, and the clouds came in, covering any view which may be seen on sunny days.

After a few minutes the trail peaked and leveled off to a gentle slope for a couple of hundred meters and then became another steep climb up mossy rock. I saw a woman coming down slip and fall on the wet moss. It took another half hour to reach the real summit of Mont Pelé. The clouds were in thick, and visibility was about a hundred meters. We were on a thin ridge with the steep climb on one side and a shear drop of hundreds of meters on the other. With the thick clouds, we could not see the bottom of the caldera.

A view from Pele during the fog

An hour had passed, with frequent stops to regain our breaths. We walked along the thin ridge with very little to see in the thick fog. Looking over the edge into the caldera was treacherous because of the plants -- walking near the edge brought you to the end of the soil before you realized it, since the plants grew evenly on both sides of the ridge, obscuring where the firm footing was. And leaning over for a look was pointless, as the bottom was nowhere in site. The fog was too thick.

We reached a sign called Morne Croix; there was a steep hill just beyond it, so we climbed that as well. There was a crude shelter nearby drifting in and out of site as the clouds blew by. The breeze was cool but not cold, a welcome relief from the sweaty hotness caused by the strenuous climb.

It was clear that nothing would be visible, so we began our return. It was 2:20, an hour and twenty minutes since we started out. The only thing the director got right.

Although the climb up was strenuous, the descent was treacherous. We slipped and fell on slick rocks and gravel several times, and twisted ankles were a constant danger. We were as slow coming down as going up because of the uneven footing and frequent slipping and falling. We definitely would recommend official hiking shoes on this volcano, although we saw people in canvas espadrilles and Dockers moccasins. Everyone had muddy shoes, and almost everyone had mud, stains, or other markers of falls on their clothes, arms, and hands.

A view of Pele from Morne Rouge.

We will return for the climb again. From the views of Mont Pelé from the ground, it is obvious that the views are spectacular on sunny days. We suggest not eating a heavy meal before the climb, and we encourage very sturdy hiking shoes with a high ankle. The trail is very tough, with loose rocks and gravel, wet, slippery rocks, steep ascents (and descents), and a real danger of injury. We brought a liter of water each and drank it all during our climb. The snack bar gave us the chance for a cold soft drink after the climb, and it also offers food.

We have more photographs, some with people on the trail, on The Pelé Photo Page. Also see our photos-only pages at our Travel page.

As always, if you have any objections, corrections, suggestions, or questions, drop us a line via Cyber Poste.

The Mraur Cyber Poste stamp is Copyright © 1995 by Jim Felter and is used with his kind permission. For more of his work, please drop by Jas' HomePage.

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