“ A volcano on the island of St Vincent in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. „
La Soufriere ("La Sou") is the tallest mountain in St Vincent with a peak 3,684 feet above sea level the climb to the top is just under three and a quarter miles. La Sou is a volcano and is still considered to be "active". The last eruption was back in 1979 and it was a big one. Lava, ash and gases were secreted all over St Vincent and even Barbados felt the effect as it had a covering of volcanic ash. Quite impressive when you consider Barbados is over 100 miles away. La Sou is on the windward (East) coast of St Vincent. The road to La Sou leaves the coastal highway at Rabacca Dry River (which is the result of one of the previous eruptions) and continues through the Orange Hill banana and coconut plantations.
Even though La Sou has been dormant for quite some time, the locals still say it can erupt at any time, but this is something you don't really want to think about before embarking on a climb up the volcano. However, scientists are constantly monitoring La Sou and there is loads of specialised equipment in the caldera that is measuring the growth of the volcanic dome, analysing the gases that are emitted and measuring any plate movements so if something is going to happen on your ascent you should be notified about it.
Thousands of years ago the center of the volcano collapsed and formed this gigantic crater. At one time the caldera was filled with water, like Crater Lake in Oregon. Then, in 1971, a hiker noticed that a rock was sticking out of the center of the lake. The rock was the top of a volcanic dome that was forming under the crater lake. The dome started getting bigger and bigger and the lake got smaller and smaller. In the last four or five years the water has almost completely disappeared in the crater. A small lake is all that is left of the billions of gallons of water that once filled the crater. Now a large volcanic dome grows inside the caldera.
The trail up La Sou commences in lowland forest with banana and coconut plantations before navigating a trail through some lush rainforest and then entering a zone where the foliage is stunted by altitude and constant cloud cover before finally dealing with the last bit of ascent to the summit and the crater. The journey is a challenge that starts quite easy but gets more and more difficult as you approach the crater at the summit. Climbing La Sou is physically demanding and whilst you may consider yourself fit, there are other aspects to be taken in to consideration, such as the heat, humidity and ever-decreasing air supply as you ascend. At a 'comfortable' pace, the ascent can be done in around two and a half hours, although expect to have tight calves when you reach the summit.
The side of La Sou that is only accessible by boat, unless you climb up, over and down the other side that is, consists of plenty of cannabis plantations, all of which are "protected" by a farmer that lives on site during the growing season. Looking at these plantations from a boat is amazing and it was something I had never witnessed before. In all honesty, I had never even thought about what one of these plantations would look like but I am glad I I got the opportunity to see one.
On the whole, a trip up La Sou is safe, however some of the locals use it as an ideal opportunity to mug and rob any tourists. The day before I went up La Sou I heard that a tourist was robbed of her wallet, phone, camera, jewellery and a whole host of other irreplaceable belongings and her assailant was one of the local cannabis farmers who supposedly took an opportunity whilst going over La Sou. For this reason, we decided to travel light and took only the bare-essentials of water and cheap camera with us. We didn't encounter any problems, but when you see a local come running up La Sou with a machete, your mind does go in to overdrive and fear does set in, until you see a cheeky grin and hear the friendly words of encouragement in the form of "you're nearly at the top now. Keep at it because the views are amazing" as the person goes past. To this day, I am still unsure what would have happened if my St Vincentian friend had not been with us. Would we have been another victim or was the woman who attempted the climb before us just unlucky? If you are on your own then I would highly suggest going with a tour operator to ensure of your safety. Whether the muggings are sparse incidents or not, it is not a risk I would be willing to take.
I was lucky in that my friend, who is St Vincentian, knows the island and La Sou very well so I didn't have to embark on the "tourist" trip and everything that involves. We were able to get there, do our own thing and enjoy it at our own pace.
Even though it is quite physically demanding, the journey up La Sou is well worthwhile and very enjoyable. Watching the landscape change from lush green foliage to desolate mountain as you go higher and higher above sea level is fascinating to watch. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful throughout the duration of the ascent and there are loads of photo opportunities so ensure you have your camera handy, although you may wish to take a cheap one for the reason explained earlier in this piece.
There are many mountains requiring specialist climbing equipment and extreme levels of fitness to get to the top but La Sou does not. This is great since it allows your normal everyday person the opportunity to get up high and enjoy the stunning views, which can only be seen at high altitude.
(This review has been posted on other sites under the name of yackers1)
A volcano on the island of St Vincent in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean.