Monday, May 30, 2016

Dominica -The Boiling Lake

Warning - This blog posting is picture heavy.   Hey, this hike was a big deal.  Plus the beauty we saw, so... heavy on the pics can't be helped.  As always, deal with it.
Sea Cat

Sea Cat is a well established tour guide here in Dominica.  He is known to the yachties that pass through mainly because he has numerous moorings in the deep water anchorage in Roseau.  Our group was 11 total so Sea Cat recruited another local guide to assist.  Kenny is younger.  He could keep up with the faster hikers in our group despite the fact that he hikes barefoot.  YES - Kenny did the entire hike in his barefeet.  He told Diane that he couldn't afford all the shoes he would wear out otherwise so he just hikes barefoot.  We saw another guide hiking barefoot.  Totally makes me feel like a wimpy hiker for a few sore muscles.  
Diane and Ric early on - Kenny right behind them
In Dominica, tour guides go through rigorous training;  history, flora/fauna, geography, cultural, tribal/bush lore, etc...  This makes any hike on Dominica with a guide a learning lesson.  After years and years of being a guide, Sea Cat is extremely good at what he does.  He not only knows his stuff but can quickly get a sense of his current group - yachties that sit on boats + young adventure hiking Europeans means a challenging group.  But he handles it well.  Stops to teach us about a few of the 75 different ferns are also much needed breaks for those of us whose only climbing is 3 stairs into the cockpit for sundowners.

Tom enjoying the stream water after a fresh mango snack

Our first major rest stop (excluding the little educational stops) was at Breakfast river.  He and Kenny dug out 2 dozen or so fresh mangoes from their packs and submerged them in the cold, running water.  As we snacked on mangoes, he encouraged us to fill our water bottles from the river by taking the lead with several palmfuls of water for himself.  Cool river water - refreshing.  
Breath taking - looking back towards the NW

Sea Cat and Kenny explained the various terrains we were passing through;  scrub woodland, littoral woodland, tropical rainforest, montane (their spelling) and elfin forest and finally fumarole.
Diane climbing up, up, up

The trail was well maintained given the terrain.  Make no mistake, this is a tough hike.  Up and down steep hills with a fair amount of scrambling up and down rocks for added fun.  As I mentioned before, we had terrific weather with light cloud cover to keep us cool.  Rain is often a factor on this hike.  It would make the trail that much tougher so I am glad we didn't have to deal with that. 
At the top

Our second rest stop was at the top of Morne Nicholls - 3000ft above sea level!  Whew!  Strong winds quickly cooled our sweaty bodies.  Sea Cat distributed little glasses of delicious guava juice - aka natural sugar to give us a boost.   
Looking back up at our path down

The next section was our descent down into the Valley of Desolation.  Kenny headed off in advance of the rest of us, quickly disappearing.  This was another scramble down steep rocks, many times on our butts.  Soon we could see the steam rising from the hot sulfur boiling in the Valley of Desolation. 
Valley of Desolation

As we descended, the colors turned from green to rich orange and rust eventually to muddy grey and white sulfuric.  The Valley of Desolation looks like it sounds.
Boiling hot

We found Kenny sitting on a rock with a bag of fresh eggs tied to a sturdy stick and dipped into one of the many boiling potholes of sulfur water.  He had hiked ahead to make us hard boiled eggs.  How kewl is that!  I decided the Valley of Desolation should hence forth be called the Valley of Hard Boiled Eggs. 
Hot enough to boil eggs - note Kenny's barefeet

The eggs turned slightly black on the outside but were perfect inside.  Yes, they had salt for the eggs!  I am telling you, these guys are pros. 

Hard boiled egg - slightly black on outside, yummy on inside

Tom and Diane mud masks applied by Sea Cat, now ready to hike on
Sea Cat scooped up special Valley of Desolation...oops....Valley of Hard Boiled Eggs mud and applied it to all of our faces - the ultimate spa treatment mud mask.  Then he lead us carefully through boiling potholes and steam of the valley floor and up towards the Boiling Lake.

More down, then more up, then down, then up
There were a couple of streams that ran with black water.  I think it's from bacteria caused by the warm water but I am not 100% sure.  
Boiling Lake - we made it

Up and up and up, eventually we reached the Boiling Lake.  Ta-Da! 
Truly a boiling lake

It was very kewl!  Steam clouds rising off of it and the middle really does boil. 
Ridge behind Tom is where we climbed down from

Taking it all in

There is a flat area above the lake where we all sat down to rest and take it all in.  Soon a few other guides with hikers joined us.  None had groups as big as Sea Cat.  Of course all the guides know each other and some lighthearted smack talk started.  It was fun to listen in. 
Sea Cat putting the final touches on our lunch


Sea Cat immediately started putting the finishing touches on our lunch.  Fresh salad with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and more that he made right there.  Fried plantains and marlin - homemade.  And rolls and juice.  It was delish.  We devoured every morsel.  Other hikers sat watching us with envy as they ate their sorry little PBJ sandwiches or whatever sad lunch they packed. 
The money shot

We all snapped pics and reveled in our accomplishment.  We made it! 

Packing up to hike back out - the ridge behind is where we are headed via Valley of Hard Boiled Eggs
But of course we still needed to hike back out.  Rut-row!  By now, some of us were feeling our hiking muscles.  Kenny lead the younger, faster ones while Sea Cat lead the rest of us.  *One young Swiss couple was really fast.  They passed me very early in the hike on the way up.  Okay, I get it, your young.....but did you really have to skip as you went past me on that incline!  And then at the Boiling Lake she pulls out a tobacco pack and proceeds to roll and smoke a ciggie.  Really!  Ugh - I'm old.  A Dutch cruising couple was pretty fast as well.  They are older but in great shape.  A fellow cruiser pointed out "I get the Swiss couple, mountains and all.  But Denmark is flat.  Give me a break."  The morning after the hike (early early), I spotted the Danish couple working out on the deck of their boat.  Overachievers! 

Fresh water pool to wash off our mud masks and trail dirt
Anyway, we slowly make our way back down to the Valley of Hard Boiled Eggs, crawled back out and up to Morne Nicholls and up and down and up and down and up and down towards the Titou Gorge and our starting point.  Sea Cat continued stopping to show us little things or tell us funny stories but we knew, he was really stopping so some of us could 1.) stop our legs from shaking 2.) quiet our screaming muscles for a minute 3.) keep our heart and lungs from exploding 4). wipe the 5 gallon of sweat get it.

Finally we reached Titou gorge.  Tom and I changed out of our sweat soaked hiking clothes into our swimsuits and waded into the cold waters of the gorge.  AHHHHHH!  It felt so good.  We couldn't resist the unique opportunity to swim up the narrow canyon walls that make up the gorge to the first waterfall.  I didn't get any pics because I didn't have the waterproof camera.  It would be kewl swim up the gorge with one.  Maybe next time.

So there you have it.  Our Boiling Lake experience.  It was a great adventure.  Our warm up hikes were worth it.  Without those, I would have been in a world of hurt, literally.  As I mentioned before, even with those warm up hikes, I was sore for two days after the Boiling Lake.  Tom only one day.  We had planned for that so we just chilled.  I am really glad we took the time to make this hike.  Sea Cat and Kenny were excellent guides.  We look forward to coming back to Dominica and doing more hikes.  There are several of you readers that are hikers.  Have you started planning your trip to Dominica yet?  You really need to come here on holiday and experience this wonderful island.  

Dominica -Warm Up Hikes For What

The Boiling Lake really boils

Que the dramatic music.....dum-dum-dum....
The Boiling Lake.

Here is a description  -directly from the book Caribbean Hiking by M Timothy O'Keefe -
"This hike is awesome and deserves to be described in details.  As the Caribbean's best hike, it deserves such recognition...and respect.  The hike can be divided into three distinct phases.  The first hour is deceptively easy, starting with a moderate 25-minute ascent, followed by some ups and downs until you reach the Breakfast River at the end of about 60 minutes of steady walking."  "Phase II is a 45 minute walk up the side of Moren Nicholls, a steep and sometimes very slippery climb.  Phase III is the slow, 45-60 minute scramble descent into the Valley of Desolation (which itself take only 5 to 10 minutes to cross) then another 30-45 minutes to reach the Boiling Lake."

However, the hike actually started at Titou Gorge and the many steps up that run next the gorge leading to Phase I.

Base layer of rainforest. 

Steep trail
Another phase means different floral and fauna.  I forget the various names of the different stages of forest/terrain.  We passed through several types as we climbed.

In the clouds
Windy near the top, the view is often obscured by clouds.  We lucked out with light cloud cover that helped keep us cool but allowed spectacular views. 

At the top
3000 ft summit of Morne Nicholls

Hiking down into the Valley of Desolation from the ridge above
As we descended into the Valley of Desolation the colors turned from green to rust and eventually white and grey stained sulfur rocks with steam rising around us.

Valley of Desolation
Valley of Desolation is an active fumarole area.  Click the link if you want the definition.

Head up towards the Boiling Lake
More forest and green.

Boiling Lake
The Boiling Lake is believed to be a flooded fumarole.  The depth varies.  Temperatures around the edge have been measured between 180 -197 degrees.  The temperature in the middle of the lake where it actually boils is unknown as there is no way to measure it.  *Info taken from the below book.

Caribbean Hiking author M.Timothy O'Keefe's final words on this hike - "It was three days before my legs stopped hurting.  Everyone on the hike reported similar conditions."

Our warm up hikes served us well, especially me (Sabrina).  Even still, we were both tired and a bit sore.  I had two days of sore muscles.  Tom only had one day.  However, sore muscles were well worth it.  This hike is phenomenal.  But wait....there's more.  This hike was a big deal so I have another blog posting with additional details, personal thoughts and of course, pics.  Lucky readers!


Dominica Warm Up Hike #2 - Section 1 Waitukubuli National Trail

Closed?  We were told parts were closed.  Oops.

The Waitukubuli National Trail is a trail that stretches the entirety of the island of Dominica. It starts in the south at Scotts Head and runs to Cabrits National Park in the north.  It passes through villages, farm land, old plantation ruins and Morne Trois Pitons. National Park World Heritage Site.  Terrain includes everything Dominica has to offer;  rain forest, dramatic gorges, waterfalls, rivers, steep volcano hillsides and coastline.  All total, the trail is 115 miles, split into 14 sections.  Some easier than others.  Hiking the entire trail is no easy feat.  Many local guides have not even accomplished that.  The trail itself is fairly new, started in 2007 and completed in 2011.  Very impressive. 
Landslide area

Previously we have hiked section 14 along the NW coast of Dominica. 
Detour with ropes to assist in climbing

We also purchased a book from the Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry - Wildlife and Parks Division that details the entire Waitukubuli National Trial by section.  A great book for anyone interested in hiking on Dominica.
Steep incline - huff, puff

After reading the book again, we decided Section #1 would be a good trail to tackle.  Further investigation online hinted that part or parts of that section might be closed due to landslides from Hurricane Erika last year.  We needed local, first hand knowledge.  We checked with our boat guy Greg, tour guides Sea Cat and Nahgie.  They confirmed that indeed part of Section #1 was closed but detours had been set up.  Ok.
Top of massive landslide area

We caught a bus to Scotts Head at the SW tip of the island.  The bus driver pointed us in the direction of the trail.  Getting dropped seaside, we immediately begin climbing up through the village of Scotts Head.  Up, up, up.  At the top of Scotts Head we found the trailhead for Section #1. 
Green pasture plateau

We kept climbing up and up on a very steep incline, no downhill break as often found in hikes.  I was really huffing and puffing.  It was steep.  After a bit we found the closed area.  The detour was very rough.  We had to negotiate our way across the landslide area and up using ropes to climb over rocks. 
Happy cow on the plateau
Still more up and more.  Never any down.  Sheesh.  Finally we came to the top of landslide area and plateau.  It was lush and green, filled with a few happy cows, half a dozen mango trees and a lonely guy acting as cow shepherd, munching on mangoes.  It was almost surreal compared to the last hour of hiking.  

More up

Through the grassy pasture, we entered forest again with typical up and down hiking. 
Any guesses?  Each section is fuzzy with a seed, so soft.  Balsa

The vegetation was fascinating.  Dozens of fallen coconuts, undisturbed spouted into the next coconut grove.  Fuzzy seed pods filled the ground in one area.  The pods were as soft as angora wool - softer.  We learned later these were the seeds pods from balsa trees.  Mango trees were everywhere.  We had to be careful of falling fruit. 
Coconuts sprouting - coconut grove

In populated areas, the coconuts don't have a chance to sprout because someone is there to cut them down.  The same is true for the mango trees, someone is collecting the fruit.  However, up here it's much less populated.  We saw only a handful of locals, usually tending small farms as we hiked Section #1. 
Another landslide/washout area

Section #1 end at the Sulphur Springs (their spelling).  What a bonus.  Four and a half hours later we happily hopped in one of five warm pools to sooth our tired muscles.  While the water was yellow - brown, luckily it didn't smell of sulfur. 
Sulphur Springs (their spelling)

Refreshed we walked down the hills to the seaside village of Soufriere.  Tour guide Sea Cat had told us that near the church we could find the Bubble Beach.  Hot steam escapes along shore in the shallow water.  It mixes with the seawater and creates a warm, bubbly bath. 
Bubble Beach

Actually the bubbles were really tiny so it didn't really bubble to anything significant.   But the water was warm.  It was nice.  Our tired muscles were really getting a nice treatment, first with the Sulphur Springs and now the Bubble Beach - ahhhhhhh.
Bubble Beach

We wondered through town and found the bus stop along the sea wall.

Boat builder - yes, really

Tom waiting for the bus - new dinghy prototype

As we waited for the bus, we took in the local scene of people coming and going with the dramatic backdrop of ancient volcanic hills shrouded in clouds.  Beautiful.

View inland
The bus came and we made our way north again to Roseau, carefully traversing the one lane washed out areas of this main road.  Dominica is still recovering from Hurricane Erika last year.  The massive rains that accompanied that storm, caused many, many landslides.  Roads, bridges, houses, and small villages were wiped out.  Even now, evidence remains of the destruction.  

Dominica Warm Up Hike #1- Middleham Falls

Dominica has terrific hiking.  We knew this from visits the previous two seasons.  But we have only begun to scratch the surface of the numerous hikes here. This year we were determined to do more hiking.  After spending time on Martinique indulging in French pain au chocolate, baguettes, cheese and chocolate to excess, our arteries needed a break.  The nature island of Dominica with its plentiful fruits and veggies and heart pumping hikes was the perfect solution.
Light rain on the trail

After consulting Chris Doyle's Cruising Guide of Leeward Islands as well as the book Caribbean Hiking by M Timothy O'Keefe and talking to boat guy Greg (of Sea Cat moorings) we determined Middleham Falls would be a good place to start.  We caught a local bus by the Botanical Garden.  Up, up, up the bus climbed, winding back and forth hugging the hills.  A local lady signaled the driver to stop at the right spot for us.  Thank you ma'am.  We then had to hike from the main road up a steep side road to the actual trailhead.  
Tom hiking down
As we started along, it began to lightly rain.  This was ok as we were already getting hot from the steep incline.  We found the trailhead and headed out on the well maintained path under the shade of the rainforest.  
Sabrina hiking up

Up and down we climbed, sometimes using the logs that made up the trial and at other times using tree roots as our stepping stones so to speak.  The light rain continued to keep us cool.  A gazebo at a junction in the trail gave us a nice break.  
Tree roots and logs as our stepping stones

More tree roots as part of the path
Middleham Falls

Impressive volume of water
20 more mins and we were at Middleham Falls.  Impressive.  We opted not to get into the pool.  The winds coming off the falls were just strong enough and we were just wet enough from the rain that it was slightly chilly.  We hiked back out to the gazebo and rested again.  
Stink Hole where thousands of bats live

Then we decided to hike up to the Stink Hole.  This is a hole in the ground where many thousands of bats live.  I thought it might be a good idea to say thank to my bat friends that eat the mosquitoes that love to bite me so much.  The trail wasn't quite as defined as we ended up going one way and coming back slightly different way.  Back at the gazebo we started our hike back out.  By now, I was really staring to feel my haven't been used in quite some time hiking muscles.  Oh boy.  

Back out on the main road we walked alongside it to the village of Laudat.  Yes UP to.  It was about a 20 min walk.  Oh boy....really feeling our muscles now!  We walked though the village of Laudat, following instructions given to us by a young French Canadian couple.  They had done all this the day before.......with their small kids.  I can't imagine hiking with a kid strapped to my back.  And that dear readers is why I am not a mom!  We were headed to Titou Gorge.  
Geothermal goats?
The real geothermal
Along the way we stumbled upon one of Dominica hydroelectric plants.  According to the sign, Dominica has the Caribbean's largest hydroelectric system.  40% off all the island power is from hydroelectric.  Next we passed the Balancing Tank, part of the hydroelectric system.  Then we spotted part of Dominica's geothermal system.  And finally, the pipe used to transfer the hot, geothermal water.  The pipe is made of teak!  Yes, teak.  It is an amazing feat of engineering built by the French Canadians several decades ago. 
Geothermal pipe made of teak - amazing

Truly impressive

We finally reached the Titou Gorge.  By this point we were really tired and sore.  It's basically a small concrete pool where you can enter.  Then you can swim up this narrow (10 ft wide) deep rock gorge, (created thousands of years ago by lava flow from one of the seven vocanoes on Dominica) to a couple of very short waterfalls and pools.  The current is strong.  A young couple there said the water was really cold.  I didn't think my very sore muscles would take the shock.  We caught a ride 1/2 of the way down the hills with a local guide and his English customer that had just come down from the challenging all day Boiling Lake hike. 

We got new high tech, light weight, quick dry tees and telescoping aluminum hiking poles at Decathlon Sporting Goods in Martinique.  This was our first chance to test them out.  Both worked great but the hiking poles are absolutely brilliant.  Best purchase of the year!  I am sure these will come in handy.