Sunday 17th April 2016
All the way I wanted to try and frame myself like past adventurers who had climbed the volcano, so this entry is trying to capture the common themes in what has been written in the past.
Friday was an exciting day. I got to climb La Soufrière. Having a physical disability, it obviously made things difficult, but it has never stopped me doing what I wanted to do, and I think it makes reaching the top all the more rewarding for me. Especially the 12 hour sleep I had when I returned!
The expedition party consisted of secondary school students of two schools, one from Georgetown and the other Sandy Bay, officers from the Forestry department, members from NEMO, scientists from the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies, researchers from the STREVA project and also a number of locals from Kingstown and Park Hill.
The Montane rainforest looks like the volcano never erupted 37 years ago. Vegetation regrowth is rapid, the above description by Mr Benjamin Sharp, 78 years later, and the photos Dr Tempest Anderson took just after the May 1902 eruption and 5 years later, demonstrate that. Even after the 1979 eruption the same phenomenon occurs. It is very impressive, to see the volcano destroy life but then promote such healthy regrowth.
Can the same be said for the society? Well, time will tell from my studies and from others researching La Soufrière.
The path is a mixture of flat, leaf litter-covered paths, steady climbs, and muddy steep steps. After about half an hour or so, the first stop is “River Bed”, which is an area of prehistoric lava flows. There are big boulders, as well as small stones.
After the River Bed is a large number of steep steps that were certainly not made for my disability and little legs. I took my time though, saw some hummingbirds wiz around, so that was nice. After about another hour or more of steady climbing, the forest changes from tall, dense trees with an intense humidity, to shrub with plant and fruit species only found on La Soufrière. You can catch a nice refreshing breeze now too. An important thing however, is that with the absence of cloud, you can clearly see Georgetown, the principle town in the north Windward region. It looks small, and you can really feel the volcano dwarfing it.
The next and final stop before the summit is “Jacob’s Well”, another area of ancient lava and once upon a time, a place you could get fresh water, hence the name. This area is narrower than River Bed.
The last half an hour or so to the top was tough on me. It was mostly a steady slope, but luckily it was manageable. The nearer you get, the more loose rocks and ash you walk upon. Almost lost my footing a few times. I was one of the last to reach the top, people congratulated me to reaching it in one piece. Before I could catch my breath, someone said the crater is clear. I do not know where the energy came from, but I excitedly reached the edge.
And there is where I lost my breath.
I came across a diary of Special Magistrate John Anderson, who took the Leeward route to the summit in 1837. His feelings were, “Surprise, wonder and terror, strike the spectator at this majestic spectacle.” He also said the volcano was just as magnificent as The Vale of Chamouni in Switzerland, the first view of Geneva and the Alps, the Isle of Staffa, St Peter’s Church in Rome, the view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill, the Bay of Dublin and Menai Bridge in North Wales.
I don’t have such places to compare it to, but I agree with him. The sight is so majestic and such a thing of beauty. What you see, and looking down seeing the surrounding rich flora and fauna and Georgetown, does help to put the research in perspective though. This volcano is an agent of awesome and fearsome power, one third of the island can look up on a clear day and see it. They live around it. Villages, farms and everything else has been built on its volcanic deposits. Such things must be parallel with anyone who lives around or near an active volcano I am sure. The volcano is there, biding its time, while people just go about their business, with or without a second thought that there is something that can take everything away in a matter of days, hours, minutes or seconds.
On the way down, I unfortunately fell over three times. Got a bruise. But hey, no pain no gain right?
The secondary school students certainly had the energy and momentum I can only dream of having. But this volcano is more important to them than me. They need to see the volcano they live with up close, and no better way to learn about it than from the volcanologists and researchers who came along with them.
I’m still recovering from the trip but I can honestly say, every single muscle and joint that is hurting right now is 100 percent worth it.
“Altogether, this unparalleled scene must delight anyone alive to the Majesty of Nature. The Souffriere is a “Lion” which does not on inspection, belie its fame. I call to mind but few, which I have seen, that merit the same commendation. They are widely different in their characters, and the associations which they call up: – The Vale of Chamouni in Switzerland; – the first view of Geneva and the Alps, from the Jura Mountains, – the Isle of Staffa in the Hebrides; – Saint Peter’s Church at Rome, – Edinburgh form the Calton hill; the Bay of Dublin, – Menai Bridge; – and the Souffriere of St. Vincent, – will not suffer by familiar acquaintance. I cannot better describe the emotions excited by the first glance of this volcano, than by the recital of the following circumstance. A gentleman of my acquaintance ascended the mountain about 14 days after the last eruption. The soil was still warm, and every step told a fearful tale of horror. He was accompanied by a young Mulatto, who no sooner was brought to the brink of the abyss, than uttering a shriek, he dashed down the pathway, and terror smit, – never ceased his progress till he reached the strand at Wallibau, when he dashed into the waves, and swam to the vessel in which his Master had come down!”
Special Magistrate John Anderson, October 1837. In: McDonald R.A. (2001) Between slavery and freedom: special magistrate John Anderson’s journal of St Vincent during the apprenticeship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.