Hiking La Soufrière Volcano

  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Location: Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Elevation: 4,048 feet above sea level
  • Length: 1.5-2 hours uphill, 1.5 hours downhill.
  • Guide: We booked with Fraser who took us through the rainforest on the windward side but there are other operators in St. Vincent like Richmond Vale Hiking which offers the leeward side which is a longer, more exposed hike.
  • Cost: $90 US/person, included pick-up and drop-off at our house
  • Status: Active. Prior eruptions, according to Discover SVG:
    1718 Explosive Eruption
    1780 Dome building eruption
    1812 Explosive eruption (more than 56 fatalities)
    1880 Dome building eruption
    1902-03 Explosive eruption (more than 1565 fatalities)
    1971-72 Dome building eruption
    1979 Explosive eruption, no fatalities

Hiking La Soufrière Volcano Video:

Our guide, Fraser, drove us up the windward side of St. Vincent along the coast through lush rainforest and banana plantations while telling us about the history of the island. It’s a beautiful drive if you can stomach the swift turns, steep cliffs and sweeping vistas, not to mention the narrow roads filled with people and dogs and goats. At the very least, you’ll be thankful you didn’t drive yourself. The drive is just part of the adventure, of course, and when we stepped out at the trailhead with a path leading into an immense jungle of seemingly overgrown plants and trees, we were stoked. Wielding a machete and a slick sense of humour, Fraser hacked away at some bamboo along the path to carve us all walking sticks.

Fraser playfully holds up the machete to Evan’s neck while Jacquie smiles and Bryan shrugs.

Armed with our sticks and bottles of water, all provided by Fraser, we set out on our hike. We were told by another islander that we should wear long pants but we all went with shorts and were very thankful we did because it was so humid and moist hiking through the dense rainforest. “Oh, come onnn,” Fraser said, his trademark reaction to our tourist uncertainties like wearing pants or our wonderment that peanuts don’t grow on trees. He puts you at ease and you start to get the sense of what it’s like to live in Vincy.

Fraser kept asking me if I was ok as I kept lagging behind. “Don’t worry about Rob,” everyone said, without even turning around. “He’s just taking lots of pictures.”

What’s great about hiking with a proper guide, along with their knowledge and experience, is they require you to take water breaks which Fraser did, regularly. He handed us fresh fruit grown on the island. BJ and I don’t usually take breaks when hiking. I’ll let Bryan comment on that in future posts.

Posing at a rest stop.

Soon the trees cleared and we were hiking in the clouds. It was quite breezy, as you can see in our hiking video, which moved the clouds long enough that we could still catch glimpses of the beautiful coastline and Caribbean sea.

A challenging hike to the top — at times you have to scramble and use your arms to navigate big boulders and slippery rocks — is rewarded with a view of the massive crater. You can’t get it all in one shot, so here’s a couple:
climbing La Soufrière

But the climb didn’t end there. Fraser took us around the rim to the other side where we could get a view of the smouldering sulfur cap and catch a glimpse of the leeward ascent and marijuana farms. I would like to do that path sometime, but truly it didn’t look as interesting as the windward side.

Unfortunately, Evan didn’t make it this far. The speed of the rolling clouds combined with the height of the rim threw him off so much that he had to sit down and wait for us to return. So that serves as a warning to anyone who suffers from vertigo or fear of heights; not that Ev has a problem with heights, but if you watch the video, you’ll see how easy it would be to get affected. At this end of the crater, there is an option to descend with the help of a rope to explore the bottom, but we were well satisfied with the extent of the hike, and we wanted to make sure E-Bone was ok.

But Evan was just fine after sitting down for a few minutes, and we began our descent. In case you don’t already know, going down a mountain is often harder than going up. You have to protect your joints by planting the walking stick firmly in front of you as you descend slowly, and be careful of loose rocks and dew-covered tree roots.

Fraser is not only a great guide, but he is a wealth of knowledge with the memory and intellect of a true historian and scholar. Everywhere he looked there was information to be shared with us, and if you get the chance, ask him to tell you about the last eruption in 1979. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he began to tell us.

He came upon some Soufrière Grass, indigenous to the volcano, and offered it to Evan to take home as proof that he ascended. Ev brought it back to our house but decided against trying to sneak it through customs. I’m now reminded of Hawaii’s Pele’s Curse and wonder if there’s a similar superstition of taking souvenirs from this island volcano. I can hear Fraser’s response: “Oh, come onnn.”

Soufrière Grass, indigenous to the volcano

We were happy to get back to the parking lot (there are washrooms and a site office). With the elevation, change in atmosphere, and all the excitement, 4 hours felt like a long hike. I don’t imagine he has these all the time so I don’t want to build expectations of him, but Fraser happened to have a couple tall cans of beer that we shared happily. Hiking La Soufrière went beyond our expectations and our bodies and spirits felt enlivened. A couple more pics and this epic selfie we took with Fraser mark the achievement and we were ready to head out to our next adventure.

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