“It is the fairest island eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky.” Christopher Columbus, 1494
And “touch the sky” is how you feel when you scale the 7402’ Blue Mountain Peak and survey your conquest. Second in the Caribbean only to Pico Duarte at 10,094’ in the Dominican Republic, Blue Mountain Peak is on average 10 degrees cooler than any sea-level city in Jamaica and, on occasion, can be capped by a light snow or heavy frost! The sun appears to rise from Africa and the emerging rays bring welcoming warmth and an incredible view of Jamaica that is unmatched anywhere on the island and off in the far distance a faint outline of Haiti and Cuba can often be discerned. A more spiritual experience would be hard to find anywhere in Jamaica.
WHERE TO STAY
A typical climb begins from a “base camp” close to the trailhead. Three of the favorites are :
Wildflower Lodge (Tel-Kingston: 876-929-5394)
Whitfield Hall (Tel-Kingston: 876-927-0986)
Pine Grove (Tel-Kingston: 876-977-8009, Fax: 876-977-8001).
Pine Grove is the most luxurious offering individual bedrooms with in-room bathroom, hot water and meals when requested. Whitfield Hall is a bunk-style accommodation, no electricity or hot water at a budget price. Wildflower Lodge is somewhere in between nearer the budget option. Hikes usually begin in the wee early morning hours between 1:00 and 5:00am designed to reach the top around sunrise before the low-lying clouds and frequent mist obscure the view.
HOW TO GET THERE
The B1 highway out of Kingston heads north along the Hope River to a single-lane bridge heading for Gordon Town where the twisting highway wends its way to Mavis Bank, the last stop for vehicles other than those which operate in 4-wheel drive. There is even a city bus from Papine that will take you to Mavis Bank. The Police Station in Mavis Bank will allow you to park your vehicle in their compound during your absence while climbing the peak. Guides abound in the town of Mavis Bank and you can ask almost anyone to help you get transportation to the “base camps” or, if you feel like a longer hike, arrange a hike to the base camps or even possibly to the peak from town. These decisions are yours and should be made based on your level of experience however, climbing the final 6 ½ miles should not be done without an experienced guide. Realize that you will be responsible for food and lodging expenses for your guide if you hire them here. You can just take the transport to the “base camp” and arrange for a guide from your accommodation.
HELPFUL TIPS AND WHAT TO TAKE FOR THE HIKE
A sign at the beginning of the trail to Blue Mountain Peak tells the climber that he/she is “6 ½ miles from the peak” as they begin ascending “Jacob’s Ladder” the first leg of the climb. Keep in mind that you will be ascending through several varieties of terrain so don’t believe that the dry, warm air will last throughout the climb!
1) Wear good, comfortable footwear (preferably hiking boots)
2) Take or wear long pants and a windbreaker which can double as rain gear or take a poncho too. Take what you need but remember to keep the weight down for comfort.
3) Take any food or liquids you may need and there are no facilities at the top so (remember to pack out your garbage and your waste!)
4) A brimmed hat, insect repellent and SPF protection. Most importantly, a good flashlight!
5) TIP: December thru April are the driest months which can make driving, hiking and seeing an unobstructed sunrise a higher probably.
5) Finally, remember a camera! Have a great climb!
GENERAL HIKING AND BIRDWATCHING
Not everyone’s cup of tea is a night hike to the top of a mountain so there are many lower and easier trails for those who just want to enjoy nature at her finest. The Blue Mountain and John Crow Mountain National Park, established in 1992 covers nearly 200,000 acres of diverse mountain forest with more than 800 species of native plants and one of the largest migratory bird habitats in the Caribbean. Keep a sharp eye out for the Jamaican Bamboo which flowers every 33 years! Start saving up for that special trip to see the next flowering in 2017!
SOME TRAIL SUGGESTIONS
1) Content Gap to Charlottenberg Great House – Just off the Guava Ridge to Section Road, a short mile-long trail takes one to a beautiful garden setting and fine antiques.
2) Holywell Forest Reserve at Hardwar Gap – Located two miles above Newcastle, you reach Hardwar Gap at the crest of the Grand Ridge. There you will find the Gap Café (Tel 997-3032) which deserves a stop for a great meal. Serving as a Way Station for buggy travel in the 19th century, it sits at an entry point for the Holywell Forest Reserve. 300 acres of protected woodland and an incredible variety of flowers, plants and wild berries. For birders the park has easily spotted Doctorbirds, todies and solitaries. For the more adventurous among us, try finding Jamaica’s second highest waterfall “Cascade” plunging off the north slope of Hartley Hill which is over 4000ft high!
3) Gordon Town Trail – This very popular trail can get quite busy on public holidays and weekend. The trail begins in Gordon Town and traverses the Hope River Valley through Mt. Industry and Redlight. Many popular trails intersect this main trail making for lots of nice hiking and enjoying nature.
4) Chichona Botanical Gardens – Known as the “Panorama Walk”, it begins at the east side of the gardens and can be taken more that 10 miles all the way to Buff Bay on the North Coast. You need a guide for this long hike so don’t do this alone! There is literally a spider web of trails around the gardens named for the tree that the drug Quinine is extracted. The views here are spectacular!
A CYCLING ADVENTURE
Blue Mountain Tours – (Tel: 876-974-7075 Fax: 876-974-0635) or Email at: [email protected] – Blue Mountain Tours has bicycle trips from Hardwar Gap down to Buff Bay. Frequent stops for photographs highlights the experience. Dramatic mountain views as you pass through the mountain forests and breathtaking foliage, the tour package includes hotel pick-up and drop-off as well as lunch and snacks. Truly an experience not to be missed!
Still need help or have questions? I will be glad to assist as time permits. Email me at [email protected] and be sure to put the topic in the subject line for faster responses.