Climbing the Petit Piton

Caribbean Island: St. Lucia
City: Soufriere

March 8, 2000
by Wayne & Karen Brown

As we flew from St. Vincent to St. Lucia, we flew right by the Pitons, the remains of a volcanic caldera, like the one we just saw in St. Vincent (see Journal dated 3/3). This volcano was a lot bigger than La Soufriere in St. Vincent. Geologists tell us that the Pitons were part of an ancient volcano that could have been 12,000 feet tall - taller than any mountain in the Caribbean! It would also have been taller than the tallest mountain in the continental United States, which is Mt. Whitney, at 10,902 feet high!

Remember the recent rainstorm on St. Lucia, (see journal dated 2/24)? That's when we tired to climb Petit Piton but we were rained out. Today we will try again. We really need a guide for this climb because there is no marked trail. Our guide today is expert Piton climber Meno Herman, a 35-year-old Soufriere resident. Meno has been climbing the Petit Piton since he was 12 years old!

We start our climb 120 feet above the Caribbean Sea. This climb is almost straight up, but you don't have to be an expert climber. You can even be afraid of heights. The mountain is so thickly covered with trees and other kinds of plants that you can't see very far in any direction - even down. You don't need ropes because there are plenty of trees, roots, branches and vines to use for steps and hand-holds. Don't worry about falling because you would only fall a few feet and get caught by the plants.

After climbing for 2-1/2 hours we come out through the trees on top of the Petit Piton, 2,460 feet above the Caribbean Sea! It is like the view from an airplane. Unfortunately today is not a perfectly clear day. We can just barely see Martinique and Mont Pelee to the north and St. Vincent and La Soufriere the southwest. From here can see that the Gros Piton (2,619 feet) is almost the same height as the Petit Piton. Meno points out that the center of St. Lucia is very mountainous but the island flattens out to the south of the Pitons.

We look to the north and can see Anse Chastanet and Trou-Au-Diable, where we recently made our St. Lucia scuba dives. The town just below us is Soufriere, the second largest town in St. Lucia. About 10,000 people live here. Soufriere was once the capital of St. Lucia, but a volcanic eruption in 1870 damaged much of the town. The capital was moved to its current location of Castries. The volcano is almost totally extinct and Soufriere is no longer in danger. Rising up behind Soufriere we see the tallest volcanic mountain in St. Lucia, Mt. Gimmie, at 3,135 feet high.

All we see to the west is the Caribbean Sea. To the east we see the small caldera and its hot springs that we visited a couple weeks ago (see Journal dated 2/24). This hill is the remains of the volcano that damaged Soufriere in 1870. It's almost extinct except for the bubbling hot springs in the valley next to the volcanic cone. After spending about an hour on top we climb back down the mountain. Tonight we pick up Dr. Tracy Baynes at the airport, and tomorrow we can start our study of the health of the coral reefs here in St. Lucia.


As we fly back to St. Lucia we fly over the Pitons. In the center of the picture is the Petit Piton. On the right edge of the picture is the side of the Gros Piton.

Wayne and Karen with their St. Lucian guide, Meno. Meno's shirt says "The expert Piton climber." Wayne legs are bent because he has just run back in front of the camera after setting it on a rock to take the picture.

The trail up the Petit Piton is very steep. (See the houses down below us in the opening in the trees.) This is a fun climb even for people scared of heights because you really can't see down. (Can you find Karen on the trail?)

At the top of the Petit Piton, looking south, Meno shows Mrs. Brown the Gros Piton. See how St. Lucia flattens out south of the Pitons.

IFrom the top of the Petit Piton, looking north we can see the town of Soufriere. You can barely see the capital city, Castries, way to the north.

On top of the Petit Piton, Wayne and Meno face east. Wayne is pointing toward Soufriere. Over Wayne's arm see the old volcanic cone that is bare on one side. In the valley below this cone are the hot springs called, "the world's only drive-in volcano."


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