Morne Diablotin. Lost in The Labyrinth of Hell

View from Morne Diablotin

View from Morne Diablotin

Dominica is the youngest of all the Caribbean islands, still being shaped by volcanic and geothermal activity. Rich with rivers and waterfalls, lush forested mountains teaming with wildlife, Dominica  offers miles and miles of hiking trails all around the island. The ultimate and most difficult hike is not The Boiling Lake, as many wrongly think, but the trail to the highest peak standing at 1,447 meters (4,747ft) above the sea: Morne Diablotin, The Devil’s Mountain.

Road to the trailhead

Road to the trailhead

After a night of abundant tropical rain, around 7:30 a.m., we take a bus from Plymouth direction Roseau to the intersection of the road leading up to the Morne Diablotin trail. The bus ride, 15-20 minutes, costs us 3 EC per person and the driver knows exactly where to drop us off. We start up the road, steep but paved, walking among farms and agricultural lands, stopping often to eat fruits.

Maya with grapefruit

Maya with grapefruit

There are mango, oranges, and grapefruit trees on the side of the road covered with ripe fruit, some of it lying on the ground under the trees.

Ivo and Maya near a fallen banana tree

Ivo and Maya near a fallen banana tree

Maya, the blue wizard,  saving bananas from rotting on the ground.

Maya, the blue wizard, saving bananas from rotting on the ground.

We have a fresh delicious fruit salad for breakfast right there on the road, and gather a few mangoes and grapefruits for later in a bag adding to the already heavy load Ivo is hauling on his back: water bottles, sandwiches, rain ponchos, and jackets for the three of us.

Mira with mango

Mira with mango

Fresh grapefruit

Fresh grapefruit

Maya and Ivo

Maya and Ivo

The higher we go the colder it gets and it drizzles every now and then, so we put on our blue rain ponchos. We meet people working on their lands, gathering fruits, planting trees, greeting us.

Planting a coconut palm tree

Planting a coconut palm tree

After 2 hours, already a bit tired of walking uphill, we reach the trailhead where a warning sign explains that the hike to the mountain summit is between 2 and 3 hours long in one direction and should not be attempted after 10:30 a.m. It’s 10:00 a.m. so we are good to go. There is no one here to present our one-week park permits to, so we simply enter the park and start walking.

Maya at Morne Diablotin trailhead

Maya at Morne Diablotin trailhead

“A certified guide is strongly recommended”, the sign advises. We don’t have a guide as they charge somewhere between 50 and 100 $US per person for this hike.

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In the beginning we walk slightly uphill on steps made of wood. Soon, the climb becomes steeper and the steps are replaced by roots. The forest is beautiful: giant wet ferns and tall trees covered with moss. The ground is very muddy from last night’s rain and our progress is slow, choosing where to step. After an hour I start thinking, this isn’t too bad. We can survive this terrain for 2 more hours.

Maya in the forest

Maya in the forest

Maya walking on roots

Maya walking on roots

The devil heard my though.

Just like that, the world transforms, like in a bad dream. Dark roots like monstrous intestines emerge from the ground to form an ugly twisted web all around us and above our heads.

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The tropical rainforest is replaced by nightmarish woods with trees that grow upside-down and sideways, twist and disappear in the swampy ground. Never seen anything like it, except maybe in horror films. The trail is no more.

Maya

Maya

We are now in a labyrinth of hell, painfully making our way up and up between these giant slippery moss-covered roots and branches, climbing on boulders, walking on trees, sinking in mud. If it was just a section that ends after 15 minutes it would be a fun experience, but this nightmare goes on forever, hour after hour. We wish we had superhuman powers, we wish we were ninjas, or lizards who can crawl, or birds who can fly, so that we could save ourselves. Even a certified guide wouldn’t be of any help here unless he can perform miracles.

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Three hours have passed and we are still in the infernal maze of roots and mud, still climbing up, still haven’t reach the summit. For the first time, I give up. I just don’t want to suffer anymore, and I know I have all this way, two hours of torture, to go back down. So I stop.

Mira

Mira

Ivo and Maya persist, determined to reach Dominica’s highest dome. I wait for them for one more hour, unable to sit anywhere, mud and roots covered with damp moss all around me. When they return, Ivo tells me it gets even worse further up and there is nothing really to see on top, especially with all those thick clouds. He had to carry Maya on his back a few times climbing up huge boulders and more of those hateful roots.

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I can’t believe they are calling this “a trail”. How is this a trail in a national park?

mud

mud

Maya

Maya

We have walked to a cave in Guatemala up the mountain through a jungle without trail, cutting vegetation and making steps in the steep ground with machetes in order to pass, walking across precipices and fallen trees. We have hiked for two days, across different climates and terrains, to the highest Caribbean peak with guides and mules, sleeping in mountain shelters. But we have never seen such an impossible “trail” as the Morne Diablotin one. We have never felt so defeated by mud and roots, so at the end of our strength.

Maya

Maya

Somehow we manage to get back down to the trailhead without any of us getting injured, even though we all fall in the mud over branches now and then.

Maya fell in the mud

Maya fell in the mud

Ivo fell over branches

Ivo fell over branches

It’s 5:00 p.m. and we haven’t had the chance to stop and eat anywhere. We are starving, tired, destroyed. We sit on the road for a while and eat our sandwiches, then we hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck returning from a day’s work at the farms, loaded with avocados, pumpkins, oranges, and bananas. Then back on the bus, and back home, on the boat.

Maya at the end of the journey

Maya at the end of the journey

It has been a crazy hike in the most surreal terrain ever and Maya, 11-years-old, did really great. She remained positive and enthusiastic the entire time, leading the group, jumping from branch to branch. And even though at the end of the journey she cried a little bit, from exhaustion and pain in the legs, she was really happy she made it. I didn’t cry, but I also didn’t make it all the way to the top, and I felt miserable most of the time. Yet, now, looking back at this unique journey, I feel proud and glad we went there. One more incredible story to tell, one more unforgettable memory. (Just don’t ask me to go hike up to Morne Diablotin ever again…)

Maya

Maya

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