It’s true, Boiling Lake really is boiling!
How does one describe in words, or in pics for that matter, that which must be experienced? I guess that is the burden of a good writer, to rise to that challenge. I suspect that I, like any author, will fail miserably at the task of chronicling a hike to Boiling Lake, something that defies mere words, but for the benefit of those who may never get the chance to visit there themselves, I’ll give it my best effort.
Prior to setting out on this trek, Rebecca and I did a fair bit of research, both over the internet and by querying friends who had done the hike themselves. The information we gathered rated the hike as moderate but long, requiring a fair degree of stamina. Most sources recommended that a guide be employed to accompany trekkers on the hike.
I’m not sure when one can consider themselves “experienced” hikers but having done a few semi-arduous treks prior to this, and obviously having survived them, we were pretty confident that we could complete the hike ourselves without a guide. We had spoken with Sea Cat about this and he had offered to either lead us, or to provide transportation to and from the trailhead, but because we appreciate the challenge of finding our own way rather than being led along by someone else, we declined both offers and instead told him that we would take the local buses and/or hitch a ride. He told us where the bus stop was and assured us that we’d make out OK.
At 7:00 AM yesterday, we left our dinghy at Sea Cat’s dock and walked out to the road. Our initial destination was the bus stop by the Botanical Gardens, where we hoped to catch a bus to the town of Laudat where the trail to Boiling Lake begins. Things were looking very bright for us when the very first car that went by stopped and offered us a ride, taking us right to the bus stop. Inspired by this initial success, we waited patiently at the bus stop with a few other people. After inquiring if we were in the right place, the two men waiting alongside us told us that yes, we were and that eventually a bus to Laudat would come. It was only after waiting about 30 minutes or so that we learned the bus wouldn’t be coming for at least another hour. It was Saturday they said and the buses run on a much more restricted schedule on the weekends. When we told the gentleman who had informed us of this that, instead of waiting for the bus, we would hitch hike, he said that we might get lucky but in addition to the buses being limited on the road to Laudat on weekends, so was traffic in general. Without much choice, we strapped on our packs and started walking, up hill. After a kilometer of so, up hill remember, we lucked out and were picked up by a lone driver. Although the driver wasn’t going all the way to Laudat, he went a bit out of his way and took us a few miles up the road to where it split. We bid him fair well and again, started walking, up hill (see if you can find the theme here). We walked and walked and walked, with hardly any traffic passing us. I’m not sure how far we went but the steep grade was taking its toll on my fuel reserves, and we had yet to even make it to the trail head. I joked to Rebecca that we’d likely make it all the way to the top of the mountain before we were picked up and that’s exactly what happened, ultimately being rescued by two other kind Dominicans. While we gathered some of our strength back in the comfort of the backseat of their car, our saviors drove us right to the trailhead to Boiling Lake. Once again, things were looking up.
The initial stretch of the trail took us up a hill, high above Titou Gorge, a deep cavern cut through the rock by a fast-running river. We carefully peered over the edge of the cliff, mindful of getting too close. Falling in would have put a serious damper on our trip! For quite some time the trail continued upward, the majority over steps cut into the earth and rock. The path was obvious with no forks making it impossible to lose our way. Thankfully this portion of the trail was, for the most part, sheltered from the sun by the thick growth of trees. After an hour or so we made it to the first milestone of the trip, the Breakfast River. This is a common stopping point on the hike but we didn’t rest long, anxious to continue on towards the lake.
The trail once again turned sharply upwards and although we were walking primarily on steps, we were thankful that the ground was mostly dry. On this stretch of the trail we passed by a couple of groups of slower hikers, which was surprising to us because we didn’t feel that we were hiking all that quickly. We had been stopping to take photos almost every few steps. By now the tree cover had opened up substantially offering us unobstructed views of the neighboring mountains. We could see large plumes of steam rising up in the distance, a telltale of things to come. Once at the crest, we could see the famous Valley of Desolation beckoning to us!
The downward stretch to follow was probably the sketchiest part of the entire trail. Steep steps, some covered in water and mud, started us off, only to be replaced by a section of the trail that was shear rock. This portion was made even more intricate by the small streams of water that were running down over top of it. We prudently took our time though and made our way down the rock without incident. At this point, and ones to follow, it is a bit easier to lose sight of the trail. The secret, when in doubt of where to go, is to look further ahead and you will most likely be able to see where the trail picks up again and you can then head in that direction.
The Valley of Desolation is, in my opinion, aptly named. I can only imagine what more primitive souls might have thought when they stumbled upon this place. Dark pools of water bubbled up out of the ground forming hot streams. These mixed here and there with other rivulets of cooler water. Thick steam vented out of the rock in multiple places and the smell of sulphur was strong in the air. We snapped countless photographs in this area knowing that it would be a long while before the two of us might ever experience terrain so incredible.
We have enjoyed bolder hopping across streams on many previous hikes. Doing so here though added a bit more motivation for us to not fall in as the water in some places was hot enough to burn skin. As we were predominantly moving over rock at this point, the trail was again, much less distinct. It was here that we made our one and only mistaken diversion off the path, climbing up a long and steep rockfall, only to find once we reached the top that we had taken the wrong route. What lay in front of us was not the trail but more hot gasses venting out of fissures in the rock. After realizing our mistake, we retraced our steps down to the bottom of the hill, crossed the stream once again to pick up the final leg of the trail to the lake. Yes, if we had a guide we would not have made this error but on the other hand, those with a guide would not likely have had the pleasure of seeing that particular part of the valley!
When we ultimately arrived at end of the trail, the Boiling Lake, we were surprised to find that one other small group, a lone photographer and two guides, was already there. The lake was, as we had read, large and boiling! When the wind was kind enough to blow some of the steam away, we could see a huge area bubbling up in the center of the milk-white water. Steep cliffs surrounded the cauldron and we stayed a respectful distance back as one would certainly not want to fall in. We enjoyed some time there, replenishing our energy reserves with a snack that we had packed in, and taking multiple photos. While we waited, a couple of other groups arrived to take in the scene as well, each happy to have made it to the pinnacle of the hike.
The trip back to Laudat was no less mesmerizing, in fact we always appreciate the different view that we get on hikes when returning to our starting point. I will say though that by this point, my legs were well tired. A tip that I will keep in mind for future reference is that I should not do a hard workout, with plenty of leg work, the day before undertaking an aggressive hike. Lesson learned! Fortunately we found a nice pool of hot-tub temperature water where I was able to soak my weary muscles.
After cresting the hill out of the Valley of Desolation, Rebecca made the obvious mistake of commenting aloud of how good the weather had been for us. Almost immediately the skies opened up and we experienced more rainfall that we had seen in days. Oh well. We slowed our pace a bit, careful to avoid slipping on the steps which in some places, now had streams of water cascading down over top of them.
By the time we reached the trailhead, I’ll freely admit that my legs were fried. The challenge that lay in front of us though was that we still had to find transport back to Roseau and I was not looking forward to walking any further. We set off back towards the center of Laudat, up hill, looking for a bus stop. After asking directions, we were directed to a stop where we were led to believe a bus to Roseau would eventually come. It might take a while, because it is Saturday after all, but definitely a bus will come. That’s what we were told. How long would you have waited in a situation like that? Thirty minutes? An hour? We waited and waited, continually being assured by others, who themselves were waiting for the bus that, sooner or later, one would come. After two long hours, with only 30 minutes of daylight remaining, we finally gave up on any expectation of a bus and set off walking again, hoping to hitch a ride. With very little traffic on the road, our prospects looked slim and we were not relishing the thought of walking along the mountain road, which had no sidewalks and little shoulder, in the dark. Just prior to breaking out our flashlights, we saw a pickup truck approaching and like a Godsend, he pulled over to the shoulder. As it turns out, it was the owner of the property just across from the bus stop where we had been waiting and he was mercifully driving one of the other would-be bus passengers into Roseau.
At 7:00 PM, exactly 12 hours from when we set off on our adventure, we made it safely back to our boat. We had experienced, was has to be, one of the most interesting hikes on the planet and had done so on our own, and without spending a dime. That, in our opinion, made for a pretty awesome day.
Note: We took a total of 660 pics on this hike, on 3 different cameras, and it was very difficult and time consuming to trim them down for this post. I hope the 34 that we selected are not too bandwidth-heavy for those on limited internet connections (such as those of us living on boats).