- OVERSEAS TOURS
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In the Northern Range, there is the dominant ridge line that starts at Scotland Bay and extends eastward to Penzance in Rampanalgas. Best described as the Belly of the Northern Range, this ridgeline is 134km or 83.26 miles long. It is the principal ridgeline that separates Maracas Beach from Santa Cruz Valley, Cumaca from Matelot, and Rio Seco from Grand Riviere.
Six hikers associated with the Island Hikers Group Chris Kelshall, Samraj Ramlakhan, Michael Charlerie, Gregory Leotaud, Lawrence James, and Michael Sando Ned of Trinbago Backpackers took on the gruesome challenge of hiking the ridgeline. It is the first time something like this has ever been done and it took the group eight months of preparation. The mastermind behind the expedition is Chris Kelshall, it has been his childhood dream. He is a student of the late great land -surveyor and explorer Glenn Wilkes. Using a series of old and modern maps, he would carefully study the course and plot the route. His navigation equipment would be a GPS, a Garmin In-Reach emergency communicator along with his cell phone.
The route included 29 peaks to ascend and a calculation of the total ascent would be 10,467.20 meters and the descent would be 10,458.02m. Bear in mind our highest peak El Cerro Del Aripo is just 940m and nothing in comparison to the challenges one has to face to accomplish the distance. It would take the group 9 days and 8 nights to accomplish this expedition. The course is divided into 9 legs and the average daily hiking distance is calculated to be between 12km to 18km. Day five had the longest distance of 22.51km. The group would hike between 8-12 hours per day. Climbing the rugged terrain with heavy 40-pound backpacks allowed the average pace to be just 1.4km per hour which seemed slow but was relatively steady given the harsh conditions.
In the preparation, each leg of the trail needed to be scouted. Only Leg#8 remained untouched because of its far-fetched location. One of the main concerns was the water supply which is scarce on the mountain peaks. To get the water they would have to measure the areas where there is a likely source of a river. In some places, water had to be left on some of the peaks. Growing abundantly in some parts of the forest there is a thick vine locally called water-kay which when cut can supply water. It was a lifesaver when water reserves were low. To abstract the water the vine has to be cut at both ends while keeping the ends up to prevent the water from draining onto the ground. Holding the vine upward, the water can be poured into a cup. Although the water may look brown it is quite safe to drink and full of refreshing electrolytes.
During the first two days of the expedition, the team crossed several roadways, where they had a support vehicle to replenish them with fresh supplies. Their main source of food was backpacking freeze-dried meals which are light to carry and requires two cups of boiling water in order to provide a meal. To sleep each member of the team carried a hammock. Being on the main ridgeline meant unfettered wind and at times a horizontal rain made for frigid conditions. At night the summits get extremely cold so having the necessary clothing was vital.
Day #1 The boat landed at Scotland Bay at 6 am, where the team would wait for a few minutes for the sun to come up. The route passes over the hills of Scotland Bay to Mt.Observatory, Macqueripe, then onward to the Tracking Station to spend the first night at Mt Pierre in the vicinity of the Chaguaramas Plane Crash Site. Distance hiked 16.56km, duration 11hrs, and 54mins, average walking speed 1.4km/hr.
Day #2 From Mt Pierre, the route continues to North Post Road, Zion Hill Diego Martin, and then onward to la Vigie Paramin, Fond Pois Doux Road, and to the hills on the Maracas North Coast Road by the Pichon Cove Overpass. The team will spend the 2nd night on the Maracas Bay Skyline. Distance 18.09km, duration 8hrs.54 mins. Average walking speed 2 Km/hr.
Day #3 The team continued along the Maracas Ridgeline, passing over Balata Ridge, La Vigie #2, LLoango, the Cross, and a steep ascend to the summit of El Tucuche from the back end. The team will continue along the old El Tucuche Bench trail and spend the night at the Naranjo Waterfall where they could refill their water supply. Distance 15.43km, duration 11.33km, average walking speed 1.3km/hr.
Day# 4 The team would head to the Rest Hut, Brasso Santos Trail, and over the four precipitous hills of Caura (Mt Christoffel, K4, Cabasterre, and Jubilee) to finish at Las Lapas Junction situated on the Arima, Blanchisseuse Road. Exhausted, from a long day of hiking they would have just completed the halfway point. The group would spend the 4thnight at Las Lapas where friendly resident Michael and his wife would cater meals for them. Distance 14.97km, duration 12.43 hrs, and average walking speed 1.8km/hr.
Day #5 The team would leave Las Lapas and head up the Mt.Bleu ridgeline to the summit of El Cerro Del Aripo. After doing several scouts and successfully connecting the pathway between El Cerro and Cipriani Peak the team felt for safety reasons to forgo this region because of the dangerous clifflike terrain between Cerro Del Madamas, Acantillado, Rocas, Mt Shastra or Pawi and Cipriani Peak. Instead, they would descend to Madamas to spend the night at Geoff’s Cabin located deep in the forest. Distance 22.51km, duration12.43 hrs, average walking speed 1.8km/hr.
Day# 6 From Geoff’s camp the team heads up the Madamas River to the Madamas, Platanal Pass to an area known as God’s Place. The region can be best described as no man’s land. The group will spend 3 nights and 4 days in this unchartered territory. Gerard a villager from Penzance, Rampanalgas would join the team for this brutal part of the journey. Distance12km, duration 8.51 hrs, average walking speed1.4km/hr.
Day #7 North of the Cumaca Valley is the mountains of Mt.Oropuche, Mt Blair, Zeno, and East of Zeno. It is mountain after mountain and some of the peaks like Zeno are almost vertical. The team was delighted to see a concrete stone trig at Mt Oropouche. Distance 12.12km, duration 9.37hrs, average walking speed 1.3km/hr
Day#8 Kruger Hill to Grand Riviere intersection and beyond. This part of the journey was not scouted and the terrain was so confusing that at no time could Chris take his eyes off the navigation equipment. There is an area called Mars located north of Rio Seco, it is just below the main ridgeline. The landscape consists of the most rugged terrains one will ever come across. Distance 12.58km, duration 11.39 hrs, average walking speed 1.1km/hr.
Day#9 Kitchener to Mt Cunningham and Rampanalgas. The terrain consists of constant up and down steep ridges. It seemed never-ending. Distance11.77km, duration 8.20 hrs, average walking speed 1.4km/hr.
The only wildlife they saw on the trail were deer and three wild pigs. Surprisingly, during the expedition, no venomous snakes were spotted. Interviewing the group, they all agreed it was more challenging than expected and they will never do it again, it is a once-in-a-lifetime expedition.
See a list of the 25 peaks that were ascended along the route. Several of which are not measured (thus the blank heights)
Starting in Scotland Bay and Heading East. (not in ascending or descending order )
1. Observatory 1402ft,
3. Morne Pierre 1708ft,
5. Morne Mal D Estomac aka the La Vigie Lookout 2200 ft,
6. Balata 1890ft,
7. La Vigie#2 2200ft,
8. Maracas Hill 2350ft,
9. El Tucuche 3075ft,
10. Mt Christoffel 2050ft,
11. K4 1600ft,
12. Cabasterre 1800ft,
13. Jubilee 2258ft,
14. Limon 2300ft
15. Guacharo (Textel Station),
16. Morne Bleu 2753ft,
17. El Cerro Del Aripo 3085ft,
18. Gods Place,
19. Mt Oropuche 2134ft,
20. Mt Blair 2036ft,
21. Zeno 2042ft,
22. East of Zeno,
23. Kruger 1997ft,
24. Kitchener 1767ft,
25. Cunningham 1357ft
Additional 4 peaks: El Cerro Del Madamas 2723ft, Acantilado 2637ft, Mt Pawi 2526ft, Cipriani Peak