Nevis looks more like rolling hill than a volcano – until you try climbing Nevis Peak unguided. That’s when it reveals itself as a formidable feat!
If you ever find yourself on the tiny island of Nevis in the Caribbean, you’ll surely notice Nevis Peak, the 3,232ft volcano that provides a beautiful backdrop to the picturesque island.
Climbing Nevis Peak unguided
With its lush and verdant greenery, Nevis looks more like rolling hill than a volcano – until you try climbing Nevis Peak unguided. That’s when it reveals itself as the formidable feat it really is.
When Peter and I decided to climb it without a guide last spring, we first searched for advice online. Reviews on TripAdvisor were mixed with some warning that it was treacherous and others claiming it was a walk in the park.
There seemed to be no consensus so we decided to ask a few locals. There, we did find consistency; a consistent ‘you can’t do it alone’. Some tourists say this is a ploy to line the pockets of local guides but I don’t believe that’s true. The people we spoke to seemed genuinely concerned.
It turns out they had a point: climbing Nevis Peak unguided is bloody hard. It’s steep, wet, muddy and not for the fainthearted… but it can be done. Here’s our 10-step guide to going it alone.
Climb with someone experienced
First, you should know that despite what some reviewers say, climbing Nevis Peak unguided is not a walk in the park. As described in this article for Rough Guides, I found it to be wet, muddy, physically challenging and sometimes treacherous.
If you don’t have an experienced trekker or climber in your group, I would advise against going it alone, the reason being that the trail is easy to lose. On several occasions when I was in front, I reached a dead end with no clue where to go next. It was Peter that picked up the path and pointed the way. Without his expertise, we would have got lost several times over instead of just the once (more on that below).
If you’re physically fit and not easily frightened, then you can climb the Peak without a guide as long as someone in your group knows how to follow a trail.
Take decent gear
Our decision to climb Nevis Peak was impromptu so we had none of the right gear. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Sidney, a bubbly American resident who lent me her trekking sandals, we wouldn’t have been able to climb it at all.
Other than my flip flops, I had a pair of ballet flats for walking and high heels for dining. Even with Sidney’s shoes, my feet were soaked for much of the climb – an unpleasant feeling that is easily prevented. Wear decent hiking boots, take a waterproof jacket and pack a compass. This is more a climb than a hike so having the right gear will help immensely.
Before leaving the hotel, Peter had the foresight of grabbing a Snickers bar from the minibar ‘in case we get hungry’. I can’t tell you how thankful I was for this halfway through the climb. We had been hoisting ourselves up on ropes for much of the way when a downpour began.
Taking shelter, we divvied up the chocolate bar – a Godsend for my tired and weary limbs. Don’t make the same mistake we did: pack plenty of energy bars and lots of water. You’ll be sweating on the way up and will need to rehydrate. In addition, take a couple of plastic bags to protect the seats of the car on your journey back to the hotel – you’ll need them.
Tell someone your plans
We didn’t tell anyone we were attempting the Peak alone because we knew the locals would discourage us. Even our driver Leroy was told that we were going to ‘just hike the first 15 minutes to see what it’s like.’
Later, when the staff at the hotel were congratulating us, they told us of a couple who had got lost on the Peak the year before and had to be rescued. It made me wonder what would have happened if we had got similarly lost – none of the hotel staff would have known we were missing. For safety’s sake, make sure you tell the hotel what your plans are and that you’ll check in with them later that day.
Figure out the directions before you leave
As the locals are reticent to have you climb the Peak alone, they’ll likely be tight-lipped if you ask them for directions. As such, make sure you know how to find the trail beforehand. Start on Rawlins Road in Gingerland and drive uphill following signs to Peak Haven. The concrete road will give way to a dirt road. Keep going until you can’t drive in anymore.
If you’ve taken a cab, ask to be dropped off here; otherwise, park outside Peak Haven gate. Walk through the gate. You will see a children’s playground to your left and more gates to walk through into Peak Haven grounds. Don’t go through there. Take what looks like a little-used dirt road with lots of vegetation uphill towards the Peak. The trail will pick up from there. Again, it is really important to have someone in your group who knows how to follow a trail.
Pay attention to the entrance point
As you find your way to the start of the trail, it’s easy to get complacent as you’re not yet ‘on the mountain’. Don’t do this: pay attention to your surroundings. We were on-trail all the way up the Peak and all the way down until we were about 15 minutes from finishing.
Because we hadn’t paid attention for the first 10 minutes or so, we started to second guess ourselves when we came upon a clearing we didn’t think we had passed on the way in. Weary and exhausted, we double-backed on ourselves and chose a different path. This time, we were certain we hadn’t seen this path so we went back to the one we had originally followed.
We followed it for 10 minutes, unsure if we were lost until we finally came to a clearing we recognised. If we had paid attention at the start, we could have bypassed the detour and the worry that came with it.
Take it slowly
Some reviewers say they summited in 1.5 hours, but it took us almost 2.5, albeit with a 15-minute stop to wait out a downpour. Don’t get stressed if you’re not yet there after 2 hours. Peter and I started to worry and made a pact that we would turn around if we were not there in another 30 minutes.
If you’re sure you’re on the path, don’t give up just because it’s taken longer than average. Parts of the trail are dangerous where one misstep could have you dropping off an edge so be careful and go slowly!
Sign the guestbook
We didn’t know about the treasure box of guestbooks until hotel staff mentioned it in passing just before we left. This white chest is hidden away under some of the bushes on the Peak so make sure you hunt it out. There you’ll find several volumes of comments from delighted summiteers. Bring a pen and leave your mark.
Don’t do it for the view
Some reviewers speak of the gorgeous views but the Peak is often swaddled in pillowy clouds even in good weather. Unfortunately, we climbed on a particularly rainy day so the peak looked like this:
Two days later, the weather was much better but the peak was still cloudy. Do it for the experience and not the view.
Don’t worry about the climb down
For much of the climb, I was silently fretting about the descent. In some places, I had to use footholds to hoist myself up, but what would I do when I couldn’t see them on the way down? I didn’t voice these concerns to Peter as I knew he was already worried about me.
He, a confident climber, had paused at one point and told me he didn’t think it was a good idea to go further. We had come upon a set of slippery rocks with little grip or foothold. I convinced him I’d be okay, but I was secretly worried about coming down through the area.
In actuality, I needn’t have worried. Much of the descent can be done scrambling down on your bottom, making the climb down much faster and safer than the climb up.
All in all, it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done in my life and I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks they can handle it.