Gros Piton Summit Hike – St Lucia – The Caribbean

What is the hardest hike you have ever attempted? Mine was a little 2 mile day hike that I thought I would knock out in a couple of hours. Some friends and I were on the Island of St. Lucia doing some mission work. We had arranged for a friend to take us up Gros Piton early one morning.

Gros Piton from the World Heritage Monument

Gros Piton and its little sister Petit Ption are Caribbean land marks. Two volcanic spires jutting over 2000 feet out of the ocean. Both can be climbed, although petit piton is probably very technical. Gros Piton, on the other hand, has a trail leading all the way to the top. Our friend, who lives on the island, had climbed several times before and promised an experience of a lifetime.

We arrived in the little town of Fond Gens Libre parked the rental car, and started up the paved walkway to the trailhead. We were stopped by several townspeople speaking creole. Our friend chatted for a moment and we continued only to be stopped again. After awhile our friend informed us we would not be allowed to go without a guide, but because we had arrived so early in the morning, none where awake yet. Finally one young lady agreed to take us for $30 US per person.

A small cottage in the town of Fond Gens Libre with Gros Piton in the background
A local girl in Fond Gens Libre

We had killed a lot of time waiting for our guide and had other obligations latter in the day. Our friend told the guide we were in a hurry, and this is when things became tough. Our young guide sprinted up the rough and rocky trail as if she had been doing this everyday for the last 8 years. Turns out she had. I managed to keep up for the first half mile when we finally stopped for a break. My head was pounding and I could tell I couldn’t keep this pace up much longer.

A sign near the head of the trail
The trail surface is extremely rocky through the majority of the hike

We had climbed about 600 vertical feet to the first view along the trail. I looked down to a beautiful little cove along the shoreline below. I struggling to catch my breath when the guide urged us to continue. I was only a quarter of the way to the top and was already struggling. This did not boad well. Most of the trail is shaded by tree coverage. In fact there are only 3 points along the trail where one can catch a view. One at the first half mile. One at the half way point. and one at the summit. All of these (I believe) have been cleared by the locals to create viewpoints. The rest of the trail is covered by very thick vegetation. This was the other part of my problem.

The first view along the trail – A small island cove
The entire trail is surrounded by very thick vegetation

St. Lucia is very humid (unlike anything I have experienced before). The thick vegetation blocks any hope for a breeze. We stayed very hot the entire time we hiked. Before I had made it half way I was literally drenched in my own sweat. Another new experience for me. Never before had I been this wet on a hike, not even in a pouring rain. My quick drying clothes were useless in the high humidity and the short nature of our breaks never allowed me to stop sweating. It must be something the locals get used to, because our friend and the guide hardly seem to sweat at all.

A beautiful natualy occurring vine called wandering root. you find it along the first half of the Gros Piton trail
Our young St. Lucian Guide

At the half way point you get the first view of Petit Piton. At this point you have made your way half way around the base of the mountain but only about a third of the way up. From there you follow the western ridge one mile to the top and another 1300+ feet up. The trail begins to climb at a very steep incline. Our guide told us we were half way there…I was tired, wet and worn out…but I thought…If this is already half way…I can make it to the top. Half way is very deceiving…the hardest part of the hike was yet to come.

Our first view of Petit Piton at the half way point.

We continued under thick tree coverage for another half mile. The hike was wearing on a young lady of our group who began to throw up off the side of the trail. I asked her if she was okay and she said, with tears in her eyes, “much better now!” A half mile or so from the top there is a very old (some 300+ years) Mango Tree. There is a small bench made of bamboo where you can rest for a short wile before the final push to the top.

Thick vegetation near the summit of Gros Piton
A 300 year old Mango tree about a half mile from the summit. It no longer produces mangos. 

The last half mile feels straight up and there were times I thought I should give up. I can honestly say I have never thought this before on a hike, no matter the difficulty. Looking back on the hike I believe the incline of the trail combined with the heat, humidity, and our quick pace is what made this such a difficult hike. I really would have liked to have taken my time and enjoyed the hike a little more.

Locals have built bamboo ladders at more difficult spots on the trail

Before long we were at the top. As you round the top of the summit all the thoughts of how hard you have been working go away as you take in the views of island. We stayed on the top for a short time before hiking over to another view point on the far north side just below the summit. The views were absolutely breathtaking.

The summit of Gros Piton – St. Lucia
Summit View – Gros Piton St. Lucia
Me on the summit of Gros Piton
Gros Piton summit view
Petit Piton viewed from just below the summit
Island view from Gros Piton
A fellow climber on the summit of Gros Piton

We started back down and all the memories of who hard of a hike this is came flooding back to us. Our knees ached under the steep descents, but as usual the way down proved faster than up. All in all it was an unforgettable hike. If you ever find yourself in St. Lucia…you really should take the time to do it. 

Gros Piton valley looking east from the base of Gros Piton
Gros Piton Trail
Gros Piton Trail Elevation Profile

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