Hiking La Soufriere Guadeloupe
Part 1

One of the Caribbean's many active volcanoes, La Soufriere is an excellent hike.

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La Soufriere Hike

The hike to the top of La Soufriere takes about 3 hours with a difficulty rating of 3-4 out of 5. The blazed trail but can be very slippery after a rain and finding your way around the summit in a thick cloud is not always easy.

The trailhead is at Bain Jaunes, a parking lot beyond Saint-Claude and the closest access point to the volcano.  A much closer parking lot at Savane-a-Mulets was closed by a landslide. From Bain Jaunes, you must walk a network of trails that both circle and ascend the slopes of La Soufriere. This adds considerable time to the hike. Expect at least three hours each way. Sunset comes early, at 5:30 or 6:30 (depending on time of year) and the countryside is quite dark.

Come prepared for drizzle and rain and brisk winds on the summit.  School kids make this climb as a class outing, so it is none too hard. Should the day be clear, be prepared for a lot of company on the trail.  Clear weather lures people to the mountain like sugar attracts ants.

Sturdy footwear is a must here due to slick rocks and mud. Bring snacks and insect repellent. 

Once at the volcano, the trail ascends on the west via the Chemin de Dames (Road of the Ladies), marked in yellow. (For the descent, the trail passes by Col de l'Echelle (Ladder Hill), an impressive area littered with boulders from the 1976 eruptions.)

 An information board (if you read French) gives the history of this volcano, which is a relatively young one. During the last thousand years, La Soufriere has shown considerable activity, marking the Basse-Terre region with lava lahars (flows) and heavy storm clouds.

The longest major eruption was in 1976. Others occurred in 1797 and 1530.

The hike begins with a few hairpin turns, then conforms to the gentle slope of the mountain. The path is interrupted by two flows and all along the trail is a thick bed of dried sludge, which destroyed the vegetation in this part of the cone in 1976. Plants are making a comeback, which becomes more evident farther along.

Approaching the west and northwest slopes, you'll border a zone that did not suffer the destructive effects of the last eruption. There, the flora is intact.

As you reach l'Eboulement Faujas after less than a half-hour of walking, you'll see peat-mosses, lichens and mountain pineapples hanging on the fault.

The panoramic view is exceptional: the southwest of Basse-Terre, the Caribbean Sea, and close by are the summits of Nez Casse ("Broken Nose") and Carmichael. Looking toward the summit of La Soufriere, the volcano shows its teeth--an amalgam of precariously balanced rocks.

A few minutes later you will arrive at the north-south Great Fault, also called the "North Crevice." Its sheer walls, 180 feet high (60 meters), are barren of vegetation.

Here the trail divides. To the right is the summit hike while the left path continues circling the volcano. Going right are some hairpin turns, then the trail joins a swampy plateau called the Great Savane. A bit farther on you arrive at a second crossroads.

If you continue straight ahead to the north, you'll reach Matouba by the Carmichael Trail. About 100 meters from the crossroad are the Collardeau Fumeroles; these 10 vents are periodically used for gas samples.

At the crossroads, bear right toward Ladder Hill. Vegetation is sparse, mostly gray or orange lichens and mountain pineapples that, from 800 meters to the summit, decorate La Soufriere with big, red-spiked flowers.

If you're fortunate to have clear weather, you'll see above, on the right, the Northeast Fault. Beyond the fault is Sanner Trail, a more strenuous path to reach the dome. Moving lower and to your left, the fumeroles of Carbet manifest themselves, through a strong odor of sulphur.

About 20 minutes after leaving the crossroads to the Matouba and Carmichael trails, you'll enter a craggy stone landscape. At the edge of this is yet another marked crossroads.

The left trail joins the Chutes de Carbet Trail. For the volcano circuit, stay right and follow the trail blazed in blue leading down to Ladder Hill.

This region was one of the places most affected by the 1976 eruption. It is here that on July 8th the most important explosion occurred, which reopened and reactivated the large southern fault crossing the entire flank of the volcano.

However, the view is beautiful over the Windward Coast, the Capesterre region and Grande-Terre; when visibility is good you can even see the island of Marie-Galante.

At Ladder Hill you'll pass an enormous rock fractured into 2 pieces. You can stand in the fracture and pose like Superman, splitting the boulder with super-strength.

On the left are the fumeroles of Ladder Hill: sulphurous vapors of 96C escape from a hole where you can spot a sizable deposit of sulphur crystals. Still to the left and a little higher is the geophysical shelter, severely damaged by the 1976 eruptions.

Leave Ladder Hill and descend across the debris. The trail, still marked with blue blazes, goes along the Matylis Ravine, which in 1976 was site of the main flows. While descending, you can observe to the right, on La Soufriere's southeast flank, the so-called "mouths of explosion," which hurled out the surrounding rocks now covered with a thick coating of lichens.

Zig-zag ahead for 10 more minutes to reach the Citerne volcano, which is used as a TV relay.

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