Nez Casse Trail

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Time: 5 hours round trip. Difficulty: 3-4. Not blazed, this trail's easy beginning is followed by a difficult ascent. Take water and snacks. Trailhead: Depart and return on the Soufriere Road, at the Beausoleil picnic area.

Walk the right bank of the canal for about 200 meters to the basin. Ascending Nez Casse will take you into the forest of Bains Jaunes, 500-1000m high. This forest shows the diverse stages of old growth and secondary growth forest.

Walk along the right bank for 20 minutes to the small dam on the Riviere Noire (Black River). When the water is high, you'll have to sidetrack to keep from getting wet.

The vegetation around you is lush. Besides the classic plants and trees of the rain forest such as the small-leafed chestnut, you'll find clumps of bamboo; heliconias with red, yellow or variegated leaves; all sorts of epiphytes; and the chestnut canes that carpet the bottom of certain ravines.

The harmless-looking chestnut cane is very caustic. Also called "burning cane," it smells incredibly bad when the stem is broken.

Walk the dam to reach the other side of the Black River. The trail then continues along the riverbank following the current. Rather than cross at the dam, you could cross the river several meters downstream.

Now the ascent of Nez Casse really begins. The first 15 minutes demand effort and sweat, up a steep rise. Afterwards, the slope is less steep and more regular but the ridge is narrow. Don't wander to the right.

Your final 20 minutes will be dedicated to a rather acrobatic ascent through the tangled foliage of mountain mangroves. Eventually you'll reach the summit ridge of Nez Casse, thin as a knife-blade between dizzying peaks of more than 200 meters.

With just a little more effort--but only if you're not subject to vertigo--scale this last rock, the true summit of Nez Casse, at 1,281m.

In good weather the panorama is exceptional: nearby, toward the east, La Soufriere and Morne Amic; to the north, Carmichael (1,414m) and la Grand Decouverte (1263m) which, with Nez Casse, form a beautiful mountainous ring where the Riviere Rouge ( Red River ) is born.

At your feet are the Hot Baths of Matouba.

Your return by the same trail will seem much quicker than the ascent.

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