Ok, I knew that I was going to be traversing a mountain. But I think the term “hike” must be used very loosely in Grenada.
You see, when I signed up for a “hike” up Mount Saint Catherine, the tallest mountain in Grenada, I was expecting to trudge up mountain trails, get some nice scenic views of the rainforest, and have really sore legs the next day.
What I got instead was crawling through mud, using ropes that were probably secure to pull myself up the side of the mountain, and a healthy dose of fear for my life.
It all started out innocently enough, though. We began with the usual bus ride, where the one-eyed driver managed to not drive off a cliff in the winding, mountainous interior of Grenada by the grace of some higher power. When the road got so steep that the bus could go no further, the hike began.
About ten minutes in I was panting and hoping that the 12 liters of water that I brought for the day would be enough. To my great relief, though, the trail started to level out after that and we were able to enjoy a stunning view of the ocean.
After a period of hiking through the rainforest – and occasional deep mud – we came upon a spot where a clump of tall bamboo had fallen away from the mountain and was obstructing the path. One by one, we clambered over the bamboo.
As I was putting all my weight on the hand of the guy helping me up so quickly that I just about pulled both of us over, I thought, “Wow, we are getting to do a little climbing on this hike! How exciting! Surely this will be the hardest part.”
I could not have been more wrong.
Eventually, the path got very steep, and we had to start climbing. Only it wasn’t quite climbing.
The mud that was a mere nuisance on the flatter path behind us made the vertical cliff walls that we were climbing treacherously slick at points. Okay, maybe they weren’t vertical cliff walls, but since I have the climbing skills and upper body strength of a toddler, it sure felt that way.
In any case, the going was slow, slippery, and much more closely resembled climbing than hiking.
Above us on the path, I could see that the trees cleared. The first few people who made it to that point exclaimed that everyone had to look at the view when they got there.
I continued climbing and finally reached the clearing. I looked around to see…
We were so high up on the mountain that everything was shrouded in mist, and all I could see was the frighteningly narrow, steep path extending a little way above me and a very little way below me.
I panicked. Suddenly, I couldn’t find good handholds or footholds to continue climbing, and I was stuck, clinging helplessly to the side of the mountain.
Luckily, someone that was ahead of me on the trail was able to pull me up the rest of the way. Otherwise, frozen by panic, I’m pretty sure my fellow hikers would have had to turn around early and get me air-lifted off the cliff that I was glued to.
This bit of climbing was followed by a narrow ridge where the sides of the path dropped out abruptly in places. As I continued, I clung to the plants on either side and kept my gaze focused on the path in front of me, trying to ignore the clouds below the path that I could see through the foliage.
Scurrying across the ridge, trying to stay as close to the ground as I could, I’m sure I resembled some type of Gollum-like creature. Despite living in the Caribbean for three months, I’m still definitely pale enough to pull off the comparison.
After the Ridge of Doom – as I affectionately named it – we came to a place where the path was so steep that there were ropes there to help you pull yourself up. As I was climbing with generous use of the rope, I heard someone below me call out.
With all my weight on this ancient rope and nothing but clouds below me, “check the knots in the rope when you get to the top,” was not what I wanted to hear.
After a good deal more climbing through the mud and dense foliage – during which time I began my pre-emptive panic about how we were going to get down the mountain – we finally reached the top and were greeted by this view!
Ok, so the clouds were kind of obstructing any real view that we would have had from the top of the mountain, but it still looked cool, and the howling wind and low visibility made me feel like I was Matt Damon in The Martian when he was stuck in that storm on Mars.
As we ate lunch in the gusting wind and dense clouds at the top of the mountain, I was able to collect my thoughts. Probably nobody had died on the mountain. A few of my hiking companions had done the “hike” before and obviously they hadn’t died.
On the way back down, all I had to do was keep my wits about me, go slowly, and try not to slide off the side of the mountain. Easy peasy.
When all the obligatory top-of-the-mountain pictures were taken, we began our descent. In order to stay as close as I could to the ground, I made liberal use of a technique that I’m pretty sure many professional mountain climbers use – the sliding butt-scoot. Whatever hope I had held onto about not being 100% covered in mud was quickly eliminated.
I descended the scary rope part of the mountain and was once again crouching Gollum-like on top of the Ridge of Doom, where I was waiting for the rest of the group to climb down. There, I reflected that going down the mountain was much easier than I had anticipated, and maybe my preemptive panic had been unnecessary.
It was all downhill from there (ba dum tss) and slowly the path began to widen and become less steep. Just after the adrenaline wore off and I was sure my legs were going to give out, we reached the bottom of the mountain. I never thought I would be so relieved to see our one-eyed bus driver as I was in that moment.
As we careened across the narrow, mountainous roads home, I began to reflect on the “hike”. I was proud that, despite my exquisitely unobservant nature and arm strength comparable to that of a T-rex, I had made it to the top of Mount Saint Catherine and back without becoming the target of a search and rescue mission.
Now, I am home. I have scrubbed the mud off my scraped and stinging skin and I am so sore that I need to hold onto something to lower myself onto the toilet, but it was worth it.
In all seriousness, it was a great way to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was yet another example for me that when I get out of my own head – like I did on the way down the mountain – things are not nearly as bad as I think they will be. Also, I went on the “hike” with a group of awesome, helpful, encouraging people who made the day fun, and it is definitely an opportunity that I am glad I did not miss out on.
Maybe next time, though, I’ll find out what is involved in a “hike” before I go.