Three brothers

Picture of a boy, a baby, and another boy
Linus (4), Leo (1 month), and Alex (5) after a morning at the beach.

Blue Mountain Trail

I'm posting this story because this August 2002 is the 10th anniversary of my hike to the peak of the Blue Mountain in Jamaica, West Indies. I wrote this up a week or two after the hike.

Andi and Ingrid
The most exhausting experience that we had during our year in Jamaica was climbing the Blue Mountain. Michael and Ingrid were visiting with us, so before we left home we stuffed our backbacks full of of cheese and tofu sandwiches, nuts, nutrition bars. We left Kingston by way of Papine and drove up into the mountains. It took about one and a half hours to get to Mavis Bank, a small coffee-town where a Land Rover was waiting to take us up the Whitfield Hall, the start of the climb.

When we arrived in Mavis Bank we drove into a small town center, complete with goats, chickens, a grocery store, a betting shop, and a Land Rover. A Jamaican immediately appeared, outside of the grocery store with a Dragon Stout in his hand, and told us to park down the road in front of the Police Station. After packing nine climbers, gear and two local idlers into the back of the open-top Rover, we were driven up a terribly rutted narrow dirt road straight-up to the Whitfield Hall lodge.

Whitfield Hall is an old coffee plantation farm-house nestled in a grove of enormous pine trees half-way up the Mavis Bank - Blue Mountain trail. Nobody moved a muscle or said a word to us as we unloaded our few bags and chose a room; one with two bunk beds and paint peeling off all over the place. Two dread-locked mountain mamas seemed to be in charge so I bought a couple Red Stripe beers and Ting sodas from them and asked about a getting a guide. One of the ladies told me that she would tell her son, Merrick, to show-up at 1:30AM so that we could begin the traditional 2AM hike up the mountain.

After listening to the other guests blab until about 9PM, we were all able to fall asleep. I woke up about 1:30AM and the wind was howling outside the windows. I stumbled through the pitch-black house and found Merrick in the kitchen where he was trying to light a couple of gas hurricane-lamps. I asked him if his fee was $200J like it said on the wall; a bad haggling move on my part. He said "no man, me wan $250J." So I said OK, and in a couple minutes Andi, Michael, Ingrid, Merrick and I stepped out into the chilly night wind.

As we left Whitfield Hall and walked up the dirt road past the stands of Blue Mountain coffee, the full moon and clear sky gave the whole scene an other-worldly feel. We were not under forest cover yet so we could see the contours of the surrounding hills and the full length of the Yallahs river valley. Andi noticed a sign that said "6 miles to Blue Mountain peak." After 45 minutes of hiking we were no longer cold and we stopped for our first break. Merrick sat by himself about 20 feet ahead on the trail and he lit up a cigarette. We resumed the hike and soon the bright light of the moon was blacked-out by a dense canopy of trees, ferns and enourmous tree ferns. We started to rely on the tiny beams of our two flashlights to keep up from tripping over roots, rocks and puddles.

We took one more short break before reaching Portland Gap, where there is a camping site, a cabin and a stand-pipe. The Grand Ridge of the Blue Mountains forms the border of the parish of St. Thomas to the south and Portland to the north, and the Portland Gap is the the place were the trail meets up with the ridge. We refilled our canteens, took another short break and hit the trail again. As we left Portland Gap, now on the northern side of the ridge, we could see that Portland was completely covered with clouds. I imagined that the clouds would linger in Portland until the heat of the dawn pushed them up and over the mountain and down into St. Thomas, St. Andrew and Kingston. I was hoping that the clouds would wait until we'd seen the view from the top before bubbling over. Merrick told us that he had only seen one clear day in five years of working as a mountain guide; not very good odds in our favor.

As we continued hiking Andi and Ingrid kept on falling behind. Michael, Merrick and I would wait for them when we got too far ahead to see their flashlight. Once while waiting I noticed a star moving very slowly across the sky. "I think I see a shooting star, look at the way that star is moving," I said. "Thats the way the almighty works," said Merrick, "he is the invisible man." As we rounded a bend and returned to the south side of the ridge, Merrick pointed out the bright sea of lights of Kingston which quickly disappeared behind a cloud-bank. Then a little bit later, he pointed out the lights of the town of Yallahs on the south coast.

Hiking was becoming exhausting as we neared the peak. We switched-back left, right, left, right, left, right and left again forever. We all felt like collapsing. As the pre-dawn light grew stronger we could see the beautiful and unique vegetation of the high-altitude elfin forest. At about 5:30AM, we finally reached the windy, cold and foggy mountain top. Merrick shined his flashlight on the sign that reads "Welcome to the Blue Mountain Peak - 7402 Feet Elevation." Merrick told us "this is your destiny."

It was so cold at the peak that the only thing that we wanted to do was to huddle inside the run-down concrete shelter. I never knew that it could be so cold in Jamaica, it must have been below 50 degrees fahrenheit. We ate the rest of our food. I gave Merrick a bag of Chippies, salted banana chips. We were cold and wet with perspiration and it was so foggy that we could not see a thing. Michael and I took a short walk over to the geodetic monument that marks the official peak. As we climbed the monument and clowned around about being the "highest men in Jamaica" the sun stared to burn through the fog. Michael ran back to the shelter to get Andi, Ingrid and Merrick.

We all gathered by the monument and we watched as the clouds parted on the south side of the mountain, so we could see almost all of Kingston. I had my binoculars and I could make out several buildings in the city, the Mutual Life building, the Pegasus Hotel and the Oceana Hotel. On the north side of the mountain we could see a giant cloud formation frozen in the glare of the sun, but it was below us because we were so high. According to Merrick, the clouds were blocking the view to Cuba. We were all enjoying the view, thanking Jah for our luck and trying to figure out why each of our shadows had a circular rainbow around it when the fog suddenly returned and the magnificent view vanished.

Ah, much better now

View of Folly Beach from behind the dunes

I think I figured out why it was hot, windy, and grumpy yesterday. I missed my morning coffee. I have no idea why my missing coffee makes my boys misbehave so.

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