Blue MountainsStephen Johns
Hiking the Blue Mountain Peak
It’s about 2:00am and pitch black. A crisp breeze blows the sleep out of your eyes, and you flick on your flashlight. It shines with a dull orange glow, illuminating a fraction of a rugged path. Muscles tight, and bones creaking in the cold, you begin your hike – a seven-mile trek up to the Blue Mountain Peak. The peak is the highest on the island, rising to an altitude of 7,402 feet. In the darkness you climb steadily for four hours. Guided by your flashlight and clinging to the mountain wall, you forge ahead.
The way is narrow and steep, especially at a part known as Jacob’s Ladder. But one by one, you conquer each little hurdle. With every step up, the stars seem to get closer. As you near the top, the dark outline of the forest grows on either side, and sometimes the silvery outline of a tree fern catches your eye. Then, the morning light begins to break through the shadows. It becomes a race against the sun. You fight hard to keep going, distracted by the spectacular views that are unfolding. With a sigh of relief you reach the peak. The sun rises over the mist-laced mountains surrounding you. On a clear day, you can see Buff Bay and Port Antonio’s Navy Island to the North, and Kingston, Portmore and St Thomas’ coast to the south. You even might spot the shadowy form of Cuba, 90 miles to the north. As the strong wind whips around you and the day becomes brighter, you sit seemingly on top of the world, and certainly atop all of Jamaica, knowing you’ve just conquered The Peak.
You hike down in the daylight, and are surprised not only by the difficulty of the path, but by the botanical richness of the mountains as well. You pass through an elfin forest, where the low canopy makes you feel as though you are walking through a green tunnel. At clear points, breathtaking vistas of the Blue Mountain range open before you. As you descend further, you’ll see clusters of tree ferns, bamboo and eucalyptus trees. You’ll also notice colorful wildflowers and hundreds of ferns growing alongside the mossy trail. As you travel through this lush tropical forest, birdcalls fill the air, a natural soundtrack for your hike.
Overall, the 14-mile Peak trail takes about seven hours. Starting the trail early in the morning makes for an exciting hike and an incredible view of the sunrise, however, you don’t have to follow this popular trend. You can hike in the daylight. If you decide to do the trek in the morning, you can spend the night prior to the hike at either Whitfield Hall or Wildflower Lodge, or camp out at Portland Gap. Both lodges are cosy and rustic, and their staff will make arrangements to pick you up from Kingston or Mavis Bank. They will also organize local guides, and can provide meals on request. Also, in order to drive to the start of the hike near Whitfield Hall, you must have four-wheel drive. Generally, the best time to try the hike is during the Blue Mountains’ dry season, which lasts from December to April.
So, if you’re looking for a challenging hike and a memorable experience, get your hiking boots on and head for Blue Mountain Peak. Both thrilling and scenic, there is no other trail quite like it on the entire island.