Dominica part two - The Boiling Lake Hike

After our first long day of hiking and swimming we were all a little tired and sore when we gathered bright and early at 7am for the iconic hike to the Boiling Lake. Kids were particularly quiet in the van as we drove back to Titou Gorge, the start of the hike. We were prepared for this 8 mile, 3000 ft altitude gain challenge with lots of water, snacks, a packed lunch and our 'swimming costumes’ as the British say. 

Our local tour guide is very well known and liked in the sailing community. His name is Octavius Lugay, but like other yacht helpers sometimes referred to as ‘boat boys’ who assist sailors with moorings, diesel, ice, and tours on the Caribbean islands. He goes by the nickname ‘Sea Cat’.  Over time, his success has allowed him to expand his business to hire a few people to help on the water while he takes his customers on tours. He shared the story of his nickname which I really like, since I’m bilingual: Octavius led first to Octopus then to ‘Chatrou’ the local name for octopus. ‘Chatrou’ sounded like ‘chat d’eau’  (Cat of the Sea) in Creole and eventually became Sea Cat. His logo reflects the history of his nickname. One of his daughters, Chelsea, who is starting to work with him in the business, accompanied us on the hike.

The first section of the Boiling Lake trail was relatively easy going, hiking through a tropical rainforest of tree ferns (7 types of tree ferns can be found) and thick greenery. log steps were embedded into the trail to help get a better grip on the muddy ground. The trail slowly gained altitude and we had a chance to look down into Titou Gorge as we passed by. Our first rest stop was aptly named “Breakfast River” where Octavius pulled out some bananas and the kids explored a little. From there the going was definitely going to get tougher: The next section of the hike was quite a climb to the top of Morne Nicholls at an altitude of 3,168 feet where a small landing “the circle” provided a welcome rest and spectacular views. Chelsea pulled out some delicious homemade juice which rekindled our bodies and spirits. I have to admit I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

From the top you can see for miles in every direction. The clouds of steam from the boiling lake in the distance, the forest and peaks of Morne Trois Pitons National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the Valley of Desolation just below, where we were headed next. 

Resting at the circle - from left to right : Chelsea, Octavius, Suzie, Abi, Matt, Seth, Lucy, Sophie, Lydia, Freya, Guillemette, Will and Adam.

Desolation valley is right around the corner….can you spot Seth,the little blue dot near the bottom?

Scrambling down

Vegetation is giving way to the landscape of desolation valley 

After descending what felt like thousands of stairs, we reached the hardest obstacle yet – steep drop-offs down muddy banks to reach the Valley of Desolation. As Adam said, had we not had a guide we would never have imagined the path we took to be the trail! As we descended into the valley, vegetation gave way to volcanic rocks and steaming rivers. The acrid smell of sulfur was everywhere. While we scrambled down under Chelsea’s guidance, Octavius had gone ahead and set a bag of eggs to boil into one of the holes…. Nice touch and great snack! Most of us applied mud masks to our faces. 

Hard boiled eggs 

Chelsea applying mud to Freya’s face

Seth’s face mask

Desolation Valley is an ever changing landscape. We had to be particularly careful crossing the valley. The air around the area is hot, steamy and moist, vapor and gas escape from bubbling and boiling sulfur-water pots, small geysers, cracks and holes, and a small stream that runs through and beneath the terrain. Tiny invisible sprays of steam could easily burn an ankle or foot… 

Crossing a boiling stream 

The beauty and eeriness of the landscape was fascinating and I almost forgot my weariness as we approached the last section before reaching the lake.

Dark green moss next to the whitish stream.

From Desolation Valley you can see the steam from the boiling lake just beyond the next morne, but that last stretch required a lot more scrambling up and down rocks, streams, ridges and waterfalls. Some areas had ropes to help hikers navigate particularly steep rock scrambles. We passed a couple waterfalls, but chose to save the swimming for the return trip.

When we finally reached our destination, the trail opened onto a wide ledge about 100 feet directly above the lake where we could rest and have lunch.

The lake rests at the bottom of a large sinkhole-like basin. It is a flooded fumarole, located in the vicinity of a volcano, which emits steam and gasses escaping from molten magma below. High rock walls surround and create the basin. The lake's grayish-blue water is easily viewed in its perpetual rolling-boil state which looks like a giant pot of water cooking and steaming on a stove. The basin's water is replenished by rainfall and two small streams which drain into the area. The water then seeps down to the magma and is heated to the boiling point.

After lunch and some rest it was time to start the long hike back. I was very impressed with Sophie (and all the other kids) who had memorized and nicknamed the different parts of the hike: the cavern, the eggs, the mud, the hard part, the thousands steps, the circle, Breakfast River, the big step, the natural AC (at the ridge where wind and shade cooled us off).  Breaking it down into smaller chunks made it sound more manageable! We stopped a number of times to rest and swim in different waterfall pools.

Swim in the “Cold” pool. Unlike its name suggests it was pretty warm and great for sore muscles! 

Seth climbing up the waterfall to the hot pool “the Cavern”. Water was hot tub warm!

Kids hanging out in the “Cavern”

When we finally arrived back at Titou Gorge after a long day we gladly went for a swim in the cool water. This was probably one of the most difficult hikes we have done between the terrain, the elevation change (close to 2400 ft), and the length (about 9 hours including stops) but it is also one of the most interesting and rewarding as well. Doing it as a group was really special as we were able to talk and share with different members of the group and we encouraged each other during our tired moments. The kids, ranging from 7 to 12 were bounding ahead most of the time and had a really great time. While adults rested during our stops, kids kept exploring, swimming and climbing!