Worth A Visit

Hiking to Blue Mountain Peak

Southern view from Blue Mountain Peak

Southern view from Blue Mountain Peak

Last weekend, a group of friends and I went hiking to the top of the Blue Mountains. Blue Mountain Peak is the highest point in Jamaica at 2,256 metres or 7,402 feet above sea level. I had hiked to the top once before many years ago and didn’t remember it being too strenuous, but after revisiting it I’d have to warn others that at least a basic level of fitness is required to make it to the top and back without too much pain (or even at all). Proper shoes and provisions are also a necessity. The trip, however, is definitely worth the work out as the views are spectacular, both from the top as well as during the ascent and descent.

Our odyssey began on Friday afternoon as we traveled to historic Whitfield Hall (a 150+ year old guest house where many hikers spend the night) to overnight before proceeding with our climb. The journey to Whitfield Hall is also a bit of an adventure in itself. Many persons make the relatively easy drive to Mavis Bank, park their vehicles and are then ferried the rest of the way by Land Rover. Not relishing standing in the open back of an aging Defender for an hour or more on unpaved dirt roads, we chose to drive the whole way ourselves. A word of advice- in anything other than very dry conditions, this is not a drive to undertake in anything less than a solid 4-wheel drive vehicle (a Toyota Hilux Surf in our case).

We left Kingston at around 5:00 pm and made it to our destination by 7:00 pm. The drive goes up through Gordon Town, St. Andrew to Mavis Bank and then up into St. Thomas through the small coffee farming districts of Mahogany Vale, Hagley Gap and Penlyne Castle. By the time you arrive at Whitfield Hall, you have already climbed from sea level to approximately 1,280 metres or 4,200 feet.

Accommodations at Whitfield Hall are rustic- most rooms are filled with bunk beds and have very little space to move around in. There is no electricity or hot water, although there is running cold water, flush toilets and decent lighting at night via kerosene lamps. Hardy Jamaican meals are available upon request.

We spent the evening on the front lawn of the aging structure, admiring the towering eucalyptus trees that ring the perimeter of the property. You don’t see tall trees of this variety in Jamaica very often, and the setting was more reminiscent of northern California than our tropical homeland. Thankful the evening temperature was also of the cool west coast variety, as Kingston was literally baking in summer heat below us.

We departed Whitfield Hall at around 6:00 am, opting not to bother with the 1:00 am departure time that many hikers choose in order to see the sunrise (which more often than not is invisible due to the clouds, mist and rain at the top). I found that hiking in the daylight was infinitely preferably to the nighttime hiking I did the last time and much safer as well. Our companions also had the foresight to hire a donkey to accompany us- this made our load much lighter and the trip all the more enjoyable.

The ascent was steep- the entire hike is about 12 km or 7.5 miles each way, and you climb almost 1 km in the process. The first half takes place on wide tracks and trails in reasonable good condition, although the grade is quite severe especially for the first hour. After about an hour and a half, we reached the rough midpoint (actually about a third of the way), the ranger station at Portland Gap. Here we paid a small trail use fee (JMD 100 per person) and stretched our legs- there is running water here for refilling your canteen, and also small cabins if you want to camp for the night.

The remainder of the climb took approximately two hours and the conditions are significantly worse. Narrow trails with loose stones and gravel are bordered by almost vertical precipices. On our way up, we passed more than fifty persons coming back down, who had obviously gone up in the wee hours of the morning to view the sunrise- surprisingly many of these were tourists, including a substantial number of Koreans and a smattering of North Americans and Europeans.

Upon reaching the top, we were greeted by a clearing and what could only be described as the sad ruins of a building- apparently this was constructed in the 1930s and at one time featured bunks for persons wanting to overnight as well as pit toilets and facilities for trash. As the picture illustrates, we are poor stewards of our national treasures, and I felt embarrassed as a Jamaican given all the foreign visitors we had passed on the way up.

The peak itself is actually just around the corner from this clearing, and features a small monument and a large metal tripod. The views are spectacular- to the southeast you can see the Yallahs River as it winds its way down through St. Thomas, as well as Morant Point, and to the direct south Kingston and Portmore. To the north you can catch glimpses of the Portland coast, and on clear days it is said that one can make out Cuba in the distance, although we were not so lucky.

More information on Whitfield Hall is available at www.whitfieldhall.com.

A somewhat precarious pedestrian bridge on the drive up

A somewhat precarious pedestrian bridge on the drive up

The road gets narrower

The road gets narrower

Whitfield Hall, St. Thomas

Whitfield Hall, St. Thomas

Setting out at 6:00 am

Setting out at 6:00 am

Errol and "Big Boy"

Errol and “Big Boy”

Taking a break at Portland Gap

Taking a break at Portland Gap

Keeping warm at the peak

Keeping warm at the peak

The dilapidated structure that greets you at the peak

The dilapidated structure that greets you at the peak

The trail coming down

The trail coming down

Errol and Big Boy coming down

Errol and Big Boy coming down

More trail

More trail

Mind the edge

Mind the edge!

Coffee growing on the mountain hillsides

Coffee growing on the mountain hillsides

View on the way down

View on the way down

Recovering

Recovering

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33 Comments

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  7. Gloria E. Allen
    June 10, 2014 at 10:28 am — Reply

    I have been to the peak four times already and will make my fifth trip this month as a senior citizen. Each time I go their are new beauties to discover.

    I must say that climbing the Peak taking a thirteen miles journey,37,292 steps and eight hours of trekking is not just physical but mental strength. I love the Whitfield Hall small Sunken Garden/Court yard. It is very relaxing just sitting there after a rigorous trek, just to relax under the trees and listen to the wind rustling with the leaves and the birds doing their welcome songs.

    The trek is one of my fondest memories in my country “Jamaica”

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  11. Roger Miller (Renegade Outdoor Corps)
    June 17, 2012 at 9:32 am — Reply

    Went there on June 8,2012 everything is still the same i posted some pictures on my Facebook page,just type in, Renegade Outdoor Corps.

  12. Roger Miller (Renegade Outdoor Corps)
    May 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm — Reply

    Had some good times back in the day,planning a trip there for this summer.

  13. Anonymous
    May 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm — Reply

    Have not been there in ages!Use to hike there nearly every weekend back in the mid nineties.

  14. […] my account of our hike to Blue Mountain Peak and our visit to cCharles Town Maroon […]

  15. Greg S
    October 31, 2011 at 7:22 am — Reply

    Thanks for the pictures…brings back fond memories of the late 1960’s and early70’s; when I made the hike 4 times.

  16. […] up a unique folder for the different islands you regularly visit.  Whether for Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, Aruba, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, […]

  17. Big John
    June 19, 2011 at 7:35 am — Reply

    I did four trips from mavis bank and will never forget the first 1977. I swore that any one who saw me again should shoot me, however the joy of acheivement and beauty has captured a part of me. My fifth trip was from whitfield hall eight years ago and was extremely challenging, I am still planning on taking up the challenge again, more so after looking at the pictures and reading your article.

  18. Chippy
    June 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm — Reply

    Big up!

  19. […] the variety of experiences that Portland does. The parish extends from the highest peaks of the Blue Mountains, 7,402 ft above sea-level, down to the north coast, and is known for its rich history and varied […]

  20. December 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm — Reply

    My wife and I along with some friends made this trip in 1969. It all seems the same including the wonderful view from the peak. We were with a black Lab who just went crazy in the cool temperature at the top. Many thanks for your good reminder of what a joy the hike was. I have photo that I took of misty trees just outside of Whitfield Hall hanging in my bathroom.

  21. DANE RAMSAY
    December 7, 2009 at 3:07 pm — Reply

    I WENT THERE IN DECEMBER,06/2009

  22. Claudia
    July 21, 2009 at 10:29 am — Reply

    Excellent capture of events! This was my experience when we went last April and August. We drove to the Rangers station and hiked to Portland Gap when we went in April, but didnt go to the peak. In August, we went for the long haul – took the Land Rover to the Rangers station, hiked to Portland Gap at about 10pm then woke up at 2am to hike to the peak. Breathtaking and exhilarating!

    My best Jamaican vacation to date!

  23. Velma Pollard
    July 16, 2009 at 1:14 am — Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful pictures. When I went we were using black and white exclusively. I am glad I went when I was fit. A whole sixth form led by (easy to guess who in my group) CARMEN Fong Kong then. I remember that we ate off most of the food as we climbed and that we heated water to brush our teeth. The view was worth it. Felt as if we were on top of the world. We certainly were on top of our world. Thanks for reminding me

  24. July 15, 2009 at 5:33 am — Reply

    Hi Karin. Loved it. Brought back memories of our Campion College class trip from so many years ago. Loved the pics as well. BTW, I tweeted this for you as well :)

  25. Kathryn
    July 14, 2009 at 4:27 pm — Reply

    Wow! What an adventure. Karin I envy you for this awesome opportunity, and for having the skills to do it. It’s an absolutely picturesque outing. Sounds like something every Jamaican should do at least once. Kudos!

  26. July 13, 2009 at 2:12 pm — Reply

    It sounds so hard to do. Sighs, it’s on my ‘to do list’ of things before i die.

  27. July 13, 2009 at 12:09 pm — Reply

    Thanks Karin. That sounds like fun. I want to do this trip on my unicycle!

  28. Mark Wilson
    July 13, 2009 at 7:27 am — Reply

    Fantastic pictures!! This brings back great memories, I went to the peak twice as a youth, I will have to do it again next time I am in the island. Looks like you had a great time. I agree with the comments on maintaining our national heritage, perhaps the people who maintain Whitfield Hall (it seems that everybody who goes to the peak, at least stops at the hall even if they don’t stay over night) could assist in collecting the donations and maintaining the building you mention?

  29. July 12, 2009 at 10:41 am — Reply

    So this is the place where the best coffee in the world grown? Wow, this is a terrific place…

  30. Betty Wilson
    July 11, 2009 at 11:16 am — Reply

    I doubt if I will ever make it to the peak but maybe one of these days… Even Whitfield Hall is worth the trip (I have been that far.) My parents went in the 30s and I had photos of them at the peak in a structure that must have been in good condition then. We really do need to restore the facilities – if every climber gave a small donation it would add up in no time, but the challenge (ours always is) will be maintenance.

  31. Stuart
    July 11, 2009 at 1:30 am — Reply

    Hi Karin,

    Nice pictures. They bring back memories of the days when I was fit enough to make the climb.

  32. Joanna Francis
    July 10, 2009 at 6:58 pm — Reply

    Awesome pics Karin! I’m yet to make the trod! But these pics are pulling me closer to that moment! =D

  33. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID
    July 10, 2009 at 6:32 pm — Reply

    From my high school days, I have had a strong interest in climbing the Blue Mountains. To date, I have not realized this objective. Hopefully, I will get around to doing it one of these days, if I can get back into shape by ending the excessive procrastination and the couch potato lifestyle I have acquired in recent years. Enjoyed the various pictures of scenic Blue Mountains accompanying your piece. With respect to the buiding at the peak of the Blue Mountains,can it be restored by say the Ministry of Tourism? Specifically, in light of the fact that the mountain is well trafficked by tourists from Asia, North America, Europe and even locals, as mentioned in your piece. Also, as you rightly contend, we are indeed poor stewards of our national treasures.Certainly, in most countries with such beautiful natural resources as ours, their would be greater emphasis on maintaining and restoring the buildings and facilities which were erected for lodgings and accomodations of climbers and hikers.Nuff respect!!

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