Definitely no Sunday stroll, this was a serious hike, uphill most of the way to the highest point on the Western Peninsula, Picket Hill 2954ft (900m) . The distance was about 4 miles each way (6.4km) but in 30C that was a sweaty 3.5 hours up and 2.5 hours down. See here for satelite image and GPS track courtesy of McShizzle 2013.
The first section of the trail is an old path which crossed the peninsula from York to Waterloo . It was renovated a few years ago, however, since then, many trees have fallen across the trail, necessitating detours through the bush. It is essential to hire a guide from the village of Big Water (see below for details). Even though familiar with the route, the guide cut marks on the uphill trunks of trees, with his machete, as we passed – easy to see on your way down!
We paused at an old resting house which was constructed of remarkably well cut laterite blocks. The roof is mostly long gone and the forest is reclaiming the rest, but it bears witness to travellers of old who used this route across the peninsula.
[click on images for larger viewing]
The walking is never easy or without hazards – even the level areas are criss crossed with sneaky vines which catch your shoes and laces, the steeper rocky parts are strewn with dead but slippery leaves which slide when you tread on them and some parts are simply climbing a boulder filled stream bed (thankfully dry at this time of year!).
However, when I paused for breath (which I was forced to do often), I began to appreciate the quiet and tranquillity of the forest. There was very little insect noise (only a few cicadas later in the afternoon) and only a few bird calls. One sounded like a blow out party hooter and another made a strange mixture between rasping and mewling. I asked the guide what kind of bird it was – he replied “a big bird”. Numerous colourful butterflies flitted around and settled tantalisingly briefly, but not enough time for a photograph. Fortunately we saw few ants (not my favourite creatures) even on the fallen decayed wood, but did see evidence of their presence in the little architectural gem pictured.
This forest is mostly secondary growth – the largest trees were removed centuries ago – but the high canopy gives welcome shade for most of the walk. A few impressive trees disappear above, some with huge buttress roots snaking around their base. In places a fallen tree shows how new space are opened up in such forests, allowing new growth from the forest floor. This forest is under pressure on all sides from illegal land clearance despite it having been declared a Forest preserve. The little wildlife that remains seems to be nocturnal as we saw nothing else. However on a rock beside the stream we crossed at the base of the walk were small piles of what looked like shattered shells. The guide told me they were crab shells left there by the fresh water crocodiles which live in the river. These crocodiles are quite small, but I was even less tempted to take a dip. There were numerous small fish in the water but only one that looked worth catching.
After two and a half hours we emerged from the forest on to a rocky plateau from which there were views down to Waterloo – although the harmattan haze made it less spectacular than it could be. My two fellow hikers continued to the top of the hill – another hour of climbing – to appreciate the 360 degree views, but also rather hazy. At least they can claim to have ‘peaked’.
Going down was not easy either! Every step a lottery of rolling rocks, loose leaves, vines and gravel. But we made it and certainly felt as if we had some exercise!
Back in Big Water it was washing day; the clothes we had seen earlier being washed in the river were now hanging out to dry on the rails along the bridge – or in this case, mostly blown on to the ground.
If you want to do this hike: Call first at the chief’s house (centre right of above picture – last house south of bridge) to ask permission and engage a guide. If you want to call a guide in advance: Bockarie 088205379 or Ibrahim Bangura 077666251
The charge is currently Le50,000 per person to the village, plus your donation to the guide(s).
- wear sturdy shoes/trainers or hiking boots
- take plenty of water
- take food
- hats and sunglasses optional as mostly in shade
- set off early