COMMENTARY: La Soufriere Volcano – An Adventurous Climb

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by Rawlston Pompey

Humans are universally known for outdoor adventures. For all kinds of reasons, they have climbed mountain tops and other places often forbidden by nature. These, for the most part are driven natural inquisitiveness and urge of adventurism. Likened to the natural instinct in carnivorous animals with voracious appetite for the flesh of other animals, within man’s psyche, is also a ‘natural urge and strong disposition’ to explore the outdoors. Humans often ‘Tread where Angels fear.’ That which might be easily said is that; (i) ‘…Humans are not Angels; and (ii) …Not necessarily guided by Divinity.’ They are more propelled by adventurism and curiosity. Moreover, as much as humans are curious, in a state of volcanic activity, few would have ventured to summit the ‘La Soufriere Volcano’ with reckless abandon.

PERSPECTIVE

It has been universally accepted that man’s nature for adventurism is limited to no bounds, while ‘Human Inquisitiveness’ has no limitations. Thus, in inquisitive or defiant mode, humans have attempted the unthinkable and unbelievable. Then resident in a quiet sea and riverside community geographically-mapped and named ‘Colonarie,’ were three adventurous youth. This commentary speaks in vivid details and recollection of a maiden visit to the ‘La Soufriere Volcano.

ADVENTUROUS BOYHOOD BUDDIES

This is the story of three ‘Adventurous Boyhood Buddies’‘Vernon Nedd; Hamilton Pope (both deceased) and Rawlston Pompey.’  Youthful, energetic and curios, a climb to the ‘La Soufriere Volcano’ was not impossible feat. Then resident in the quiet little sea/riverside community of ‘Colonarie,’ we were always fond of the outdoors. Likened to other youth, we have visited many places frequently, particularly the nearby ‘Colonarie River and the Sea.’ These are located a mere five-minute walk. Be they males or females, neither the River, nor the Sea held any terror for the youth.

HIDDEN/VISIBLE DANGER

That which people often referred to as mountain, has a different meaning to where the ‘La Soufriere Volcano’ is located. The people’s mountain produced food, whereas the area of the Volcano is stored with hidden volcanic danger. However, ‘Hidden or Visible Danger.’ this had neither factored in our considerations, nor entered into our conversations. Today, upon reflections, for two reasons, only fools tread ‘Where Angels fear- that is; (i) ‘…The Wrath of Man; and (ii) …Where the wrath of Nature was hidden in the Crater of the ‘La Soufriere Volcano.’ Later years revealed unexpected discoveries of skeletal remains of humans. Some visited and left, while others reportedly took up residency to tend and oversee their non-agricultural produce.

COUNTRY TOWN

It happened on a bright and sunny Friday afternoon, just after midday, when a trio of buddies started out on an approximately ’10-mile adventurous foot-journey from ‘Colonarie to the La Soufriere.’ The first leg of the journey took us on a hitch-hiked ride to the nation’s second northern town ‘Georgetown.’ This ‘Country Town‘ is located a distant ‘5 miles’ from ‘Colonarie’ and ’18 miles’ from the Kingstown capital.’ Back then, it was much nearer and easier to walk to the ‘Country Town,than commuting on a passenger bus into ‘Capital Kingstown’ [SVG].

INSTITUTIONS

It may have been for the distance that the powers-that-be, ensured that for citizen’s convenience, there were to be everything needed on this of the island. There was (i) ‘…A Police Station; (ii) …Treasury Department; (iii) …Post office; (iv) …Hospital; (v) ‘…Clothing and shoe stores; and (vi) …Cinema House.’ This Town provided for the not too distant communities. There were still others; (a) ‘…Conventional Churches (b) …Government Primary and Secondary Schools-Bishop’s College; (c) …Teachers’ Training Center; (d) …Funeral Home-(Coombs); (e) …Several grocery shops; (vi) …Bakeries with delivery services; (vii) …Eateries (Forbes); and (viii) …Entertainment spots.’

CURIOSITY AND ADVENTURISM

As far as the ‘La Soufriere Crater Lake is concerned, to the many excursionists, mountain climbers or the curious, it was just a Crater. It was not even referred to as a volcano. That which Geologists and Volcanologists know, it is a place that shall be constantly monitored both with technology and by human.  Situationally, in a timely manner the Scientists issue; (a) ‘…Advisories; (b) …Warnings; or (c) …Cautions.’ Nature has placed it far from human habitation. Ignorant of hidden volcanic danger, human ‘Curiosity and Adventurism’ has reduced its distance. Today, everyone knows that volcanic eruptions are not only scary and frightening, but also destructive and devastating.

IMPULSIVE ADVENTURISM

Prior to the 1971/72 eruptions, three ‘Boyhood Buddies,’ had no belief that hell was all close to our ‘Colonarie’ community. However, hell or no hell and devil or no devil, there was an irresistible urge to climb to its summit.’ Back then, nothing was known of ‘National Geographic’ to provide imagery of volcanic eruptions. Likened to earlier adventurers, climbing to the summit of the ‘La Soufriere Volcano,’ we were not ignorant that we were flirting with one of nature’s most dangerous wonders. It may have been more of ‘impulsive adventurism.’ The mental and physical strengths to ascend to the summit were contingent upon; (a) ‘…Persistence; (b) …Perseverance; and (c) …Endurance.’

ADVENTUROUS AND INDUSTRIOUS

Lacking of scientific knowledge or interest, yet there was an urge and curiosity to visit the ‘La Soufriere ‘Crater Lake’ [St. Vincent and the Grenadines]. It was unanimously decided that it was time to see what lies in the high mountain ridge located north of the island. The people who were not afraid and still not fearful of the elevated ‘La Soufriere Volcano’ have been the ‘Adventurous and Industrious.’  Likened to everywhere volcanoes are located, in years of dormancy and the adventurous have decided to dare nature, that will be visible to the eyes are frightening low hovering dark clouds. Though visible to the eyes, cannot be touched. In the case of the summit of the ‘La Soufriere Volcano, constantly lowing from the ‘Atlantic Ocean,’ are chilly, gusty and invariably intensely strong blowing winds. Though invisible to the eyes, their presence could be felt.

THE JOURNEY

There were two musical bands; an orchestra and a Combo band, respectively called; (a) ‘…Dulce Melos; and (b) …Maguire’s.’ The musicians in the orchestra, were mostly School Teachers. Among the public transportation were uniquely painted buses with names such as; (a) ‘… Fairy Jet and Fairy Queen (Crichton’s); and (b) …Mary Ann and Sister Ann’ (Clarke). Having arrived at ‘Georgetown’ and purchased light refreshments of a tasty cake called ‘Bodyline and a variety of soda drinks; (i) ‘…Oso: (ii) …Fanta; and (iii) …Ju-c,’ the journey began. Firstly, with a walk from the ‘Caratal/Langley Park’ communities, then to ‘Rabacca or Dry River.’ …………Thence, to ‘Bamboo Range’ for the climb to the summit of the ‘La Soufriere.’ Elders familiar with the area explained that though the sun could be see shining in its brilliance, people caught midway or close to the side to ‘Langley Park/Caratal/Georgetown or to Orange Hill/Overland’ communities, shall beat a quick retreat. This occurred when there was a deluge high into the surrounding mountains.

DANGEROUS DRY RIVER

Traversing in a group of three in unfamiliar places was neither frightening or monotonous. It might be disconcerting not knowing exactly where one was going. We possessed a small transistor radio, where, along the way it produced only static noises. It was to the knowledge that when nature’s mood in the mountain turned vexing, torrents of water would be flowing rapidly downstream. Such flow had moved huge boulders, trees, volcanic sand, mud and other debris to the sea. Thus, we were fully aware of the hazards of swollen rivers. More particularly, we knew of the possibility of being washed away by the ‘Dangerous Dry River.’ This was scary enough, yet had never occupied our thoughts.

BAMBOO RANGE

Then walking inland toward the mountain range, we came to a place called ‘Bamboo Range.’ This was the ideal picnic spot for many excursionists. Breathing sighs of relief, it was the first indication that we were not too far away from the foot of the summit of the ‘La Soufriere.’ The water source came from high up in the mountain top. It flowed from majestically and wend its way downstream to be emptied into the sea at a place called ‘Rabacca’ or ‘Dry River. ‘Anxiety had slowly crept in. For as the more we walked, it was the more ‘Bamboo Trees’ were observed lined the unending bushy, but vehicle-accessible route.

CLIMBERS/ADVENTURERS

Then just before 2.30pm, we came upon the resting place for ‘Summit Climbers or Adventurers.’ That area speaks to having deep with almost ice-cold water holes and very huge boulders. There was another concern, daylight was fast running out upon us. The thought of being left in no man’s land never crossed our minds. Whether going uphill or downhill, it was much too stony and rocky to run unimpeded. Stumbling and hitting a knee on a boulder would have been excruciatingly painful. Strategically positioned between my two school days and boyhood friends, there was nothing to fear. Aware that neither could have easily walked or ran away with disappearing speed; neither ascending, nor descending the summit.

SAPPED ENERGY BOUNDLESS ENERGY

Ascending the narrow, winding, stony and rocky footpath was both challenging to the feet and heart. Though energetic, the initial climb to the summit of the ‘Crater Lake’ was not as exciting as first conceptualized. Unfamiliar with the area and ignorant of the surroundings brought no comfort to the mind. Clearly not as dangerous as the journey undertaken by ‘four courageous Antiguan and Barbudan female-‘Island Girls,’ rowing across the Atlantic Ocean [BET: January 28, 2019], walking up to the summit had ‘Sapped Energy’ to levels that speaks to fatigue. Yet with a will and desire to see the Volcano’s Crater, we persevered.

DIRECTIONAL DIFFICULTIES

With a resolve, will and determination, we walked our way up until dark clouds descended over the mountain range. Unaided by compass and undaunted, heavy reliance was placed on the sun for ‘Directional Guidance.’ We knew that if we had encountered ‘Directional Difficulties,’ just where the partially visible sun was moving (Westward over the mountain range), we would travel back from whence we came. Though the footpath became more treacherous, there was still a determination to climb to the summit. Even so, there was no desire to incur a physical cost, neither out of exuberance nor reckless abandon.

EXTRAORDINARY COURAGE

In any adventure, though the adventurous may not necessarily know where they are going, they must see where they are going. With neither a ‘Mountain Guide,’ nor prior mountain climbing experience or knowledge the location of the ‘Crater Lake,’ we became somewhat jittery. Likened to the adventures of ‘Christopher Columbus,’ fearful of peril, his sailors believed that the earth was flat. They feared they may have fallen off the edge of the sea into nowhere. He was an expeditionist of ‘Extraordinary Courage.’ Research has shown that in an apparent state of inebriety, he made unwanted and uninvited gestures to ‘Queen Isabella of Spain.’

INEBRIETY-INFATUATION-BRAVERY

It may have been out of curiosity ‘The Queen’ reportedly asked ‘What is desirous of Her Majesty?’ Apparently, ‘Inebriety Infatuation and Bravery’ prompted him to answer ‘Consummation.’ Such answer was seen as; (a) ‘…Outrageous to the Queen’s dignity; (b) …Insulting to Her the Crown; and (c) …Offensive to the Monarchy.’ Yet, she had reportedly ‘permitted certain familiarities.’ However, as fate would have it, he was ‘banished to the stables and piggeries for forty (40) days’ [The New Yorker: June 17, 1991]. The ‘Royal Wrath’ had descended upon him. Released from banishment and in a state of sobriety, he was quoted as saying; ‘The search for money and patronage was not so different from the quest for love.’ Philosophically, anything any brave man or woman sees worth fighting for, the same is worth dying for.

AFRAID OF CLOUDS

Traversing to the summit, we too harbored fears of falling into the ‘Crater Lake.’ Still there was a resolve to succeed. Concern was increased by the lowly hovering dark clouds. Then ‘Suddenly and Frighteningly,’ the clouds quickly reduced visibility to about three feet. By the frightening spectacle created by nature, the afternoon grew darker over the canopy of trees, thus made it difficult to continue. There were two disadvantages; (i) ‘…Not knowing how far we had travelled from the foot hills of the Volcano; and (ii) …How near or far we were from the Crater. It needed no rocket science or scientific knowledge in ‘Geology or Volcanology’ to know that the climb should be discontinued. We were more ‘Afraid of the Dark Clouds,’ than of falling into the ‘Crater Lake.’ It became a matter of ‘Self-Preservation.’

POWER OF WILL

With ‘Power of Will‘ and a steely resolve, the climb was not beyond the limits of our individual energies. Home folks knew where we had set off to, but knew not what we may encounter. Having descended from the stony and rocky mountain, there was still a very important issue to be settled. That issue was a place to rest for the night.  We were just about ‘two-foot hours’ away from the community of ‘Sandy Bay,’ than the approximately ‘eight-foot hours’ away from our hometown- ‘Colonarie.’ Anxious and ready to attempt the adventurous climb early next morning, the walk from ‘Bamboo Range to Sandy Bay,‘ the walk to that community was not too tiring. In fact, we were propelled by fear and anxiety to get there to find a place to rest for the night, then what lay ahead.

OVERNIGHT PLIGHT

It was agreed that we should travers on foot to ‘Sandy Bay,’ a seaside, but hilly community to the north of two small plantation communities-‘Orange Hill and Overland.’ We were aware that there were ‘Night Guards’ at the ‘Government School.’ Arriving just after night fall and having spoken to the two Guards of our ‘Overnight Fright and Plight.’ They appeared more than happy for the extra companionship. We had now numbered five- three youth and two adult males. The ‘Night Guards’ duty was to stay awake and watch the School’s premises. Sleep or no sleep, we simply wanted a place to shelter and if convenient, sleep until morn.

DESK BEDS

Our makeshift beds were ‘mattressless, sheetless and pillowless wooden desks. It is interesting to note that we were more awake than were the two ‘Night Guards.’ Tiresome and wearisome, the ‘Desk Beds’ provided little comfort. The temporary accommodation did. Thus, we were grateful and fortunate that a roof was over our heads. The night was full of nocturnal sounds, interspersed by the occasional barking of dogs. These were normal in every community. Even without a wrist-watch, the minutes ticked by. Yet the darkened night appeared longer than the time taken to walk from ‘Bamboo Range’ to ‘Sandy Bay.’ Then in about the middle of the night, news reached the ‘Night Guards’ that a resident had passed on nearby. This was not welcomed news, as the darkened interior of the School made, it somewhat uneasy in the mind.

TIME WAITS NOT

Everyone knows that there is a ‘Time for Everything.’ Everyone also knows that ‘Time Waits Not’ on no man. If it were not so, female motorists would not have to complete their beautifying facials, or hair-styling while driving to work. Conversely, male motorists know that time takes no orders from anyone. Thus, it does not tick slow or tick fast to suit them. One may quicker see a male motorist in a deadly collision with a utility pole than him catching up with time. Invariably they ran out of time and luck.

FOWL INSTINCT

Truthfully, in a strange place, we were afraid of that which might be visualized and emerge in the dark. Thus, the sleep appeared to have quickly vanished. That which came to mind was the sentimental song; ‘When you are young; …You are afraid of the dark’ [You Tube].’  There are several things about fowls; (i) ‘…They produce eggs; (ii) …Hatch chickens; (iii) …Good for barbecue; (iv) …Chicken stew; and (v) …Chicken broth.’ There is something else they can be relied upon. Elderly folks have it that when a ‘Hen cackles,’ it has laid an egg.’ Conversely, when a ‘Cock Fowl’ crows in the wee hours of the morning, it an indication daylight was drawing nigh. Such ‘Fowl Instinct’ holds true today.

TIME TO CROW

A Cock fowl, tree-nesting in the vicinity of the ‘Sandy Bay Government School’ insisted that it should crow the darkness away. We had relied upon the ‘Crowing Cock Fowl’ to guide us with the time to leave the temporary accommodation. Likened to humans that invariably have issues with time, a ‘Cock Fowl’ appeared to have been confused with the ‘Time to Crow.’ When it appeared that daylight had taken too long to penetrate the darkness, the ‘Cock Fowl’ kept on crowing. Joining the ‘night’s drama’ were the nocturnal insects and an intermittent croaking frog. The night time sounds were not unfamiliar and were neither considered annoying, nor nuisance.

NEIGHBORLY COCK FOWL

The ‘Neighborly Cock Fowl’ to the ‘Sandy Bay Government School’ continued crowing until the crack of dawn. When the morning’s darkness subsided, daylight gradually emerged. It was time to move. Then we set off on foot to the ‘Bamboo Range’ picnic area. As there were no change of clothing and the temperature of the water was incompatible to that of our bodies, there was no urgent need for even a ‘Skinny Dip.’ For human hygiene, ‘washing of the face and rinsing of the mouth,’ were considered sufficient. Vernon Nedd joked, ‘It is not the dirt on the body that kills, it is one from mudslides.’ He made a very good point. Refreshed and somewhat energized, the ‘Trio of Buddies’ began the ascent to the summit of the ‘La Soufriere Volcano.’

FORTIFIED WILL

In any adventurous undertaking, something often lifts the spirit. There is a resolve as there is resilience to ‘Fortify the Will.’ Intent on descending into the ‘Crater,’ there was the self-motivation. Firstly, attempts to throw sizeable stones into the Lake, saw them curving under the non-visible, but step-like protruding banks. None reached the water’s edge, let alone into the Crater. A descending path into the Lake was identified. Silly as it now seems, the only purpose was simply to put one’s foot into the water-filled Crater. Initial descent saw no grave difficulties and posed no danger. It then became obvious that the attempt was physically dangerous. Nature indicated discontinuation and prudence dictated that it shall be aborted.

MAJESTIC LOCATION

In spite of the canopy of trees, the climb up saw a mountain top that was sun-drenched. Yet the climb up, challenging at some parts, was cool and comfortable. The visibility was good, yet every caution was taken. We did not know the location of the ‘Crater Lake,’ and thus, none of us wanted to accidentally fall into it. As it became somewhat level at the top, we suspected that we were near to the rim. Then a short walk confirmed that we had ‘Successfully’ climbed to the Summit.’ As if it knew there would be visitors, the sun shone in all its brilliance.

BREATHTAKING VIEW

The location was indeed, majestic. The view into the Lake was a breathtaking spectacle. The unrippled water had a distinctive turquoise-looking color.  The serenity was awe-inspiring. The lush green vegetation lining the Crater’s rim, made it nothing short of being described as picturesque. Though beneath the Crater was hidden danger, that had never enveloped our thoughts. The sun continued to shine brilliantly, allowing a spectacular view of ‘Nature’s Wonder.’ Likened to a visitor showing up unannounced, and a way is found to cut short the intrusion, suddenly and dramatically, howling winds became disconcerting. Nature had indicated that it was time to leave.

NATURE’S TOLERANCE

This was discernible when bizarre-looking dark clouds descended over the Crater. The sun instantaneously disappeared. Our presence suggested that we may have trespassed upon ‘Nature’s Tolerance.’ The clouds had reduced visibility to about two feet., thus forcing a quick retreat. Though feelings of anxiety and unease had enveloped our thoughts, there was still presence of mind. We were sufficiently composed to have determined and wend our way from the rim of the ‘Volcano’s Crater.’ We were left perplexed and our hearts were almost broken with despair.  In the sudden turn of event, there were two impossibilities; (i) ‘…We couldn’t hold on to the clouds; and (ii) …With reduced visibility, we could not see where next to go.

WATCH OUT

It was not without drama and imposed timidity. When the hovering dark clouds drifted slightly away, there was sufficient light to positioned ourselves in avoidance further warnings by nature. Descending the summit became somewhat challenging. With the boulders in the narrow winding footpath, knees trembled. This was not necessarily out of fear, but of fatigue and a desire to be hydrated. As we descended, mischievousness stepped in. The team’s leader ‘Vernon Nedd,’ on two occasions suddenly, loudly and impishly shouted, ‘Watch Out! Then ducked to the ground. Gripped by sudden fright with throbbing hearts, we too were forced to go down.

INEXPLICABLE WORK OF NATURE

The Scientists know what obtains beneath the ‘Volcano’s Crater.’ Undoubtedly, the ‘Geologists and Volcanologists’ require extraordinary training, knowledge and a perceptive skill in comprehending the often ‘Inexplicable Work of Nature.’ Eventually, the descent from the summit was safely made. We arrived back at the ‘Bamboo Range’ starting point. We took only a brief rest for consumption of the rest of the mountain climbing supplies. We departed the area, covering the approximately ‘8-mile foot journey’ back to our community- ‘Colonarie.’ The ‘Morning After,’ not only speaks to a different state of mind, but also of physical condition. Stiffness of joints and excruciating pains in the legs and knees, may have been considered punishment for an ill-prepared adventure to the ‘La Soufriere Volcano.’

CONCLUSION

Not infrequently humans caught in the wrong place may see peril brought to bear upon them. Scientists have warned that it is virtually impossible to ‘Outrun or Outdrive’ its fiery flow [Wikipedia]. Likened to other volcanoes, images of their destructive power may be seen from a recent eruption of ‘Mount Kilauea’ [Hawaii: December 31, 2020: You Tube]. While humans have taken calculated risks in establishing communes within the environs of the ‘La Soufriere Volcano, there comes a time when nature shall give warnings to evacuate from its impending wrath. Today, there was reportedly no turquoise-looking water in the Volcano’s Crater. This has been replaced by a ‘Second Oozing Fiery Dome.’ Though the activities are reported to be confined within the walls, many have found the ‘Incandescent Glow’ disconcerting. They are aware of its explosive eruptive nature that can produce a rapid river-like flow of fiery pyroclastic. Such is destructive to everything in its path, including vegetation, humans and animals. Many have been forced into cautious preparations of some eventuality of frightening catastrophic consequences. In spite of assurances from monitoring ‘Geologist and Volcanologist, Professor Richard Robertson,’ fear still lingers in their hearts.

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