Hiking La Soufrière Volcano

Hiking to La Soufrière volcano with my Uncle Clifford and my cousins is an adventure I will never forget.

I was born and raised on the tiny Caribbean island of St. Vincent. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an Eastern Caribbean island nation, with its capital in Kingstown on the main island of Saint Vincent. The country is renowned for its natural beauty, including rainforests, volcanic terrain, and picturesque beaches. Its economy relies on agriculture, tourism, and offshore banking.

Growing up, my cousins and I would always go on adventures together. One of the most memorable experiences of my life was hiking with my cousins to the top of La Soufrière volcano.

La Soufrière is not to be confused with Soufrière Hills in Montserrat, La Grande Soufrière in Guadeloupe, or the Soufrière Volcanic Center (Qualibou) in St. Lucia. La Soufrière means "sulfur outlet" in French, and I can only imagine that the people who colonised St. Vincent (Saint-Vincent), Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia (Sainte Lucie) and Montserrat (Santa María de Montserrate) were not inspired to be original.

La Soufriere Volcano
La Soufriere Volcano · Circa 1984
La Soufriere Volcano
La Soufriere Volcano ·Circa 1984

La Soufrière is an active stratovolcano in St. David Parish on the northern end of St. Vincent, the largest island in the island chain of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. At 1,234 m (4,049 ft), La Soufrière is the highest peak on Saint Vincent and the highest point in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It has had five recorded explosive eruptions since 1718. The latest volcanic activity began in December 2020, leading to major eruptions starting on April 9, 2021, . Mom escaped to St. Vincent during the pandemic, living at the family home on Dorsetshire Hill in Kingstown on the southern part of the island. She could see the ash plume from the backyard. The volcanic eruption spewed ash and pyroclastic flow, a deadly mixture of superheated gases, rock and volcanic mud, but fortunately, Mom was safe on the southern part of the island.

La Soufriere Volcano
La Soufriere Volcano · Circa 1984

Soufrière has a crater lake, and visitors can view the volcanic crater during inactivity by following a hiking trail that ascends through the rainforest to the rim.

La Soufriere Volcano, St. David Parish, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
La Soufriere Volcano, St. David Parish, St. Vincent and the Grenadines · Circa 1984

It was the summer of 1983 or 1984 when I was 17 or 18. We had just moved back to St. Vincent from Antigua and had to reacquaint ourselves with a side of the family we had not seen in almost a decade. My [Uncle Clifford] was the Chief Surveyor for the government of St. Vincentian and the Grenadines. He knew all the fantastic and remote places on the island and how to get to them. One day he arranged for a hike to the rim of La Soufrière volcano. I don’t recognise all the faces in the photographs. The group included my cousins (standing right to the left) Debbie, Karen, Samantha, Iain, my youngest brother Bruce, family friend Sheridan, Alana Hull, myself, and an unknown. It’s been about 40 years since our adventure, and I regret that I don’t recognise some of the faces or remember the names of the people in the front row.

Setting out in the early morning from my Uncle’s home in Ratho Mill, we packed our bags with water and squeezed into the back of Uncle Clifford's Land Rover. We arrived at the trailhead under thick clouds and set off on the trail. The only way to get to the top was by foot, so we had to hike for miles through the thick, hot, humid tropical rainforest to reach the summit. The trail was steep and covered in loose rocks, but we took our time and often stopped to rest and take in the scenery.

La Soufriere Volcano
La Soufriere Volcano · Circa 1984

As we hiked higher and higher, the vegetation changed from dense rainforests to scrubby bushes and barren rock. The hike was challenging even for young teenagers, but it was worth it when we reached the top and saw the stunning views.

La Soufriere Volcano
La Soufriere volcanic rim · Circa 1984

The view from the summit was incredible. We could see for miles in every direction. We even got to see lava mud bubbling inside the crater!

La Soufriere Volcano
La Soufriere volcanic crater · Circa 1984

We were exhausted when we reached the rim, and our bodies were cold from such high altitudes. We had no coats. But luckily, my Uncle Clifford had brought a bottle of rum to sip, which warmed us up in no time. Warming up with a few sips of rum made the experience more exciting for my teenage mind.

After spending some time at the top, we started to head back down. We were again hot and exhausted when we reached the bottom, but it was a hike to remember.

Hiking around the woods and forests of New Jersey is one of my favourite activities. My love of hiking may have come from these experiences with Uncle Clifford. I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to do it in such a beautiful place with my family. It was an incredible experience. The views from the top were breathtaking, and I'll never forget how excited I was to stand at the edge of an active volcano, and I'll never forget warming my cold body with rum at the end of the day!

Drinking rum at the rim of the volcano
Iain, Giselle, Alana and Bruce (back) ·

If you ever have a chance to visit St. Vincent, I highly recommend climbing the volcano! Just wear good shoes and bring plenty of water - you'll need it for the hike!

I am unsure, but my Uncle Clifford captured these photographs. He was an avid photographer and videographer, perhaps due to his work surveying lands for the St. Vincent government. The back of the prints says Printed on Kodak Paper, and I can only assume that the film stock was also from Kodak.

St. Vincent Botanical Gardens

Preschool photographs of me and my brother.

When I was a boy, we lived in a home on the side of the hill in the New Montrose section of Kingstown. The home was a rental house across the street from the St. Vincent Botanical Gardens. Mom often took us to the garden to run around and play with our dog, who she thought was named Snowy. I vaguely remember running around, stopping to play with the small tropical fish that swam among the lily pads.

Mom remembers that I would have been about four years old. My younger brother Shane would have been one year old. The youngest, Bruce, would be born later in Barbados.

Mom, Shane, and Me · circa 1971

Cooper, Helena, Khürt, and Shane

My mom is staying with me this month and brought some family photo albums. I’m busy scanning as much as possible and getting the story behind each photograph.

Mom is staying with me for a few weeks. I have not seen Mom since February 2020. She’s been on the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and The Grenadines since the start of the global pandemic.

She was not doing well with the state and federally-mandated lockdown conditions. In May 2020, my brother and I worked out a plan to get Mom out of the USA to St. Vincent. She travelled from Charlotte, North Carolina, through Miami, Florida, then Barbados, before arriving in St. Vincent 24 hours later. Fortunately, the island chain has had very few outbreaks of COVID-191. She had a minor scare in December 2020 when the La Soufrière volcano erupted effusively, followed by an explosive eruption on April 22, 2021, which blanketed the island for several weeks in a rain of volcanic ash.

I’m happy to see Mom after two years, but she is only back in the USA to see her doctor in New York City about some recent health challenges. She needs a surgical procedure to biopsy a mass in her oesophagus. She sounds scared, and I’m trying to calm my 79-year-old mother. The east coast has some of the best medical professionals and facilities in the USA.

She brought a few of the family photo albums, as I asked for. I am slowly scanning in the prints relying on Mom’s memory of each photograph. Some of the pictures are almost 50 years old and in poor condition. I want to find some restoration software to help bring out the best from each scan.

It took me a few days to develop a repeatable scan workflow for photographic prints. The collection of photographs varied in print size and was most likely captured on various photographic film stock and from different cameras over time; some photos are in colour with the faded word Kodak Paper or Kodachrome on the back. A few photographs have dates on the edges of the print, but most do not.

Mom thinks the scan included in this post was taken circa 1969, shortly after she and Dad moved us into a rented house in the New Montrose section of Kingstown. In this photograph, most likely captured by a family member or close friend, Dad is holding me on his knee, and Mom is holding up my brother Shane. I would have been about three; my brother Shane was about six months old. Mom thinks the family car at the time was a Morris sedan. Given the time, this was a Morris 1100 or 1300.

The house in New Montrose is located across the street from the entrance to St Vincent and the Grenadines Botanic Gardens, the oldest botanic garden in the Western Hemisphere.

  1. The numbers are rising now that the ports are reopened to international travellers.