Valley of Desolation &
"Is it getting hellish yet?" the guide asked.
We're fogged in but I'm told that on a clear day there's a panoramic view of Morne Macaque to the north and the sharp cone of Morne Watt to the south. Looking west is Roseau, Laudat and Morne Prosper.
The next part of the path was designed by someone with a sick sense of humor. A long series of steps lead down from the summit, but they are placed so far apart it is impossible to simply walk down them. Only a person 8 or 9 feet tall could make it from step to step. These are also slick from the constant wet wind; we do a lot of sliding here.
Steps are harder to walk than a natural slope, but they were placed to keep the trail from washing away, not to aid hikers. That's why they're set so far apart. We pass a shelter near the summit. Five minutes beyond the shelter, it starts raining.
Now comes the hard part: a slow, very tricky descent into the Valley of Desolation on a slippery mountain-goat trail of rock and mud. It's very easy to mis-step here.
Chivalry emerges for the first time as the men help the women (their shorter legs are the problem) reach some of the small stepping stones that jut out just a few inches out of the mountain. In some places it's easier to slide down on your butt or turn and step down, like descending a ladder.
This is perhaps a half-hour of tedious work. Descending, we get our first evidence of volcanic activity. We can see steam rising around a bend in a distant valley: at last, the Valley of Desolation.
Or Valley of Desperation, depending on how you feel.
But first we have to work our way down a small water flow, too small to be called a stream or creek. The rocks are rusty red and the water is cold. We inch our way down a steep mini-waterfall next to a rock wall. At least it's a chance to wash off some of the mud.
Up until this point, we have followed an obvious path. Now, entering the Valley of Desolation, the path disappears. The valley floor is bare of vegetation but craggy and uneven. Coated in sulfur, the earth is colored red, silver and black.
Some rocks are also covered with yellow sulfur crystal. Brightly colored hot springs are scattered over the valley floor, their blue, white, black and orange colors the results of minerals deposited by the water.
The Valley of Desolation, located on the flanks of Morne Watt, stretches about a quarter-mile across: at the edge we can see several big steam vents, hear water bubbling and spot a few mud pots here and there. A small stream contains water that is oil-black in color, spilling over the rocks to create a white foaming bottom, an incredible contrast. The water here is quite warm.