Hiking Mt. Pelee
Our week-long trip to the French island of Martinique was more than just beaches and baguettes.We took some time to hike around the island’s mountainous landscape, including Mt. Pelee, the third deadliest volcano in recorded history. The 1902 eruption killed over 30,000 people and wiped out the entire city of St. Pierre. The only survivor got thrown in in jail the night before the eruption for either a murder or a bar fight (the details are still fuzzy according to Wikipedia). The windowless, poorly ventilated cell saved his life, and he immediately began a career traveling with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus…You can’t make this stuff up. Whether it was a bar fight or a murder, crime really paid off for this guy. And, to be completely fair, if it really was a murder, the victim would have died the next day anyway in the eruption, so I totally understand how the human resources people at Barnum and Bailey’s let that one slide. Anyway, we digress.
Mt. Pelee is 4,583 feet tall and is located on the north side of the island. It’s usually shrouded in fog, but we got a decent view from just outside St. Pierre.
Everyone says to get to the mountain as early as possible to see the views before the fog rolls in. We arrived at the parking lot around 6 and still didn’t manage to beat the fog so we never actually got any of the supposedly spectacular views looking out across the island. Regardless, the hike was well worth it and the fog actually gave it an eerie feel. We climbed the mountain via the Aileron trail which is the most popular trail leading up the east side of the volcano. You can find information on all trails up Pelee here. The trail is well marked with detailed signs and maps along the way. The first leg of the hike is mostly scrambling up a steep rocky trail before veering to the right along an exposed ridge which takes you up to the rim of the crater.
Even though we missed out on most of the potential views, looking down into the crater which was partially veiled in fog was an impressive sight. After reaching the crater rim, you have the option to descend down into the swampy crater before the final ascent to the volcanic cones. The entire round trip hike takes anywhere from 2-4 hours.
Check out another amazing volcano hike: Cerro Chato