Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   May 2010

Scary But Worth It: The Pinnacle, Union Island

Union Island offers some challenging climbs for us sea-level people; I described hiking to Big Hill and Mount Taboi in the February issue of Compass. But for a short, exciting and rewarding hike you cannot beat climbing the island's Pinnacle. It is the steepest mountain in the Grenadines, its dramatic outline making a conspicuous landmark as you sail in. It takes about three hours dock to dock. Most of it is an easy regular walk, but the final climb, when you get to the Pinnacle, is tough. It involves non-technical rock scrambling, avoiding prickly plants and negotiating very steep, slippery terrain. For much of the time you are on, or close to, steep or precipitous slopes, so real care must be taken. You will spend time on your knees and your backside as you clamber your way up and down. At the very top you sit on a rock with a 360-degree, straight-down view.
I recommend wearing long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt against prickers, plus sturdy shoes with a good grip, and carrying a small cutlass (available in the local hardware store for about EC$20). You can, of course, tackle it without a cutlass, wearing a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. I did so in my youth, but that was nuts. If at any time you feel this climb is too much for you, turn back. Afternoon is the best light for photography.

The closest dock is the one by the West Indies Restaurant. Walk to the main road and turn left. At the top of the hill there are two roads that branch off to the right, one a little further up than the other. You can take either (go by one, come back by the other). They join up again on the other side of the hill, where you will find yourself overlooking a small hill on which is perched a couple of big radio antennas. A road with some houses leads up to the antennas. Walk up this road and when you get to the antenna compound turn right onto the grass. At the moment a fairly well established path that leads you down close to the Pinnacle.

As you go, take a good look at the Pinnacle. At its northern end is a rock formation that looks a bit like a giant iguana climbing up onto the final slope. This rock comes much of the way down the Pinnacle, and the path, such as it is, closely follows the southern (left hand) edge of this rock.
As you approach the Pinnacle, you might see a small watering hole, often dry. A path leads to the left of this, through the bush to the base of the Pinnacle. If you don't find it, find the best way you can to the foot of the mountain. You want to end up right under that iguana rock. The first part is prickly and grassy; there is no proper path but there are probably several ways you could get through. We found our way going slightly to the north then coming back under the rock. The path becomes more apparent when you reach the foot of the rock and, from here, it harder to lose your way. The path is very small, tough in places, and a real scramble. Someone helpfully tied some heavy webbing to help in one of the worst rock climbs. Test it before you rely on it; it is fine as of this writing but who knows how it will be later.

The cutlass is not for heavy work, but the route is seldom used and you may need to prune a few century plant spikes that have grown into the path. Watch out also for "brazil" (a bush or small tree with a small holly-like leaf), which is to be avoided; contact with the leaves or sap can cause severe itching and blisters.
You emerge on the bottom end of the ridge, under the southern end of the iguana rock. From here the path is straight up the ridge, often only a few feet wide, sometimes with big rocks to be navigated, and always a precipitous drop on both sides. I have had people with a fear of heights balk at this point; take it easy!
The cutlass will prove helpful again along the ridge for minor pruning of prickly things that have grown over the way; prickly pear cactus in particular, also a few devil nettles (like brazil, to be avoided) have taken root.

When you get near the top you scale the final summit by scrambling over some rocks.  The summit itself is a big rock on which you can sit and gaze straight down in every direction. Union Island is laid out before you and beyond Union, all the Grenadines and on a clear day St. Vincent and Grenada. You look back at the way you have come and wonder how you managed to make it up the steep slope, and whether you will ever see home again. Fear not, it actually seems a little easier going back down.

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