Saba: Day 2: Hiking

Saturday morning, RSC and I woke up to find a perfectly normal day on Saba - sea breeze shooting through the roofed dining area, clouds socking in the peak of Mt. Scenery.

Breakfast on Saba (at least at www.ElMomo.com) is part a product of the local vegetation and part rooted in the European colonization. First, a plate of fruit - guava, mango, banana, etc., all off the local trees. Next, your choice of locally cultured yogurt and granola, eggs, or ham and cheese. Guess which we got? Some people lament the lack of diversity. I could eat this breakfast for the rest of my life. Each day, the yogurt changes in consistency, taste, and mouth-feel. The granola is crunchy. And for a change, just add local honey and papaya or banana jam.

When we checked into the Dive shop late afternoon on Friday, they handed us a piece of paper about Mt. Scenery. It's tall, it's majestic, and if you climb it after diving it might kill you. Clearly, our plans were set for the pre-dive day. We poured a big bottle of water into our hydration pack, grabbed a few granola bars and set off.

[NOTE: For those interested in understanding the dive science that makes the ascent dangerous, this caveat is for you. Diving does two things to the body - the compressed air introduces large amounts of nitrogen that is absorbed in body tissues, and diving puts a strain on the body's systems. Divers move calmly through the water both to conserve air and to avoid disturbing all the little wildlife, but even a gentle kicking after three dives between 60 and 110 feet will leave most anyone exhausted. Climbing a mountain stresses the cardiac system and requires the body to extract nutrients from its tissues. The combination could cause nitrogen to come out of solution faster than it otherwise would. Further, moving too quickly from the much higher pressure of diving to the much lower pressure at 2400 feet would also permit nitrogen stored in tissue to expand before the body can expel it as you breath out. In both instances, the milder risk would "the bends," where the nitrogen bubbles expand in the joints. The major risk would be that the bubbles travel into the blood and eventually through the heart, causing arrest. There is lot more to this, but that's the gist.]

The base of the climb to the top of Mt. Scenery is a sign and some steps. A sign tells a little of the history and explains that these steps have 1064 cousins all the way to the top. The path is windy at the bottom without yet resorting to switchbacks. It meanders past the quaint "House on the Path" guesthouse, and the EcoLodge.

Several hundred feet up, the surroundings change to a rainforest. The plants by the side of the path sport leaves the size of my chest. Higher up, there are vines hanging from ancient Mahogany trees. These old giants look like a camouflaging crab, covered on every inch in moss and flotsam to avoid being seen.

By the 1800 foot mark, I had zipped off the bottoms of my pants and stuffed them in the backpack. I had put on a bandanna and soaked through it. The steps were a foot high, sloped down the mountain, and the tops were long enough to require two strides each, so you kept using one foot to advance and the other to climb - switching legs every so often. Maybe the climb could kill me even if I wasn't diving.

It was about this time we happened upon a family of chickens. A mother was leading three chicks from one thicket, across the path, to the other. In the bushes, the 'cheep!cheep!s' grew and multiplied. There had to be more little ones scampering under the dense canopy of torso-leaves, but we couldn't see anyone.

Next there was a snake. They aren't poisonous and there are a lot of them. I don't like snakes, but when you tell me I'll see one so matter of factly, it appears to go a long way towards calming me down.

A few hikers came down at us looking none too shabby. We passed a few on the way up.

Then we got to the 'scenic view' sign. It pointed left. It looked muddy. We'd been told that the "top" - where someone or a horde of semi-indentured someones who must have been bordering on crazy decided to build a radio tower out of concrete and steel - wasn't really the "top." You had to take a short path off the main path to get to the true summit. We weren't sure this was it, but a scenic view would have been nice.

By this point, rain forest had turned into cloud forest - a rain forest so regularly covered in moisture that everything was totally saturated. This included the ground. Someone before us had dropped fresh leaves to cover the Double Dare worthy slop on the ground. Twenty minutes into the muck, we'd fallen five times, slipped innumerable times, and gone from avoiding the mud to seeking out the really deep puddles where at least the muddy waters would flush out our Keen sandals. It was enough to douse me to the knees; enough that I had to hang off the end of the boat with my Keens the next day for 10 minutes, rubbing, scraping, and dunking, rubbing, scraping, and dunking. They told us we'd get a little muddy. They'd also told us the mountain was a little steep.

20 minutes after the detour we squished past the radio tower and hooked with the trail to the left for 100 feet to the end of the trail. The end was where the dirt dropped 30 feet into the forest canopy below. There was no panorama. The cloud, with visible wisps, blew by and offered a uniform gray backdrop. The cool breeze, water, and granola bars tasted fresh and uninhibited. Something about summits feels a little like heaven.

The way down took just as long as the way up. The steps now sloped away and our shoes bore the moisture of the cloud forest, so we took it slowly. We still fell a few times each. When we got back, we learned that the conventional wisdom is two falls per local per climb. As newbies, we had gotten close.

Three hours later, we were munching on fresh island banana cake after a scrubbing. One can't properly call it a shower when one is doubled over the whole time sanding one's legs and feet back down to the skin. Still, it felt good.

[Tomorrow, the diving!]

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