Blue Mountain Tip Sheet

 

by J.J.Doherty (Peace Corps): updated 17/07/08

 

 

Overview

 

Blue Mountain Peak is probably the most well known hike to those coming from outside the region.  Featured in international publications such as The Rough Guide to Jamaica and Lonely Planet Jamaica as well as the television series Globe Trekker, the hike to Blue Mountain Peak is challenging and rewarding.  The highest peak in the English speaking Caribbean, Blue Mountain Peak tops 7,400 feet and mornings can be chilly even in the summertime.  Guides can be hired at the Discovery Center (proposed) in Mavis Bank Square.

 

The walking trail begins in the Mt. Charles area of Mavis Bank.  Just to the right of the Jehovah Witness Church, take the “Shortcut” down to “Back Scheme” housing development area.  A public restroom (proposed) at the local football field also features showers, the water is freezing, but refreshing after the return hike down.  A left turn out of the football field takes you to the first of two river crossings.  Depending on the recent rainfall, this crossing can be quite treacherous—one reason why a guide is recommended.  The Yallah’s River Crossing marks your passage into the Parish of St. Thomas and is immediately followed by the Green River.  The Farm Hill Trail switches back often as it winds through coffee farms on its way to Penlyne Castle.  Several guest houses exist in these last small communities before you enter the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.

 

The Peak trail makes its way east to Blue Mountain Peak.  The first section, known as Jacob’s ladder is particularly steep, but you can take a breather at Portland Gap when you stop to pay your J$100  park usage fee to the Park Ranger.  Portland Gap Ranger Station has pit latrines, piped water, showers and bunk bed rental in spacious cabins.  Many hikers begin from the guesthouses in Penlyne Castle or from Portland Gap by 1 or 2 am in order to see sunrise over the peak.  When the morning mists burn off, you may catch a glimpse of Cuba.  There are many rare plants along this trail; information is available at the Mavis Bank Discovery Center. (Proposed)

           

 

Walking Directions

 

The Farm Hill Trail, or “lower trail” is due for renovations.  JCDT in conjunction with Heritage Design, will be evaluating and refurbishing the trail in March of 2008 with plans for permanent maintenance. 

 

 

Farm Hill Trail as per Brian

 

“From my ganja strained memory, the Farm Hill Trail section starts from

The Jehovah Witness Church, take the bus up from Papine, get off at the

Church (everybody on the bus will know where the trail starts so just

ask), go down the hill toward the football field, then head toward the

rivers, if you’re really smart you can only cross the river once where

they meet, look for a sandy beach/wash like area, the trail is hard to

find from the river so look good.  Start up a well defined trail, stay to

the right and keep an eye out for the trail to goes to the left, the

trail is well defined but not marked, you will pass two springs, I've

drank from both of them but its not recommended, the local Rasta told me

that if you get confused as to which trail to take, stay on the one in

the Mickle.

 

The trail will end in a little community, stay on the main road, and

keep walking till you get to where your sleeping, if you get lost, stop

in the rum bar for a drink and ask.”

 

 

Brian’s directions are actually very good.  When crossing the rivers, a long legged person can often jump stones across, I like to carry a pair of lightweight flip flops and not risk slipping in (no one likes an 8 hour hike in wet shoes and socks) After crossing the rivers take the well defined path forward/uphill.  You will cross over a farm road.  Do not turn onto the road.  Keep going forward along the trail for approximately 25 yards, here the trail does turn left (a slightly wider trail goes forward/right, but soon dead ends in a coffee farm) You will know you are on the correct path by the irrigation pipe running along the left hand side.

 

Closer to the top (of the lower trail) there are several short cuts.  All the trails lead basically to the same place.  [There are also short drainage/landslide paths—do not take these and do not take shortcuts on the upper trail (there are none—only breakaways)] You may end up on Mr. Walther's farm (watch out for his dogs) but he’ll point you back the right way.

 

When you hit the road, follow the ridgeline, continuing uphill.  Several roads will spur down and to the right, but you should keep going up.   A brief dip in the road (about 25 yards after Rasta Man’s Shop), and you will come to a crossroads.  This is where the driving road meets the walking path.  Turn left, continuing along the ridgeline.    At this crossroads, named Farm Hill Gap there is a sign indicating the turn to Penlyne Castle (where you have come from) and the turn to Whitfield Hall (where you are going—you pass Whitfield Hall on the way to the peak trail) There is also a bus stop and a Coffee Depot.  Just after the turn you will see a large blue Blue and John Crow Mountains sign on your right. All the hotels are along this road. Jah B’s will be the first one on your left.  Shortly after is the Wildflower Lodge on the right side of the road.  The Wildflower has a huge balcony/veranda on the back with stunning vistas. Continue along the road to get to Whitfield Hall about 1 mile down the road on the left.  The trailhead is another ˝ mile past Whitfield Hall. (So if you’re leaving the Whitfield to start your hike, go out the gate & TURN LEFT)  Another blue Blue and John Crow Mountains sign marks the trailhead.  The trailhead is also adjacent to the gate for Abbey Green Coffee Plantation.  You will see their gate before seeing the trail sign.  There is also a small guardhouse.  This is the Abbey Green Security Guard and NOT ASSOCIATED WITH THE PARK.

 

Turn left/switchback up the trail and the rest is fairly clear.  The first section is called Jacobs Ladder (there is a sign at the top) and is very wide. You may see a vehicle at the top of Jacobs Ladder; this parking is ONLY FOR PARK RANGERS.  The trail narrows considerably and levels out somewhat, following an exposed ridgeline before going back under the trees for the rest of the walk to Portland Gap.

 

Portland Gap is your last stop for water and pit latrines (there is a pit latrine at the peak, but is was damaged in Hurricane Dean and not yet repaired.  It is usable, but there is no door).  Portland Gap is where you pay the ranger your J$100 park usage fee.  It is also a great place to stay, but recommended for experienced hikers (persons who have hiked/camped/slept outside before), persons taking their second trip to the peak, or persons with a guide.  There are several very large cabins here, but a bit back from the main trail. Make the effort to go take a look on your way down from the peak and consider the option of overnighting there on your next trip. There was a tuck shop here at one time, but not currently, so if you are staying overnight or longer, be sure to pack in enough food.

 

Portland Gap to the Peak is very clear trail.  It is single track in most places and can be very slippery if at all wet.  There is a 2.5 mile sign, it’s fallen a bit off the trail, which also gives information about tree moss. Much more prominent is a sign at 1.5 miles, explaining wild pine, but the peak seems a lot further.  There is also a sign at 500 meters that seems more accurate.  At the Peak area, you will come to an open area and see the old cabin straight ahead.  It is in terrible disrepair and offers no protection from the elements.  A short path to the right leads to the “Trigonometry Station,” or large pipe pyramid that marks exact highest point (see any photo from the peak) This lookout features Navy Island and Port Antonio.  Wander around and various high points will allow you to see most of the island on a clear day.

 

Driving Directions

 

If you are driving to Penlyne you need a 4 Wheel Drive Vehicle with a fair amount of clearance.  Take Gordon Town Road out from Papine and turn right at the Police Station in Gordon Town.  This takes you over a one lane bridge (approach cautiously, you may have to reverse) and a shallow fording.  The road to Mavis Bank is very good, although windy.  Use your horn often.  Near to Mavis Bank, there are several yellow & black signs indicating you are on the correct road.  At  Mt. Charles you go over a small one lane bridge and bear left towards Mahogany Vale and Hagley Gap, St. Thomas.  Past Mt. Charles the road deteriorates and there is a fording at the St. Thomas border.  The road then bears right and starts a gradual rise on shaley/gravely material, but surprisingly well graded.  The section from Hagely’s Gap to Minto (turn left continuing uphill—there is a sign) was recently paved (a JSIF farmers-to-market project), but very steep and narrow.  Continue using your horn liberally and note wide areas of the road when passing, you may have to reverse into a spot as there is a surprising amount of traffic on this road.  Minto to Farm Hill Gap is perhaps the most treacherous, although not as steep as the section from Hagley Gap to Minto.  Eventually you will come to a crossroads—to the left is the community of Penlyne Castle and the walking trail down to Mt. Charles. To the right are Jah B’s (on left), Wildflower Lodge (it will be on your right), Whitfield Hall (on left), Abbey Green, and the trailhead for Blue Mountain Peak.  If you are coming from Kingston for the day, you need to start out EARLY, leaving Papine by 5am.  There is no designated parking, so recommend making arrangements with one of the hotels to leave your car, and possibly for a hot lunch upon your return.

 

Also, heed Brian’s tip to support the local economy—don’t count on being able to buy supplies in Penlyne, but if you pass a shop, get a phone card, bun & cheese, Pepsi, something.  They see tourists pass through all the time, but apart from the hotels, rarely get any benefit.

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Do I Need a Guide?

 

Use your best judgment. You know your hiking style.  Hikers from Mavis Bank should hire a guide.  The trail is not marked and someone new to the trail would find difficulty even locating the trailhead.  Plans are in place to improve signage along the trail, however, at the date of publishing there are places that a new hiker on the trail might be led astray.  A guide can inform you about local plant and animal life as well as helping you keep your pace, especially if you are hiking in the early morning pushing to get to the peak by sunrise.  Guides can be hired in Mavis Bank but not all are totally reliable, a situation to be remedied by the proposed Mavis Bank Discovery Center).  Or you can hire a guide through the guesthouses in Penlyne Castle/Abbey Green.  The upper trail (Penlyne to the Peak) is much easier to follow, but a guide will help you keep your pace, especially if you are hiking in the night.

 

(I took a guide my first  (2 am) and enjoyed the experience.)

 

Guide Everton Willis (386-6450) at Blue Mountain Peak (Sept. 06)

 

 

What Do I Wear?

 

The trail is all hiking, no climbing.  Again, you know your hiking style, if you have had ankle injuries or knee trouble. A light hiking boot is recommended, but sneakers will work.  It is very dewy out in the early morning all year long, so a shoe that is somewhat water resistant is preferable.  Cotton socks can get damp and cotton gets cold and clammy when wet, but a light wool sock will naturally pull moisture away from your foot and resist cold.  Varying layers of clothing are good, especially if you are acclimatized to Jamaica.  The winds can be high at the peak, and though you may be warm from walking, your body temperature will quickly drop when taking in the vistas at the peak.  Rains can come even after hurricane season, so consider a light rain jacket as your outer layer, and possibly a hat—70% of your body heat is lost through your head; a hat is a lightweight way to stay warm.  Long Sleeves a must if going out at 2am.

 

 

When Should I Go?

 

Be aware of Hurricane Season and Rainy Season.  Easter is a popular time for church groups, so a solitary hiker might want to avoid that time.  JCDT is planning several Charity Walk/Runs to the peak March 29, June 28, Oct. 11, and December 13 2008.  These times would be great for the competitive minded.

 

There is also the question of time of day.  Roundtrip for the upper trail is about 8-10 hours; so don’t head out too late.  It is recommended that you spend the night in the area the night before, as travel to the region can be time consuming.  For sunrise, start out between 1:30 and 2 am from Penlyne Castle.  2:30-3am from Portland Gap (check sunrise times versus time of year). A sunrise hike will be cool in the night and offer different vistas for the return hike - the view of Kingston at night is stunning. But a nighttime hike is tiring and you will need flashlights, or preferably headlamps and spare batteries. During the daytime, the trail is also much clearer and you are less likely to make a wrong turn when traveling without a guide. 

 

The area is lovely, so consider staying over the night after as well.

 

 

What do I Bring?

 

As always when hiking, carry as little as possible, but with safety in mind.  I always carry 2 litres of water and refill at Portland Gap.  Any hike will require snacks, high protein items like peanuts and fast burning sugars like dried fruit or chocolate.  Items with salt will help you retain water, but a little goes a long way—salt is a dehydrator and you will also need plenty of water.  Bananas are full of potassium and excellent in moderating muscle cramping.  (You also might want to consider a mild pain killer for after the hike if you are unaccustomed to prolonged exertion.)  There is a standpipe at Portland Gap, so refill your water bottles there—there is no water at the Peak itself.  A light rain jacket or umbrella, hat, & sunscreen. There are pit latrines at Portland Gap and at the peak, but you should have your own toilet paper.  Every member of your group will also need to carry cash—there is a J$100 park usage fee collected at Portland Gap.  You may not see the ranger if you hike up in the early morning, but he will certainly charge you on the way down.

 

If you are planning to hike in the night for “Sunrise at the Peak” EVERY PERSON IN YOUR GROUP NEEDS THEIR OWN FLASHLIGHT. (and spare batteries) Group members will also likely complain of cold very quickly as you will be sweaty from the hike, but then stopped at the peak when it is not yet warm (like later in the day) and often quite windy.  A wool hat is recommended.  You spent enough time getting to the peak, you’ll want to stay a few minutes and enjoy it.

 

 

Where do I Stay?

 

There are several guest houses around the trailhead.  Whitfield Hall, The Wildflower, and Jah-B’s are all lovely.  The Whitfield has several bunkbed rooms as well as private rooms, The Wildflower I believe has some private suites, but I have not been there myself.  Jah-B’s has the best hammocks and is the favorite among international hostellers.  He is building a second, slab hostel with private baths, to be completed by 2009.  Be sure to ask the room rate in advance (and if there is a Peace Corps discount) and get the name of the person who gave you the quote.  Also ask about meals—I have used the kitchen at the Whitfield, but we brought all our own provisions.  I have also had prepared meals at both the Whitfield (Miss Lynnette’s cooking) and at the Wildflower (Miss Rose’s cooking).  Both meals were delicious and “family style” for the group, but you do need to request meals several days in advance (preferable when you call to book the rooms) Portions were generous.  You can alternately start out in the afternoon and hike to Portland Gap.  A stay there is J$300 per night, but remember to “pack in” enough food and a way to cook it (if desired, there are designated fire pits) and sleeping bags.  Check the JCDT website for more details and possible rate changes.

 

 

How do I Get There?

 

Most of the Hostels will have a driver you can charter from Papine or Mavis Bank.  (around J$7000 round trip—sound expensive? Not really when you KNOW they will be waiting to take you back down—also that covers up to about 8 persons in a landrover, 15 in Roger’s Bus) If you are beginning the trail in Mavis Bank there are fairly regular route taxi’s (minibuses) from Papine except on Sunday.  You can theoretically get a taxi on Sunday, but the wait could be 2 hours or more.  As of this date the fare was J$100 Mon-Sat. J$150 on Sunday both on minibuses.  There are a couple of taxis, their fare is always J$150.  If it’s a bald guy driving a silver station wagon his name is Chicken and he’s super nice.

 

There is one Penlyne Castle route bus J$300 each way (Roger) - you may be able to catch it in Papine, but there is no way to know ahead of time if you will get a seat.  This bus always goes up full.  If you are planning a big group hike call Roger and ask about chartering.

 

 

 

Buying Coffee…and other things

 

Since the middle of 2007, inflation has been debilitating, so ask and ask again about all prices…

 

Coffee is available at all of the hotels.  Price is negotiable, but factory price (JABLUM, Mavis Bank Central Coffee Factory) for a pound of coffee is J$865.  Farmer direct is usually between J$700-1500 per pound.  Roasted and unroasted available throughout coffee season.  Recommend bringing a Ziplock*tm or other resealable bag, as finding a bag to sell you the coffee in is usually the most difficult part.  Jah B recently started selling roasted, vacuumed sealed 1lb bags for J$1500, 1/2lbs for J$750.  This is a little more than the loose beans, but if you are an international traveler, it is legal to take on the plane.  For coffee connoisseurs, Jah B does an EXCELLENT tour of the coffee process from tree to cup.

 

Yes, you can buy weed.  If you smoke weed regularly in Jamaica, you know how much it costs.  If you don’t—DON”T.  Your hiking.  If your visiting from overseas and don’t know the local prices, well, it is illegal, and your getting a service, so pay too much and help out the local economy.

 

 

Time/Distance Chart

 

Papine-Mavis Bank

10 Miles

45 min in route bus

Mavis Bank to Trail Head

2 miles

30 min

Back Scheme-Penlyne Road

6 miles

2.5-3 hours

Start Road to Hotels

2 miles

1 hour

Trail Head to Portland Gap

1 mile

1 hour

Portland Gap to Peak

5 miles

3 hours

J.J.’s house to Blue Mountain Peak

FAR

7 hours, 39 minutes (in the dark)

Record is Carrie & Scott Eklund (group 78) 6hrs, 2min

Listed times are for high fitness hikers

 

 

Websites

 

http://worldstogethertravel.com/jamaica/blue-host.html

Jah B says his is www.farmhillcoffee.com but I can never find it

http://www.neilmar.com/forres/forres_test.php  Forres Park

http://www.bluemountains-jamaica.net/main.html

www.greenjamaica.org.jm    Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust

 

 

Important Numbers

 

Wildflower Lodge

845-7202, 929-5394

    Miss Rose (Wildflower)

845-7202

    Noel Dennis (Guide)

580-4226

Whitfield Hall

926-6612, 927-0986

    Miss Lynnette (Whitfield)

424-3328

    Everton Willis (Guide)*

386-6450

    Hopeton Willis (Guide)

442-6258

    Tiger Willis (Guide)

419-8948

    Locksley Moaatt (Guide)

873-0494

    Wilburt Jackson  (Guide)

371-1603

     Roydell Sutherland         (Driver)

859-1443

Jah B’s

977-8161, 377-5206

     Rasah Smith (Driver)

413-8490

     Alex Smith (Jah B’s)

377-5206

     Ipal Smith (Guide)*

406-3368, 377-5206

Mavis Bank

 

     Roger (Penlyne Bus)

353-9484

    Keneal Stewart (Guide)

466-5723

     Tashein Davis (Guide)*

842-5484, 410-8982

Leron “Stamma D”             Rhooms (Guide)

897-1437

Forestry Department

924-2667, 924-2668

JCDT

457-2900

www.greenjamaica.org.jm

J.J. (Tip Sheet Author)

843-6231

* indicates TEAM Jamaica Tourism Training

 


PHOTO GALLERY


Checklist

 

Transportation

 

 

Lodgings

 

 

Food/Meals

 

 

Snacks

 

 

Flashlights

 

 

Flashlights

 

 

Flashlights

 

 

 

Did you confirm all the prices?

Did you pack an umbrella?

 

Have a great hike!