Climbing Victoria Peak is an adventure few Belizeans or visitors get to experience. It’s 3,675 feet high but the going is mostly through tropical rainforest. Visitor Greg Harris shares his experience with us.
Victoria Peak. Anyone who has been off the coast of Belize on a clear day has seen it looming in the distance. Big, tall and impressive. Often shrouded in clouds and until recently thought to be the highest mountain in Belize.. It is a total of 28 KM to the summit from the Jaguar Reserve headquarters. So the round trip is approximately 40 miles. I would advise doing the hike over over a minimum of 4 nights and 5 days.
With all our gear in our backpacks we hiked from the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve headquarters for 12 KM to a small camp next to the bank of the Sittee river where we spent the first night. This camp is beautiful. Sitting by the river that evening was a bird watchers paradise. The hike to KM 12 was easy, the trail was recently cleared with very little change in elevation.
The following day Marcos Cucul, Eduardo Pop, Valentino Kzub and I hiked to KM 19. Here the hiking becomes much harder. Even though the distance is only 7 KM the trail is much more arduous than the first day. The trail is in good condition but you start a series of continuous up and down grades of between 20-60 degrees.
There are no switch backs. Just straight up and down. Many times just hanging on to trees or roots to maintain footing. We crossed many small streams that are a fine source of good drinking water. The jungle is incredibly beautiful here. No secondary growth, just mature forest with some massive trees. At KM 19 we spent the night in our hammocks, close to a clear, fast running stream. I love going to sleep with the sounds of the jungle.
The third day is the most difficult. And the most rewarding. From KM 19 to the top of Victoria Peak at KM 28. Here the trail turns into a real challenge. You start the hike with a 40 minute climb up a 45 degree incline. That gets the heart going.
Hanging on to roots to pull yourself up and sliding on your butt sometimes on the way down. But that is just the beginning. It takes about 3-4 hours to reach the true base of Victoria Peak.
During those hours it is rough hiking, especially since your are carrying all your gear on your back.
But the forest is just incredibly beautiful and the wildlife prolific. Eduardo saw a Puma on the trail. All I saw was the tail end disappearing into the jungle. And there where Jaguar markings all over. Picture: Campsite at KM 19.
You start climbing Victoria Peak up a dry creek bed that eventually turns into solid stone. Most of the way to the top is 60 degree or more incline up wet stone. Good foot holds but very slippery. At this point it is a good idea to have some basic climbing gear to help over the “rough spots.” Marcos, my Belizean guide and friend is an accomplished climber. I am not. When the climbing became too difficult or too dangeous in my opinion, he would fix some ropes.
The Final Leg On The Way To The Summit
The “trail” continued straight up then veered left onto a very narrow path (2 feet) with a 700-800 foot fall over the other side. Not good for those prone to vertigo. Soon we reached a vertical rock face that had to be climbed. It’s only 50 feet or so and with good climbing gear not a problem. From this point you climb another series of small steep inclines. And here the forest is almost magical. A very wet tropical forest environment dripping with moisture and moss. Then you reach the summit! The total time it took us from camp KM 19 to the top at KM 28 was approx. 7 hours of hard hiking/climbing.
Most people or groups give up before reaching this point. I believe it is because a lot of guides expect people to climb to the top, stay 15 minutes, then climb back down and make that difficult hike back to KM 19. That’s a 12-14 hour day and most expeditions that have tried find that there is not enough daylight to complete the hike before sunset, so they turn back. We did not have that concern because we camped on the summit. It cleared when we reached the top and the view was inspirational. A thick carpet of unbroken forest and mountain ranges as far as the eye could see. But quickly it changed and the clouds moved in. The winds picked up along wih a strong drizzle. We pitched our hammocks among the stunted growth of foliage and spent an enchanted night listening to the winds roar with a thick mist swirling around us.
The next day, day four. We were completely fogged in. No view, just a strong wind from the east. We climbed back down Victoria Peak. We used the ropes to rapel over the most dangerous areas and we arrived back at camp KM 19 in about 6.5 hours.
There is a wonderful jungle stream close by with a small waterfall that created an exhilarating shower. A great place to wash away the days hike and get refreshed. Our group shared a small pint of Jack Daniels I brought along to celebrate our accomplishment. Marcos told me that less that 200 people have reached the summit of Victoria Peak. And unless you are well prepared I can see why. We were well prepared.
The next morning, day five we hiked from camp KM 19 all the way back to the Belize Cockscomb headquarters. Approx. 12 miles. We saw a “Bush Dog” cross the path in front of us. We walked in the rain. We saw a grey fox and listened to Toucans singing in a tree. We saw a snake whip past. We slipped and fell on the wet trail. We were happy campers.