Friday, 30 November 2007

Around the volcano

Unable to climb to the summit of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano as it was closed off after an eruption, we made the most of the surrounding area - there's still plenty to see.

Piton de la Fournaise

On the road leading to the Pas de Bellecombe is a viewpoint called the Nez de Boeuf (literally the Ox's Nose), which has a great view over the Riviere des Remparts valley.

view from the Nez de Boeuf (2136 m)

On a clear day when you look back towards the centre of the island you can see the Piton des Neiges - the island's highest point.

Next stop is the Commerson crater at 2310m, about 235 metres deep and 200 metres in diametre. 

It was formed 2000 years ago during an explosion.

Reunion holds many world records for precipitation, and Commerson crater in particular has seen some very heavy rainfall:

Further on is the Plaine des Sables, a flat plain which the road crosses in a straight line.

The Plaine des Sables is at 2260m

Plaine des Sables

Once we arrived at the Pas de Bellecombe we could only hike down into the Enclos caldera as far as the Chapelle de Rosemont as any further ahead was shut off due to a recent volcanic eruption.

Peak of La Fournaise from Pas de Bellecombe

Chapelle de Rosemont

You'll find my more detailed account of a hike to the summit here.
For other posts about the volcano follow this link.
See here for a post about staying in the gîte in the riverbed of the Riviere des Remparts.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Hiking Piton des Neiges from Cilaos

Although I've lived on Reunion for many years, this was only the second time I'd hiked the Piton Des Neiges.

The first time, in February 1997, four of us had hiked from the carpark of the Gite de Belouve. We walked 8 hours the first day, spent a short, uncomfortable night in a tent at 2470m because the gîte was full, then were up very early to hike 1 1/2 hours to the summit for daybreak before heading back down to the car; the second day we walked for 11 hours, mostly in the pouring rain. Added to that the fact that I found the bare, gravelly summit rather slippery (I have vertigo) and altogether  it was not an experience I was in a hurry to repeat.

looking towards the church of Cilaos 

However the fact my brother was visiting Réunion and wanted to climb the 'Peak of Snows' was an occasion not to be missed, so last weekend we headed to Cilaos, where we spent the night in local accommodation before setting out before 8am the next morning.

Although this is only one of several routes up the Piton des Neiges it is one of the most commonly taken - despite being steep - as it's also the shortest (about a 16 km round trip). One of the other main routes is from the Plaine des Cafres.

Starting at 1370m you gradually leave the town of Cilaos behind as you rapidly gain altitude.

We were lucky to have lovely weather.

Cilaos gradually got further and further away ...

Cilaos to the right, village of Bras Sec to the left

... until after 5 kilometres of hiking we could see the Piton des Neiges gîte (also known as Caverne Dufour gîte). This gîte is one of the island's most basic. It has 48 bunk beds and food is brought up once a week by the gîte's caretaker when he hikes up to change places with his colleague.

gîte Caverne Dufour/Piton des Neiges

At this altitude the clouds had started to roll in and cover the lower-lying parts of landscape around us.

While vegetation is already scarce around the gîte (think gorse bushes), after the gîte it becomes almost non-existent.

After another 90 minutes or so we arrived at the summit (3070m - Réunion's highest point), where we could admire the view, although clouds prevented us from having a 360° bird's eye view.

The Gros Morne (3019m) is next to the Piton des Neiges

The summit path has been improved since my previous hike there in 1997, so altogether I found it a much less vertiginous experience than before. 

All that remained afterwards was to turn round and head back down to Cilaos!
In all, the round trip took us 10 hours - breaks and stops included.

Some links in English about hiking Piton des Neiges:

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Saturday, 17 November 2007

April 2007 volcano eruption lava flows

Here a few photos from the lava flows of the April 2007 volcano eruption which we visited two days ago.

Reunion's volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, is one of the most active in the world (see here for a list of recent eruptions), erupting on average every year.

It's surrounded by the horseshoe-shaped Enclos Fouqué caldera, which is 9km (5.5 miles) wide and 13 km (8 miles) long.

Eruption map - thick red lines (right) indicate lava flows (source)

looking uphill

The eruption lasted for 29 days, starting at 10am at 600 metres altitude on April 2nd and lasting until May 1st.

Luckily for Reunion, la Fournaise's eruptions are of the Hawaiian type, meaning that they are relatively 'calm' (no explosions).

looking across the main road and lava field to the sea

This eruption was unusual in that liquid lava reached the sea only 12 hours after the start of the eruption. This of course cut off the island ring road.

looking towards the south edge of the Enclos (notice the burnt trees)

looking uphill, south edge of the Enclos on the left of the photo 

Vast quantities of lava were emitted, estimated at 120 million m3 for the month the eruption lasted, and lava spouts reached more than 100 metres high.

looking north from the observation platform

It was an unusually powerful eruption, the like of which had probably never been seen since Réunion was inhabited. But given that the Fournaise is 500 000 years old, there have probably been similar eruptions in its past.

In any case six months later, you can still feel the heat emanating from the lava. (Update - still true in September 2012!).

Useful link:
This web page about the eruption is in French, but the photos speak for themselves.

April 2007 eruption, photo by Serge Gelabert

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