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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