Mauritius: Climbing Le Morne Brabant Mountain Independently.
Brian and I climbed Le Morne Brabant Mountain independently in spite of people telling us that we needed a guide to get to the summit. We took our chances and soon realised that no guide was necessary. We were so glad to have kept up our determination to get to the summit on our own in particular because when we arrived at the summit we lucked out and had it to ourselves…although only for a short time. The views were breathtaking and worth every minute of the very steep climb.
The more I researched about the history of Le Morne Brabant Mountain, the more I felt compelled to climb it following in the footsteps of the desperate runaway slaves who made the caves and rocky trails of this awesome Mountain their home. We had been in Mauritius for over a week exploring its many attractions, driving around in our little rental car and all the time keeping an eye on the weather forecast to ensure a dry and sunny day for our Mountain climb.
The Le Morne Brabant Mountain is a basaltic monolith rising up over a peninsula at the Southwestern tip of the Island of Mauritius. The Mountain is 556 metres (1,824 ft) above sea level. It is surrounded by a lagoon of turquoise blue water and a surreal underwater waterfall that can be seen from the sky…..it is in fact, an optical illusion caused by the runoff of sand and silt that gives the impression of an underwater vortex just off the coast of Le Morne. The rugged Mountain has many caves, overhangs and almost inaccessible cliffs, which were used as shelter by the runaway slaves, also called “maroons”, they formed small settlements here to live free from captivity. Le Morne Brabant Mountain was given protected status by UNESCO in 2008. The Mountain has become a symbol of the slaves’ fight for freedom, their suffering and their sacrifice.
From our hotel in Flic En Flac, on the South West side of the Island we headed towards Le Morne village it was about a 30-minute drive on the main road. From the main road, we found a brown sign indicating a right turn and leading up to an unmade road/dirt track that took us to the base of the mountain where we reached a car park and a small visitors centre, where a friendly guard asked us to sign a log book. There is plenty of parking here and there are also small but clean toilet facilities.
There is a plaque with a “Brief History” …see below…explaining why this mountain is so special and how it has played an important part in the History of this Island.
There is also a map of the trail with an ominous warning “proceed at your own risk”, the round trail is about 4 hours there and back.
The climb is a tale of two halves, the first part being the easier hike up via a very good, well-trodden, wide and shaded path. We stopped frequently to catch our breath, take in the views and photograph the beautiful scenery surrounding us.
We followed the trail upwards and within about one hour we arrived at a plateau, the South View Point. The views here are gorgeous with even more stunning views over the lagoon and mountain range in the far distance. Most people return back down the Mountain from here, there are signs at this point warning hikers against proceeding further up the mountain….clearly stating that if you proceed it will be at your own risk. In fact on the way up, just before we got to the first viewpoint a man approached us, possibly one of the guides who take tourists on guided tours. He warned us that we could face a fine and prosecution if we continued the climb behind the “green gate”. But we did not believe him and we just ignored his advice, to have a guide is not obligatory and he was lying about the fine.
The second part gives access to the upper trail of the mountain from the plateau to the summit or rather the highest accessible point where a metal cross has been erected to mark it. It is a riskier trek, climbers are encouraged to get a registered guide for this part, although a guide is not obligatory. This part of the trail used to be closed to the public, hence the “green gate”. When we reached the green gate we found a guard sitting there by the side of the gate. He was not a very talkative fella, he mumbled few words in French and handed us a writing board with a piece of paper. The piece of paper was a “Risk Liability Form”, so basically signing it means that if you wish to climb to the summit you do so at your own risk.
This second part is a much harder climb… scrambling on hands and knees are needed in places. Besides the more physical demands, there are parts that would not be advisable for people who suffer from vertigo or are particularly scared of heights, since it is right by the side of a very exposed side of the mountain and a sheer drop. The path upwards is not hard to find, it is in fact quite an obvious and well-worn path, although you do need to take your time over the rocky trail and choose carefully where to stand and where to hold on to the vegetation or the firmer rock edges. There used to be some ropes that could have been used to help with climbing these steeper parts of the trail, although I am not sure I would have trusted these old ropes, in any case, the ropes were no longer there only the hoops that were used to feed them through. I did wonder if the guides would bring new ropes with them every time they climb with a tour group and retrieve them afterwards, therefore, making it harder for people who like us have chosen to do this climb without a guide….rather annoying if that is the case.
We stopped for a drink and a snack just before reaching the summit, there was hardly anyone climbing the mountain during our attempt, we saw some people coming up in the far distance. But we managed to reach the summit before them and had few minutes to enjoy it on our own. Although the true summit is further up, this point with the metal cross is the furthest you can go without proper climbing equipment. A metal cross marks the summit, after the obligatory photos, we shared a drink and some well-deserved chocolate. We noticed dark clouds fast approaching and worried that our climbing down was going to get very wet and become rather treacherous therefore we hurried to start the descent.
Unfortunately, we were not fast enough to avoid the heavy downpour and the path soon become very muddy, slippery and terrifyingly dangerous. Each step had to be carefully orchestrated and most of the time we had to slide down onto our bottoms. Not a very elegant descent. On the way down we caught up with two young American girls who were just as terrified as we were. Chatting and helping each other out kept us going. They told us that they were currently living in Botswana, Africa doing charity work there with the Peace Corps. It was fascinating to hear about their charity work whilst trying very hard not to break our necks or get washed away by the waterfall of torrential rain falling down our mountain path.
Finally, we arrived at the first viewpoint (South ViewPoint), there was no guard at the “green gate” since he was sheltering from the rain in the small wooden shelter on the plateau. We were so happy to get down in one piece. The two American girls got reunited with their other two friends…who did not climb to the summit and the four of them set off down the path in the direction of the visitor centre. We also slowly made our way back down, it took us another hour to get down and therefore getting totally drenched in spite of our raincoats. Interestingly we did not feel cold at all…warm rain is quite a novelty for us.
We felt so relieved to get down to the car park and finally get into our little car eager to get home, have a warm shower, something to eat and a rest. As we drove along the dirt track, full of potholes that were now fast feeling up with the rainwater, we spotted a group of 4 girls sharing one umbrella and getting totally soaked. Feeling sorry for them we offered them a lift and they gratefully piled onto the back seat, giggling and apologising for getting everything so wet. We immediately recognized the two American girls we had befriended on the way down the Mountain. It turned out that they were also staying in Flic En Flac and so we broke the law and risked a fine for having 4 people in our backseat (two without seatbelts) to ensure this foursome group of lovely girls got home sooner rather than later…..it would have taken them many hours to get home by bus.
Within half an hour we delivered them safely to their place in Flic En Flac beach and from there we made our way to our hotel just a few minutes down the road. It was a great finale to our climbing adventure.
Tips for climbing Le Morne Brabant Mountain:
- Difficulty level: first part easy, second part medium to hard (some scrambling is needed in places)
- Distance: about 6km (about 4 miles) round trip
- Duration: about 3 to 4 hours depending on fitness level and desire to stop for photos…there are many beautiful views to photograph (we also stopped for a bite to eat)
- Highest accessible point/ Metal Cross: 490m (1,607ft).
I would recommend climbing with a partner, starting early since it can get hot at the top as it is very exposed with not much shade, ensure a dry day…although weather can be unpredictable as we found out to our peril. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear ( please NOT flipflops…incredibly we did see a guy climbing up on flipflops…crazy man), plenty of sunscreen protection, hat, plenty of water and snacks. You don’t need a guide to do this climb, but it might be reassuring to have one. Good luck and stay safe.
If renting a car, we are happy to recommend “Pingouin Car Rentals”, a local company who we hired our car from; we found them to be great, friendly and well organized. Another option is to go for an organized/guided tour. Most hotels are able to organize that or you can also book a taxi and a private guide. Another alternative is to travel there by bus, although the bus will leave you at the nearest bus stop on the main road and it will take you about 20 minutes to 30 minutes to walk from there over an unmade road to the visitor centre. The American girls who we met during our climb were staying in Flic En Flac and they told us the bus system around Mauritius was very good a very cheap. They used the bus service to reach Le Morne Brabant Mountain.
Mauritius was my last ever paid holiday since I am now officially retired….more on that soon.