St. John USVI Trails: Fish Bay GutExcerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track © 2006 Gerald Singer
The terrain of St. John is mostly mountainous. Between the mountains are valleys. When it rains, water seeking its lowest level, flows and seeps down the hillsides of the valleys and makes its way down toward the sea. In the Virgin Islands, these rain-collecting temporary valley streams are called “guts.”
When it rains hard, water rushes down the guts taking with it soil and sediment that have collected during dry periods. The bottoms of the guts are left as bare rocks. Along the edges of the guts, the plant life grows profusely due to the abundance of water available to them. These gut environments are usually tropical and jungle-like.
Some of the most accessible and beautiful guts are in the Fish Bay area. Most often hiked are the Fish Bay and Battery Guts, which come together at an elevation of about 200 feet in the Fish Bay Valley.
These are difficult and challenging hikes and should only be undertaken by those in good physical condition and who possess knowledge of rock scrambling techniques. It is extremely important to exercise the utmost caution. The rocks may be slippery and the ways out of the gut and back to civilization are limited. Do not attempt this (or any) hike alone!
The Fish Bay and Battery Guts, along with the Living Gut in Reef Bay and the Guinea Gut, are the only south side guts that have some degree of permanent water. Pools and waterfalls along the gut provide homes for several species of freshwater fish, crabs and crayfish.
The gut environment is dynamic. It will change considerably depending upon the amount of rainfall and the time of year. The hike along these natural pathways will, therefore, vary in difficulty, and you will have to be creative at times to find the best ways around obstacles such as waterfalls, pools, fallen trees, thorny vines and unfriendly plants.
The Fish Bay Gut can best be accessed from the Fish Bay Road on either side of the bridge that crosses the gut.
In this low-lying area, the gut can be crowded with thick vegetation, but getting through is not as difficult as it looks. Be prepared to get wet, especially in the early morning when there is a lot of dew on the grass or after a night of showers. As the elevation begins to increase, there is less vegetation in the gut, and the going is easier.
The tall trees along the sides of the gut filter the sunlight and create an exciting tropical atmosphere. Watch for orchids growing in the nooks and crannies of trees and rocks. You will find bright green moss, lush tropical ferns, and an assortment of flowering trees and other plants.
Also look for freshwater crabs, which scurry for shelter when they see you approach, and crayfish that look like little Maine lobsters. Colorful dragonflies often hover above the pools. Here, the forest is alive with the buzzing of bees and the songs of birds attracted to the water in the pools.
Experienced rock climbers, however, can climb this steep rock face, which offers a variety of hand and foot holds. Above the waterfall, the gut becomes more overgrown. There is access from the Battery Gut to Gift Hill Road next to the Pine Peace School. This narrow trail will be on your left as you ascend the gut.
During the slave rebellion of 1733, the Free Negro Corps led by Mingo Tamarin pursued a party of rebellious slaves down the gut from Beverhoudtsberg Plantation where a battle, which was then called a batterie, was fought at the bottom of the high waterfall. The Battery Gut was named after this battle.
The Fish Bay Gut
The Fish Bay Gut has several fresh water pools as well as a beautiful waterfall that descends much more gradually than the Battery Gut waterfall; be extremely careful climbing the waterfall because the rocks can be very slippery.