On Thursday I hiked the Camelberg Trail, an old Danish Road that had recently been rediscovered and then made passable to some degree or other.
My goal was to get photographs of the trail’s two highlights, a ruin, previously lost in the bush, and what had been described to me as “a beautiful old stone dam.”
When I reached the part of the trail that I was supposed to navigate in order to come upon these highlights, I became discouraged due to the lack of a discernible path and by the rain that had begun to fall. Little did I know that when I made the decision to give it up and to return to the top of the trailhead on Centerline Road and to my dry, warm parked car, I was standing no more than ten yards from the modest ruins. I realized this upon returning home while I pored over my maps.
I resolved to return to the trail the next day and take my photographs.
Finding the ruins was easy this time, but as the hiker who turned me on to the trail had already told me regarding the ruins: “they’re not much, but they’re there.”
After photographing the not so impressive ruins, I set out on the “track,” which was to lead me to the “beautiful old stone dam.”
Previously I had used the word “passable” to describe the degree of difficulty presented by the Camelberg Trail. Perhaps I spoke too soon or at least too optimistically. I once again became discouraged after a few minutes spent extricating myself out of a tangle of stickery bromiliads, which I had encountered in the forest after losing the “trail,” marked from time to time by ribbons tied to the trees, that I had been following.
After a few more little trail-related mishaps I found myself once again abandoning my quest to find the “beautiful old stone dam,” which in my mind had now become the “damn dam,” at least for the time being.
Yesterday I resumed my search for the damned dam, more determined than ever to get my photos. This time, however, I followed a new route in order to access the damn dam. This was a far more gentlemanly way to get there, and one that I was confident would result in success. The new route was the L’Esperance Road, a veritable superhighway when compared to the Camelberg access.
The L’Esperance Road
My plan was to hike the L’Esperance Trail as far as its first intersection with the Camelberg Trail and then either follow that track up to the dam or, if that failed, continue on to the gut and scramble up the gut until I reached the dam.
I arrived at the L’Esperance Trailhead at about 3:00 in the afternoon. There were five vehicles parked there and I was struck by the realization of how popular this once hardly known track had become.
And no wonder, this is a really beautiful hike, something you realize right from the start of the trail where the road descends following the lush Fish Bay Gut. It’s an easy, comfortable walk (at least downhill) with beautiful foliage and rock formations accompanied by the sounds of songbirds and (at times) water trickling in the gut.
Yesterday a full-sized buck stood on the trail just about 20 yards away, staring at me for an instant or two, before gracefully bounding off into the safety of the forest. Another time I saw a wild boar in that same area.
Just about a tenth of a mile from the trailhead, you’ll come an old stone bridge leading to the ruins of the recently cleared L’Esperance Estate. About a mile further on there are two short spurs leading to Estate Seiban also cleared by volunteers. Seiban is the location of St. John’s only Baobob tree that at one time was so lost in the bush that many disputed its very existence.
I could go on and on about this trail. There’s a beautiful bay rum forest, an old daub and wattle cottage full of old bottles, the ruins of Estate Mahlendahl, as well as access to the Reef Bay Trail, the Great Seiban and the Camelberg trails.
But it wasn’t always like it is now. After Hurricane Marilyn struck in 1995, fallen trees became covered with catch and keep, and as more and more scrub grew up, the road was rendered just about impassable.
Along came the Trail Bandit and groups of concerned hikers who spent years clearing the road little by little. Of course there was resistance from those that oppose trail improvement, but the hikers prevailed. In 2007, volunteers, this time park approved, did some trail maintenance and the L’Esperance Road was accepted as “a valuable addition to the VINP hiking trail system.”
More recently, both Seiban and L’Esperance were cleared by Jeff Chabot and volunteers from the Appalachian Mountain Club in conjunction with the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park and the VINP.
Now the trail is a delight to all and the opposition’s nightmares of wholesale abuse of the land never materialized.
And the Damn Dam?
This was supposed to be an article about the dam on the Camelberg Trail and so it will be.
Remember, my previous attempts had been frustrated by a rainstorm and a lack of commitment that allowed me to be scared off by a tangle of bromiliads and the scratches and bruises caused by not paying enough attention in an inhospitable environment. Add to this the verbal attacks launched against me for having revealed in my blog the existence of a now passable Camelberg Trail and this DAMN DAM was starting to cause me some grief.
Between the two rough tracks leading from the ruins on the Camelberg Trail to the L’Esperance Trail, there is a gut where the dam is located.
I took the easy way out. Combining an enjoyable hike down the L’Esperance Road with a short scramble up that same gut, I easily reached the old stone dam and took my photos.
Although I had come this way in order to photograph a damn stone dam on the Camelberg Road, I returned with, not only some fairly decent photos of said damn dam, but also, a renewed appreciation for the L’Esperance Trail and to those whose selfless dedication and hard work have enabled so many to enjoy the beauty of St. John and hopefully to walk away with an understanding of its unique natural environment.