Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How we conquered Jacob’s Ladder, Jamaica

This story took place nearly 40 years ago. I am inspired to share it to day because of my recent decision to finish the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica organized by the Jamdammers Club http://www.jamdammers.com/.

The event goes on December 5, 2009 and starts at 5:15 am. If all goes well, I will floating in the clear warm Caribbean water by 10 am.

If you are motivated to finish your personal marathon, join us in Negril. You can check us out in the following groups:

Here is the story of a group of boys from Form 2A at Campion College http://www.campioncollege.com/college/ who made the trek up over 7,000 feet to the peak of Blue Mountain:

It involved running. All downhill. Mostly though it was a hard slog up the side of the tallest mountain in Jamaica carrying a backpack. Our guide and only adult Mr. Binns, our History teacher billed it as a team-building hike. ‘Hike’ was a misnomer. It was actually a rugged climb on narrow dirt trails up the side of the Blue Mountain Peak, in the east central part of the island of Jamaica.

Jamaica is well known for its laid-back style, sandy beaches, coffee and reggae. Less well known, and certainly off the beaten path, is the the incredibly dense and mountainous interior. In particular the area north east of Kingston called the Blue Mountains. It is now famous as well for the fantastic coffee http://www.bluemountaincoffee.com/.

We were going to conquer the Blue Mountain Peak.

Preparation took weeks. Each of us could only take what we could carry on our backs. There was no logistical support. That meant one backpack stuffed with our clothes, sleeping bag and food. We would learn too late the advice to pack lightly!

The trip began in a small town outside of Kingston called Mavis Pen. We gathered before dawn on the edge of town. Our parents gave us the usual anxious last-minute advice. We were giddy with expectation so most of it fell on deaf ears. We were anxious to head out onto the dirt trail and got under way as the sun peaked over the horizon.

Day 1 saw us progress up the more gentle slopes through numerous small towns not on any map. We got to see the real country and the people. The people in particular were fantastic: all with a friendly smile and encouraging word as we made our way up the slopes. We had lots of conversation and friendly banter on that first day.

We stopped for a quick lunch of sandwiches before pressing on to our first overnight stop at Whitfield Hall near the base of Jacob’s Ladder, the serious assent to the Peak.

Jacobs Ladder. This was the transition point of journey. The terrain changed suddenly and dramatically and indicated the final ascent to the peak. The Jacob’s Ladder section was not long, but was extremely steep and covered in large boulders. It was the only way to get to the final 4 miles of switchback, narrow dirt trails to get to the Peak.

We started before dawn on the second day. Most of us had sore feet after the first day of hiking that got worse very quickly that morning. And the folly of not packing lightly grew as the morning progressed. Carrying cans of tinned meat was not a good idea.

By mid-morning the friendly banter had stopped. Sore feet, aching leg and back muscles combined to deaden the experience. Our speaking exchanges turned to helping out our friends take 'one more step'. There was no turning back for any of us. We all had to make it to the top.

We grew quieter and more determined as the cool morning turned into hot afternoon and we seemed no closer to the Peak. We started to count the individual steps to keep motivated.

But we made it. All of us.

And the instant we crested the peak, all pain vanished as we scrambled to stand on the marker that indicated that we were standing on the highest point of our island, Jamaica. I know there were pictures taken, but unfortunately none of mine have survived. Fortunately the memory is seared into my memory.

In hindsight, we had learned how to set goals and work together as a team to overcome the challenges. We learned that determination and perseverance will overcome all obstacles. We grew on that trip. We learned to trust our friends.

I understand that now.

Oh, and the running? We did that on day 3 as we ran down the Peak and back over Jacob’s Ladder with all the hurt and pain vanquished.


  1. Well Bredren, you have certainly brought back some distant memories and made them vivid. We thought we were so grown up back then, but we were merely schoolboys. But that hike was a part of growing up that taught me about camaraderie, friendships and the need to dig deep and find myself to take that next painful step.

    I remember being cold for the first time in my life at that high elevation as I tried to sleep in that old shack with the fog swirling around outside. But to be able to say that you stood at the top of your homeland, priceless!!

    I will have to find my photos of the trip and scan them so that they are preserved even longer. But you're right, the memories will never go away.

    Thanks for this.


  2. Hey yardie:

    Thanks for the comments. As long as we never stop taking that next step, we cannot fail.


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