Pieter Both

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This is the most iconic mountain of Mauritius. A national symbol which features on the official logo of the Mauritius. At 820m, the 2nd highest mountain of the island has claimed many victims among the brave who dared to defy it…

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So, how hard can it be?

 

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To find out, a very long time ago, last year, we were on our way to the village of La Laura-Malenga.

 

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On Wikiloc, there exist 3 different GPS tracks for Pieter Both (posted at the end of this post). Since I couldn’t decide which one to follow, as you would expect, I loaded all 3 tracks at the same time.

 

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After leaving the village of the Future (aka L’Avenir), we couldn’t take the direct road because the bridges in the region were being reconstructed.

 

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So we had to do a rather large detour to avoid the various construction sites. Kudos to the one who had the brilliant idea of burning all the bridges at the same time.

 

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Cattle farms, flower plantation, crop fields & very narrow roads – La Laura-Malenga is the stereotypical Mauritian village. I’m sure the only means of transportation around here is the maroon taxi.

 

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A sign of modernity – an area zip code!

 

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A sea of cabbages.

 

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The trail to Pieter Both starts at a turn near the end of the road (that goes nowhere as we found out).

 

There wasn’t much parking space here, so we parked the car on the side of the road. Alternatively, you can park near the fields.

With the sun peaking out of the clouds, the weather was perfect to start on the trail. I had already warned the other two explorers that if it rained, the climb would have to be aborted…

 

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The first part is a stroll through the fields. It turned out we made the right decision of not blocking the road. The vegetable planters did make use of it.

 

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A typical farming scenery. The crops with the mountain in the background.

 

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The flowers bordering the fields.

 

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The harvested vegetables stored on the side.

 

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&… a private cremation ground!

Long ago, people used to bury/cremate their deceased on the lands they cultivated. This practice, while very rare, is still alive today.

 

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As we moved out of the trees, we got a clear view of Pieter Both & the V-gully we would be climbing.

 

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There are various bedtime stories behind Pieter Both.

One of which is the tale of a milkman who stumbled across a secret nude fairy party & was forbidden to reveal it. & when he talked about it, his head swelled to become the rock.

Another story says that people were forbidden to go on the other side of the mountain. One day, a boy shepherd went after a sheep which crossed over the top & in the process was cursed by fairies to become the stone atop the mountain.

 

datum: 2003-09-30

In fact, Pieter Both (1568-1615) was the first Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. In 1615, after relinquishing his position to Gerard Reynst, he left for the Netherlands with four ships. Two of the ships, including his ship Banda was shipwrecked near Mauritius and he drowned, with his body washing off near Baie du Tombeau. & thus Pieter Both was named after Pieter Both.

 

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The path bordered by chayote plants gave way to one with heavy bushes.

 

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With the path going into the trees, we sensed that the start of the climb was near.

 

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As we moved through the trees, something colourful caught our eyes.

 

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Upon closer investigation, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen – a flower field on the flanks of the mountain.

 

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With flowers of every possible colour.

 

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With thousands of bees buzzing around.

 

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The two camera-owning explorers were overjoyed by this discovery. It wasn’t surprising though. The region of Moka, St Pierre & La Laura-Malenga is literally figuratively the garden of Mauritius. Nearly all the flowers that are sold come from here.

We would have stayed here for quite a while if we weren’t reminded that there was a mountain to climb.

 

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We took a short breakfast break in this scenic location while I reminded the others of the difficulties that lay ahead. Boulders, the V-gully, rock faces, steep slopes, a traverse & wasp nests.

Unlike last time, we were fully prepared to face any challenge that laid in our way – Swiss knives, rope, matches, an old tshirt &… firecrackers.

 

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The first 200m of the track was woody.

 

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The path gently sloped up through the bushes & the rocks.

 

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Until we reached a boulder, which was fairly easy to climb.

 

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The boulder gave us a vantage point over the village of La Laura-Malenga.

 

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From here on, the ascension became much harder. The ground climbed sharply.

 

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Fortunately, our experience with 3 Mamelles had already conditioned us for that.

 

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As we delved deeper into the undergrowth, the GPS signal got weaker. We were nearly in the V-gully, shielded by the mountains. It’s easy to get lost at this point due to fake readings.

 

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It also meant that we were barely moving, horizontally that is. We were gaining more in altitude than in distance covered.

 

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The arduous climb came to a stop as we emerged right underneath the head of Pieter Both.

 

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There was a rock face to climb before we could proceed any further. At first I thought I could do it bare-handed, but I quickly gave up after my first try.

 

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There was no way I could do this without being roped up. Luckily, other people had already figured this out & had put anchors into the rock for ropes.

& that was how for the first time ever I used rope to climb a mountain. Under the laughing support of my comrades.

 

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Made it. Looking down from the gully gave us the chills as to far we had climbed. We realised how any mishap could be fatal…

 

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& that we were indeed in the V-gully. From this point, we would be climbing a near-vertical slope.

 

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& by goodness was it tough! The ground here was slippery & without any trees, the only thing to grab for was grass.

 

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As we made our slow progress, we heard a distress scream call from the one explorer who had confidently ventured forward without waiting for us.

 

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Since I was the only one with a map, Indiana Clarkson obviously got lost. He had made a beeline for the summit & was now stuck just underneath the shoulder. After finding out he couldn’t climb down, he was now begging for help to get him out of there.

 

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As we climbed higher, we came across the traverse which fell straight into the gully & where there had been several landslides. We realised it was pretty much impossible to climb up to his help, as the earth was giving away at that area & there was nothing to hold on. Any fall will lead you straight into the gully & into an agonising death.

 

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As we pondered whether to abandon him to his fate or send as SMS to the Special Mobile Force (SMF), Indiana Clarkson suddenly remembered he had a rope on him.

 

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Hence he rolled his bag towards the bushes on the other side, attached the rope to a branch & managed to lower himself to the traverse.

 

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But we still didn’t know where to go next. The GPS track was useless as all it showed was that we were already at the summit. It was time to bring out the manual.

 

Pieter Both Path

As it turned out, the way to the summit was just beyond the area above the gully, where the path had been hidden by the rockslides. I didn’t have this photo with me at that time, otherwise Indiana Clarkson wouldn’t have been stuck (just above of the dotted line).

 

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& so badly shaken by this episode, at exactly noon, we finally managed to reach the summit.

 

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Sorry, I mean the shoulder of Pieter Both. It had taken us 3 hours & a lot of poo in our pants. I know, there was still the head to climb, but we’ll figure that out later.

 

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The view up here was staggering.

 

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Beyond us stretched the Northern plains, the East & the Plaines Wilhems. The only thing hidden from us was Port Louis.

 

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We could catch only a glimpse of it…

 

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La Nicolière as well was hidden behind that hill.

 

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We could nearly see the Coin de Mire if it wasn’t for the haze.

 

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Just below us was the village of Creve Coeur.

 

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The Terre-Rouge-Verdun highway that was being built.

 

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The St-Pierre-Verdun part of the highway which has already been completed by now.

 

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St Pierre & Ebene.

 

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The villages of La Laura-Malenga and the road we had used.

 

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In between La Laura-Malenga & Creve Coeur was Deux Mamelles. A relatively easy peak to climb, judging by the tracks.

 

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The other peaks that are along with Pieter Both & far behind them, Mt. Le Pouce.

 

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On a rock on the shoulder, we found a bolt anchor used for rock climbing.

 

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After the ordeal we had, the scenery was the best balm to soothe our nerves…

 

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Time for a history lesson on the various ascents of Pieter Both.

The first person to climb it was a French sailor named Claude Peuthé, on September 8, 1790. Astonishingly, he managed that feat alone. After several unsuccesful attempts, he used an arrow to secure the rope around the head & managed to climb it. & thus the tricolored French flag was planted on the summit of Peterboot.

Claude Peuthé climbed Pieter Both again on the 29/30th October 1790, this time accompanied by a negro.

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We had to wait until 7 September 1832 before the first English expedition climbed Pieter Both, headed by engineer John Augustus Lloyd. Several expeditions followed in 1848, 1858 & 1864. In 1885, a group of Victorian hippies explorers decided to set iron pegs into the rock to make the climbing easier.

In the 1970s, the SMF replaced these rusty 1885 spikes with stainless steel ones.

Source: Les ascensions du Pieter Both à l’époque coloniale – 2-part article by Week-End published on 16/09/2007 & 23/09/2007. & I’ve uploaded it as pdf in case it gets ‘lost.’

 

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In my opening paragraph, I mentioned about the mountain having claimed several victims…

On 1 January 1971, a group of youths decided to mark the New Year by climbing Pieter Both. A violent thunderstorm ensued. Some members of the group were struck by lightning and suffered serious injuries. One of them, Kadress Chengapen, was knocked off balance and fell into a ravine. The SMF did not recover his body until 5 January.

Source: Mauritius 500 Early Postcards by Andre De Kervern, Yvan Martial

 

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After having rested for a couple of hours, Indiana Clarkson was sent to investigate if it was possible to climb up to the head. Unfortunately, all the stainless steel rungs had rusted away, making ascent impossible without equipment.

 

Pieter Both,Children climbing [1] About 1980

If you look at this photo from 1980, you would notice the rungs holding firmly into the rock wall. & now they’ve completely disappeared. Some say that the SMF had to cut them off because it was unsafe.

 

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 Pieter Both , Rod Salm on head

Weirdly though, those on the head are still here…

 

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It was indeed disappointing to come so close & not being able to climb it. But after the fearful event we just had, we had no more courage to make the attempt.

 

Hey, at least we made the shoulder. Close enough!

 

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& so, tails between our legs, we started on the journey downwards.

 

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We were apprehensive that we would face more difficulties below. Instead, all we had to do was crawl along on our behinds. I should probably warn that the ground around the V-gully was damp. If it was raining, all the water from mountain would have flowed through where we were climbing. That’s why it is extremely dangerous to attempt the climb during a storm.

 

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Once again, we had to use the rope here.

 

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But otherwise the climbing down was uneventful, even boring.

 

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We were going at such a leisurely pace that it took us nearly 2h to reach the boulder.

 

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We rested for some time, admiring the flower fields of La Laura-Malenga.

 

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While we were looking at Piton du Milieu, some clouds washed over the head & shoulders of Pieter Both. If we had stayed longer at the summit, perhaps we could have had experienced that…

 

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While the ascent was among the hardest I’ve ever done, the descent was definitely the easiest.

 

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Eventually, we reached the flower field.

 

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As the last rays of the sun were disappearing behind mountains, it light up the beautiful mountain flanks.

 

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& so, 2h 43 mins later, we were back to base.

 

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Pieter Both… the only mountain which defeated us. Fair enough, we had to struggle in the V-gully and our episode with Indiana Clarkson trapping himself had sapped some of our mental strength. But without equipment, it was impossible to reach the summit.

For the record, this was the 2nd mountain (after Lion Mountain) where we didn’t encounter any fellow mountaineers. In some ways, we were glad to have met no one. Anyone would have been ashamed to have come so close & yet be so far from achieving their objective…

Our only respite were the fantastic landscapes. Well worth the hike & all its troubles.

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As it turned out, even for the worst explorers in history, it was… too hard.

 

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