STUNNED: Ronald and Heather-Dawn move around in stunned silence as they encounter the devastation atop the country’s highest summit. —Photos courtesy HEATHER DAWN HERRERA

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Devastation on summit of El Cerro del Aripo

By Heather-Dawn Herrera

Devastation was all around us as we reached the summit of our country’s highest mountain El Cerro del Aripo. Where a canopy of Lower Montane Forest once sheltered the area, there was open sky.
The sun now blazed down on the defenceless earth, searing the once moist spongy carpet of leaves that filtered precious moisture into this watershed. A new covering of invasive grasses spread across the raped summit. Life forms that once thrived in this habitat were gone.
El Cerro del Aripo is actually the most prominent summit of a continuous chain of mountains of almost similar altitudes that run east-west forming the crest of the Northern Range. This mountain attains a height of 940 metres or 3,085 feet.
It is only in these high altitudes that critically endangered species such as the golden tree frog is found.
The golden tree frog is endemic to Trinidad and makes its home in the large bromeliads that flourish on these summits.
Elfin woodland, mountain mangrove, tree ferns, lianas and bromeliads comprise the vegetation that seems to be permanently covered in dew.
Various types of mosses that glitter with droplets of water carpet just about everything including rocks and the roots and trunks of trees. Trailing mosses drape like decorative sleeves from branches at various levels.
This is the type of setting that makes El Cerro del Aripo a hiking destination with a difference. Hikers brave the chilly conditions of these heights via trails from Lalaja, Madamas and Guanapo.
Of the three, the Lalaja route is the most used because of its undulating nature as opposed to the rugged steep climb of the other two.
It took us roughly two hours to cross these undulations from the junction of the Lalaja Pass into Brasso Seco/Paria. A tall grass we call bamboo-C lined the distinct trail for almost the entire length. We enjoyed intermittent views of the Paria Village nestled among the richly forested hills and valleys way below us.
The usual misty conditions characteristic of these heights were absent today. In fact the entire crest of the range seemed to be drying out. Where there were lots of trailing mosses among the trees, we noted that these had almost dried up.
When we reached the actual summit of El Cerro del Aripo our clothes were unusually dry when compared to previous visits when brushing against the bamboo-C and other vegetation in passing resulted in wet clothes.
We really were unprepared for the scenario that confronted us as we completed the final climb to the highest point. Where a flourishing tract of lower montane forest once stood, we encountered a huge clearing of felled trees and grasses. Judging from the cuttings, the vegetation seemed to be dismembered not more than three to four months ago. Grasses attempted to cover the remaining stumps of trees.
Sun blazed down on the clearing that never knew the intense heat of its rays before and all around us was deathly silence. Not a bird, animal or insect stirred. All resident life had obviously
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