Forestry Stories: Lost at La Sorcière

Donald Anthony was a Forestry Officer with the Saint Lucia Forestry Department from 1983 to 2009. He joined as Forestry Assistant, eventually becoming Range Officer and Wildlife Officer. He was among the lead Department counterparts on the wildlife management initiatives and researcher on the St. Lucia Parrot, St. Lucia Whiptail and St. Lucia Iguana conservation programmes. He remains an avid conservationist and advocate for the environment in Saint Lucia.

La Sorcière at 652 metres (2,139 feet) dominates the terrain in the northern part of Saint Lucia, and is located within the Castries Waterworks Forest Reserve. This Reserve was the very first gazetted forest reserve, dating back to 1916. The island’s forest reserves and adjacent landscapes extending all the way to the coast, are divided into management units called forest ranges (click to view)and forestry personnel are assigned to these ranges for purposes of monitoring the health of the forests, rivers, and wildlife, and for working with the public in adjacent communities within the geographic extents of each range to help conserve forest and natural resources. La Sorcière lies within the Northern Range.

La Sorcière viewed from the Thomazo (Dennery) area

Donald reflects on his ‘baptism by fire’ when he joined the Forestry Division back in 1983…

In my first year at the Forestry Division; after a transfer from the Agricultural Extension Service in 1983, I was given a ‘baptism by fire’. I was assigned to the Northern Range to work with Alexander Forde, fellow forestry officer. One morning he took Margaret Ishmael and I to De Chassin, an area of the government forest reserve, located in the foothills of the mighty La Sorcière, the tallest mountain in the north of the island, where we met Gregor Anthony, known to all simply as “Mr. Gregor”, who was the foreman in charge of De Chassin. The mission for the day was a forest patrol; Mr. Gregor suggested the patrol route that would have us climb La Sorcière. Following a track leading to Des Barras (a small rural community perched on a high ridge east of Des Chassin overlooking Grande Anse bay on the Atlantic), we began our climb above the Des Barras community along the north east face of the mountain; for me this was a real adventure, taking in all the sights and sounds of the birds… I was really in my element. The climb to the summit was to me rather easy on that side of the mountain. We reached the summit about 1:00 pm and we all sat down and had lunch.

After a good rest it was time to descend. However, instead of returning from whence we came, Mr. Gregor decided to climb down towards De Chassin, in other words, head back due west…Big Mistake!! We walked and walked, uphill, downhill across several creeks, all the while under the dense forest canopy. I never knew La Sorcière had so many hills and valleys hidden under the dense forest canopy, as from a distance it looks like one mountain mass with uniform terrain. After several hours of hiking we all knew that we were lost on the mountain. We encountered several places with dense almost impenetrable masses of razor grass (Scleria secans) and the only way through was to crawl beneath, however getting ripped by the razor grass on your arms and the exposed parts of your body! But by that time no one worried about getting cuts, we just wanted to get out of the darkening forest as the day faded, before sunset.

At one point we came across a clearing with a large marijuana plantation with plants taller than all of us. There were other crops planted among the marijuana like pumpkin, bananas and cocoa. Mr. Gregor, clearly afraid, urged that we get out of there quickly before the plantation owners came and found us there. Back in the 1970s into the 1980s, squatters had invaded the forest reserves to illegally cultivate marijuana and violent consequences were known to befall those who wandered into these cultivations.

As time passed, we became increasingly concerned about getting out of the forest before sunset. Mr. Gregor still could not discern any landmarks, and the feeling of being hopelessly lost was all consuming. At one point Alexander began complaining that he could not keep pace any more, that his lower back was paining including his testicles!! He straggled behind while we pressed on. After ‘beating bush’ for several hours we eventually stumbled upon the forest boundary line somewhere close to the community of Forestiere several kilometers west of Des Chassin. We all breathed a sigh of relief as it was already after 5 o’clock in the afternoon. With great resolve, we hauled our tired and dirty selves, with more cutting-up from the sharp razor grass, and worked our way along the cleared boundary line path that eventually led us back to De Chassin. We were absolutely all dead beat by the time we arrived at about 6:30pm.

That is an experience I will never forget, and I am sure the same applies for Margaret and Alexander. Mr. Gregor is now deceased; he was indeed a treasure house of knowledge and experience in Forestry.

La Sorcière remained true to its name “The Sorcerer”.

Donald Anthony, June 2020

Please leave your comments below!!!

4 thoughts on “Forestry Stories: Lost at La Sorcière

  1. Chris Cox

    I also got lost at La Sourciere one time during my days with the Forestry Department. I was with Adams Toussaint, an officer assigned to Northern Range and we were on a patrol or hike. Adams knew the forest there well, but on that day he somehow lost the familiar markers. We ‘beat bush’ for hours until we eventually made it back out. Donald is right, the forest canopy deceptively conceals the terrain below which is gullied and strewn with large rocky outcrops where it is easy to lose your way.

  2. Anselm Gittens

    I did have a similar Lost-at-La Sorciere experience when I first climbed that mountain in 1989 (or 1990?) with the Saint Lucia Naturalists Society. I recall the official guide for that trek was a Forestry worker by the name of Mr. Gregor (God rest his soul) who was stationed at the Forestry Department’s facility at Tete Chemin, Chassin. We made it up the mountain with no issues, from the starting point at Chassin, but on our way down we got lost and I recall Mr. Gregor saying Nou kité chimen-a (We have left the track). We ended up at Desbarras and had to take a long “short cut” back to Chassin! In my view La Sorciere (The Sorceress) is a mystic mountain and occasionally hikers get bewitched on that mountain which causes disorientation Perhaps there is good reason why the Caribs called that mountain Mabouya which means Evil Spirit which the French translated into La Sorciere (The Witch). From Donald Anthony’s story I am beginning to think that the mountain liked to play tricks on Mr. Gregor.

  3. Chris Smith

    I had the opportunity to spend sometime with Donald hiking the forest areas looking for the local Fer -de-lance . Donald is very well versed in the local flora and fauna . It was aNo doubt who ever takes his place have there work cut out for them . If you ever have an opportunity to meet up with Donald have him do his bird calls very talented.

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