Ascension Island hiking guide
Although Ascension has a surface of only 88 square kilometers, the island offers an extensive network of trails with various levels of difficulty, that can keep hiking enthusiasts busy for many days. Particularly popular are the so-called "letterbox walks", trails among spectacular scenery, ending with a kind of mailbox where visitors can sign a guest-book and put a stamp on own logbook. When hiking in Ascension, you must not forget that the island is a very remote place and along the trails you will probably never meet anybody else, therefore you must always carry all the things that you may need and inform someone about the expected return time.
One of the most scenic trails on Ascension Island begins with a huge beach on the east coast and continues through lava fields and ashes of different colors, touching three picturesque deserted beaches. The beaches are a known breeding ground for green turtles.
The trail requires to cross a wide sandy beach, where turtles nest during summer: unfortunately in August there are no turtles, but only the shells of hatched eggs and the remains of some small turtle that failed to get to the sea after birth.
The beach is made up of traditional sand that is mixed with volcanic black sand, creating curious patterns along the tidal area.
Hiking on the beach.
A beach along the eastern coast of Ascension Island.
Once on the right trail, we start the hike searching for three deserted beaches that are along the path. Generally, the trails wind over rather unstable soils and slopes, making the trek possible only for people with more experience and strength. In this regard it should be noted that the classification of the difficulty that you can find on the maps, usually expressed on a scale from 1 to 5, is generally quite optimistic, as well as the evaluation of travel time.
It does not take too long to find ourselves in such remote and spectacular environment, no other souls for kilometers.
After less than an hour walk, we found the beautiful deserted beaches with pristine sand, where you could even organize a picnic and spend a few hours to enjoy the virgin sand and sea for a few hours.
More deserted beaches along the east coast of Ascension Island, accessible only by foot from the main road.
The particular morphology of the volcanic rocks along the shore, make this curious spray at each wave.
What are all those black dots in this sort of mini natural swimming pool among the rocks? A close examination reveals that they are a lot of sea urchins.
Instead, inland, some trees produce a large number of yellow flowers, contrasting with the barren volcanic hills.
At the base of a hill, we found instead lot of Kalanchoe
, a succulent plant belonging to the family of Crassulaceae
, most likely imported by humans in the past decades.
Another interesting network of trails suitable for hiking enthusiasts, can be found along the road that connects Georgetown to the abandoned site of NASA, over the south-eastern slopes of Green Mountain.. Along the roadsides there are numerous guajava shrubs, an alien tree imported by the settlers in an attempt to produce fruits and vegetables locally.
The abandoned site of NASA stands atop a hill at the foot of Green Mountain and was built in the mid-60s with the aim of supporting space programs and Apollo missions, through telemetry and support services for the shuttle operations in orbit. Rumors claim that the famous phrase spoken by Neil Armstrong when he just set foot on the moon "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
" has been heard here first, before being routed to the rest of the world. The site, formally known as "Devil's Ashpit Tracking Station
" has been abandoned around the 90s when most of the structures were dismantled.
In the late '70s, the NASA site on the island of Ascension had about 80 employees among US and St. Helena personnel, housed in the nearby military base.
From the abandoned NASA site there are beautiful views on a promontory formed by ancient lava flows.
We then take advantage of nearby trails to explore the area more in depth.
The path that winds from Devil's Ashpit Tracking Station, reveals an interesting barren landscape.
Meanwhile, wild sheep graze around.
The scenery along the southeast coast of Ascension Island, forged by ancient volcanoes.
The trail called "Devil's Riding School
" is one of the most beautiful on the island and is not difficult. It leads first to an ancient crater containing the bottom of a dry lake, to finish on top of a volcanic cone where there is a letterbox.
The first part of the trail runs through a lava field where the fragments have a flat shape and give the feeling of walking on broken cups, for the curious noise that occurs at every step. The trek is quite easy, but keep in mind that the solidified lava is often fragile and very sharp: it is therefore essential to wear good walking shoes and dress long trousers. An adequate supply of water and sunscreen is also very important.
Among the lava fields, South Gannet Hill is sometimes visible in the distance, with the typical structure on the summit known locally as "golf ball".
After crossing the "broken porcelain field", the path continues among curious greyish formations, composed predominantly of solidified volcanic ash.
The view then opens onto this ancient crater which originally contained a lake, now dry.
The exploration of the crater floor reveals a Martian landscape, formed by different types of stratified rocks and minerals of various colors. In the bottom left picture, we can see the formations that Charles Darwin has nicknamed "Devil's Eyeballs
", during his trip to Ascension Island in the nineteenth century. Basically they are gypsum lumps trapped into clay.
Exploring the bottom of the dried lake.
Finally, we reach the letterbox on top of a volcanic cone, where we leave our signature in the guest book and put a stamp on our logbook. In Ascension Island there are 34 trails leading to as many letterboxes and 8 are on top of Green Mountain. Some of the trail are very old, dated back to the nineteenth century, and originally built and used by the first islanders, other instead has been added just recently to help visitors to visit the most beautiful places on the island.