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Victoria Peak

In the winter of 1993, I hardly even knew that the country of Belize exisited. That was until I read "Jaguar", Alan Robinowitzs' dramatic account of his attempt to create the world's first Jaguar Reserve. One passage was exceptionally intriguing to me. It was his description of Victoria Peak, then thought to be the tallest mountain in Belize. Alan wrote, "It was not until 1984, while I was in the basin, that a group of fifteen Belize Defense Forse soldiers made what was to my knowledge the first successful attempt from the south. It took them two weeks, and only one man, a Maya Indian, made it to the top of Victoria Peak." I wondered how many people had been successful in climbing to the top of that mysterious and remote mountain in the 9 years since Alan wrote that passage. I vowed that one day, I would follow in the foot prints of that one Maya man, and climb to the top of Victoria Peak. Ten years later, in July of 2003, I had my chance.

Victoria Peak (3675 feet) is located on the remote northern boundary of the 150 sq. mile Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. Anyone who has been off the coast of Belize on a clear day has seen it looming in the distance. Big, tall and impressive. It is often shrouded in clouds and until recently thought to be the highest mountain in Belize. It is a total of 28 km to the summit from the Cockscomb headquarters. So the round trip is approx. 35 miles. It was indeed a difficult hike, often described as the "hardest hike in Belize."

on the trail to Victoria Peak
Marcos, Eduardo and Valentino on the trail
to Victoria Peak.
With all our provisions stored in our backpacks, my guides Marcos Cucul, Eduardo Pop, Valentino Kzub and I hiked from the Cockscomb headquarters for 12 km to a small camp next to the Sittee River where we spent the first night. The hike to km 12 was easy and enjoyable. The Belize Audubon Society now controls and manages the reserve and has done an excellent job maintaining the trail. Sitting by the river camp that evening was a bird watcher paradise. We spotted a pair of Great Carrosaws flying between tree tops and heard the clicking sounds of the White-collared Manakin and the unforgettable songs of the Oropendola. As the sun set and we prepared to retire into our hammocks we were treated to the haunting calls of the Howler monkeys in the far distance.

The following day we hiked to km 19. Here the hiking becomes much harder. Even though the distance is only a total of 7 km, the hike is much more arduous than the first day. The trail was in good condition and the weather cooperated but we started a series of continuous up and down grades of between 20-60 degrees. There are no switch backs. Just straight up and down. Many times just hanging on to trees or roots to maintain footing. The jungle is incredibly vibrant and lush here. No secondary growth, just mature forest with massive tropical hardwoods. We crossed many small jungle streams that are a fine source of good drinking water and great places to take a brief rest. At km 19 we spent the night in our hammocks, close to a clear fast running stream. Dozing off with the myriad sounds of the rainforest.

The third day is the most difficult and the most rewarding. From km 19 to the top of Victoria Peak at km 28. Here the trail becomes very difficult. We started the morning hike with a 40 minute climb up a 45+ degree incline. That got the heart pumping. Hanging on to roots to pull yourself up and sliding on your butt sometimes on the way down. But that was just the beginning. It took about 3-4 hours to reach the true base of Victoria Peak. During those hours it is rough hiking, especially with the burden of carrying heavy backpacks. But the forest is just incredibly beautiful and the wildlife prolific. Eduardo saw a Puma on the trail. All I saw was the tail end disappearing into the jungle. And we encountered many Jaguar markings on the trail.
Near the summit of Victoria Peak
Marcos on rope near summit.
We started climbing Victoria Peak up a dry creek bed that eventually turns into solid stone. Most of the way to the top was 60 degree or more incline up wet stone. Good foot holds but very slippery and potentially very dangerous. Because of the remote location and treacherous terrain, a fall here could be a real disaster.. At this point it is a good idea to have some basic climbing gear to help over the 'rough spots'. Marcos Cucul, my guide and friend is an accomplished climber. I am not. When the climbing became too difficult or too dangerous in my opinion, he would fix some ropes. The 'trail' continued straight up then eventually veered left and leveled out onto a very narrow path (2 feet) with a 700-800+ foot fall over the other side. Not good for those prone to vertigo. After several hundred feet the trail terminated next to a vertical rock face that had to be scaled. It was only 50 or 60 feet high and not a problem with good climbing equipment . From the top of the rock face we scrambled over another series of small steep inclines and rock faces. Here the forest changes dramatically. A very wet tropical forest environment dripping with moisture and moss. Then, tired and exhilarated, we finally reached the summit! The total time it took us from the camp at km 19 to the top was approx. 7 1/2 hours of continuous hard hiking and climbing.
Camping on Victoria Peak
Camping on top of the summit.

Most people or groups give up before reaching this point. I believe it is because alot of guides expect people to climb to the top, stay 15 minutes, then climb back down and make that difficult hike all the back to km 19. That's a 12-14 hour day and most expeditions find that there is not enough daylight to complete the hike before sunset, so they turn back. We did not have that concern because we camped on the summit. Probably the first expedition to do so. The primary advantage of making the summit in one day and returning to camp km 19 is that you don't have to carry much gear. Just water and some food. We, on the other hand had to carry all our camping gear up to the summit. But it was well worth the effort.

It cleared when we reached the top and the view was inspirational. The air was cool and crisp. A thick carpet of unbroken forest and mountain ranges stretched as far as the eye could see. But quickly it changed and the clouds moved in. The wind picked up along with a strong drizzle and the temperature dropped. We pitched our hammocks among the stunted growth of foliage and spent a somewhat sleepless night listening to the winds roar with a thick mist swirling around us.

The next day, day four, we were completely fogged in. No view, just a strong wind from the East. We started the climb back down Victoria Peak early in the morning.. I found the climb down much more intimidating than the ascent. We used the ropes to repel over the most dangerous areas and hiked back to km 19 in about 6 1/2 hours. There is a wonderful jungle stream close by and a small waterfall that created the most exhilarating shower. A great place to wash away the days hike and get refreshed.

That evening our group sat around the camp fire sharing stories. Valentino told fascinating stories about the diverse wildlife he has encountered in the jungles of Belize. Marcos spoke about his various trekking and climbing adventures and his love of his Mayan ancestry. I mainly just listened, content to be in their company and remembering that one Maya man who first made the summit less than twenty years earlier. Marcos told me that less than 175 adventurers have climbed to the top of Victoria Peak since then. And unless you are very well prepared I can see why. We were well prepared.

On the Top of Victoria Peak
Valentino, Greg and Marcos on the top of Victoria Peak.


Marcos Cucul
For more information about guided trips to Victoria Peak, contact Marcos Cucul at or Greg Harris at
The next morning, day five. We hiked from camp km 19 all the way back to the Cockscomb headquarters. Approx. 12 miles of steady hiking.. But we did stop often to observe the bird life. We saw a 'Bush Dog' dash across the trail. We smelled the strong odor of a peccary herd. We hiked in the pouring rain. We listened to Toucans sing in the trees and we saw a snake whip past. We slipped and fell on the wet trail. We were tired and wet and very happy campers when we arrived at Cockscomb headquarters as the sun slipped beneath the jungle canopy.

All photos provided by Greg Harris. All rights reserved.

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