1,200ft-Tall Volcanic Rock Rises out of Snake-Infested Jungle in a ‘Lost World’

By Doug Williams
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Philippe Bourachot - CC BY-SA 3.0
Philippe Bourachot - CC BY-SA 3.0
 
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Volcanic Rock Rises out of Snake-Infested Jungle -when Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest in the early 1950s, he did something no man had ever accomplished — he made it to the top of the world’s highest peak with only his Sherpa and his fierce determination to succeed.

 

It is said that afterwards, when he was asked why he did such a thing — put up with danger and risk and the possibility of death at every step — he replied, legend has it, “because it’s there.”

Not the most comprehensive answer, perhaps, but certainly a memorable one that has lived on in mountaineering lore for decades.

 
Volcanic Rock: Helena Van Eykeren CC BY 2.0
Volcanic Rock: Helena Van Eykeren CC BY 2.0

One cannot help but wonder what Sir Hillary would have made of Pico Cao Grande — Great Dog Peak — a massive volcanic peak on the island of Sao Tome, some 200 miles off the coast of Libreville, in Africa.

Sao Tome and Principe form a two-island nation, one that is famous for incredible, white sand beaches, azure blue waters, a laid back lifestyle and one giant peak that only those who are not faint of heart dare climb.

Would Sir Hillary have attempted to climb this daunting volcanic peak, thinking it would be easy because it’s so much smaller than Everest?  Or would he have passed on the challenge and rested on his already considerable laurels?

We can never know, of course. But one thing is certain — Pico Cao Grande is a climb only experts should attempt, and only if extremely well equipped.

Those who have tried have found themselves snacked on by snakes and sliding around because so much of the rock face is covered in slippery, damp moss. Not the best conditions for a successful climb, even if Pico Cao Grande doesn’t qualify as a mountain it’s “only” 1,200 feet high — it’s daunting nonetheless.

This astonishing phenomenon was created by magma, a kind of hot fluid, or partly liquid substance that lurks deep within the Earth’s crust.

The magma gets hard when it’s inside a volcano, and once surface cinder has been eliminated by erosion on top, a natural structure like Pico Cao Grande is what’s left.

Sao Tome is an enormous shield volcano that rose up from the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean, 10,000 feet below sea level. It last erupted more than 100,000 years ago. The scientific and geological term for Pico Cao Grande is “volcanic plug.”

Pico Cao Grande is inside a park, called Obo Natural Park, and rises from the jungle like a giant pickle standing straight up on a bed of salad greens — that’s rather what it looks like in photographs.

Volcanic Rock São Tomé is a massive shield volcano
Volcanic Rock São Tomé is a massive shield volcano

But it’s not the only volcanic plug in the world; in fact, there are two in Scotland, one called the Big Law in Dundee, and another called King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

However neither one can hold a candle to Pico in terms of climbing challenge: Dundee’s Law is “only” about 500 feet high, while Arthur’s Seat stands approximately 822 feet tall.

Although Sao Tome may not be well known to most tourists, it’s a favourite of some “eco-tourists” who have begun looking for unspoiled areas to visit.

There are only 7,000 residents in this tiny two-island nation, and if online reviews are to be believed, it is an astonishingly perfect place, an “Eden” unlike many tropical destinations so popular with lots of folks.

On the isle of Sao Tome, most activities revolve around water, like swimming, snorkeling and boating. And of course the beaches are hugely popular as well, with visitors and residents alike.

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When people decide to try climbing Pico Cao Grande, they are advised to take the right gear, go at the correct time of year and be willing to give up if this volcanic plug gets the best of them. Oh, and snake repellent — that’s a must to carry, as well.

 
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