Climbing Jacob's Ladder

David was adamant that he wanted to climb Jacob's Ladder. It's a thing tourists do on St. Helena Island ... though the Saints themselves seldom do it any more. I mean, why would you if you don't have to? You can see the ladder from most any point in Jamestown … clinging to the mountainside. view of jacobs ladder from the waterfront st. helena island

At night, the steps are illuminated and make a wonderful sight from afar.

jacobs ladder at night st. helena island

Originally built in 1829 as a tramway, the “ladder” was initially used to remove manure from cattle and livestock in Jamestown and haul it “up country” to improve soil conditions. Donkeys were hitched to a windlass at the top to haul carts up the steep inclined plane. People traveled in boxes. A trip to the top took 7.5 minutes. Really? I'm thinking this might take me a bit longer. Standing at the bottom, the top looked a long, long way up, up, up as it stretched to the heavens.

looking up at jacobs ladder st. helena island

We chose mid-morning for this strenuous task while it was still cool. We started at the base of the steps near the Museum. Did I mention Jacob's Ladder has 699 steps? 699 uneven, crumbling, steep, steep steps!

jacobs ladder

Fairy terns and tropic birds soared gracefully above and below us as we climbed. I found any excuse to stop and take a rest. A few flowers poking up through the volcanic rock along the side? Absolutely a photo opp.

flower break on jacobs ladder st helena island

Oh, here's some graffitti that I feel I should photograph.

graffiti break jacobs ladder st. helena island

Ah, more views of the wharf …

wharf view from jacobs ladder st. helena island

And the half way mark (thank goodness!)

half way on jacobs ladder st. helena island

and the red-roofed town of Jamestown below.

jamestown st. helena island

Finally, we made it to the top. David was barely winded. Me? Well, let's just say I made it and leave it at that. The record for climbing the ladder is 5 minutes and change. Our time? 34 minutes, 20 seconds. The views made the climb worthwhile (really!). Nine of Cups looked so tiny down below as a tropic bird swooped over her.

nine of cups down below

At the top of Ladder Hill stands the Ladder Hill Fort, one of the first lines of military defense built by the early settlers. It's in pretty sad shape, but still interesting to walk around.

ladder hill fort st. helena island

Some of the old buildings are occupied or used for storage, but most are showing the effects of time and weathering.

ladder hill fort st. helena island

Now, of course, we needed to get back down. We chose the long, steep, switchbacked road down to town. The ladder would have been quicker, but we'd already seen those sights. The fastest way down? Some of the locals slide down the handrails on their backs, using their arms and legs as brakes. Yikes! We took the the road.

walking back down to jamestown st. helena

We noticed a plaque on the cliff above the road as we were heading down in memory of nine people who were killed by a massive rockfall in 1890. Massive chain nets and fences now line the faces of the cliffs to prevent such occurrences.

rock fall plaque st. helena island

It was a long, steep walk down, but we finally made it to sea level again. We stopped at the Standard Pub for a well-deserved beer and then made our way down Main Street to the ferry dock for a ride back to Cups … exhausted, and just a little bit chuffed! It's going to be an Ibuprofen night!

Want to climb Jacob's Ladder with us? Take a look at this video.