IT’S HARD not to notice the towering formation on your way to Maracas or Las Cuevas.

Or perhaps you marvelled at its beauty while visiting Brasso Seco. Maybe you’ve seen pictures from one of the summits and even thought about making the trek yourself? You must admit, mountains have an amazing ability to humble the observer. By virtue of their sheer size and strength, they are a force of nature to both respect and admire. And tomorrow you will have the perfect reason to take a step back and perhaps do your own research on mountains as the United Nations General Assembly recognises December 11 as “International Mountain Day”.

Observed every year, it is an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of mountains. While in Trinidad and Tobago we may not have the Himalayas or Mount Everest, our higher peaks do just about classify as mountains by some definitions. Using the UN classification, there would be many category 6 mountains in both Trinidad and Tobago, but none in category 5.

It was generally accepted that El Cerro del Aripo and El Tucuche were the two highest, at 3,085 feet and 3,072 feet respectively. These elevations were first recorded in the Land Surveyors’ Handbook, published by the Lands and Surveys Department in 1935. Last year a University of the West Indies (UWI) team of surveyors, did precise GPS observations on both peaks, and upgraded those values to 3,086.6 feet and 3,075.2 feet. However, unnoticed by all but the observant map-reader, topographic maps show a 3,050 contour-line on a peak south of El Cerro del Aripo.

In July of this year, a member of the T&T Field Naturalists’ Club, who is a land surveyor, organised an expedition to what he dubbed “El Pico Escondido” (The Hidden Peak). Led by Carl Fitzjames of Brasso Seco village, they bush-whacked their way to the peak, and using a hand-held GPS, recorded a height that was almost the same as El Tucuche.

On the November 7, four more surveyors joined them on a second expedition, this time with precise GPS equipment, and did extended simultaneous observations at El Cerro del Aripo and El Pico Escondido. The elevation of the observed station on Pico was calculated to be 1.2 feet lower than the summit of El Tucuche! But the investigation is still incomplete, since in order to minimise clearing, the observations were done in an open area a bit lower than the summit.

A third expedition is planned to map the mountain-top and establish the height of the summit. Until then, El Tucuche remains officially the second highest mountain in Trinidad.

An extract from the Newsday submitted by the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club