Doyle’s Delight – Belize’s High Point

An English name for a Central American High Point might seem a bit out of place, but Doyle’s Delight is not a translation from a Spanish moniker. Of the seven nations between Mexico and Colombia, all but one feature Spanish as an official language. Belize, the odd-country-out, achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. They remain a Commonwealth realm, recognizing Charles III as their monarch and ceremonial head of state, though the Belizean prime minister runs the government. Given this history, the official language of English makes sense.

Belize also offers us a rarity in the study of apexes: you’ll get two peaks for your reading time today, instead of one! This tiny nation also highlights some of the quirks of the arbitrary nature of boundaries, at least when it comes to classifying mountains.

Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize’s 8,867 square miles of territory make it approximately the size of Massachusetts. The nation is by far the least populated in Central America, with just over 400,000 people residing there. By contrast, sixth place in the region – Panama – contains more than 10 times as many humans (approximately 4.3 million). Trivia tip: easily remember Belize’s capital of Belmopan by linking the “BEL” in both words.

Before Spanish and English colonists arrived in the region, the Maya civilization thrived in Belize for more than a millennium. A few of the most popular etymological theories for the name of the nation relate to Mayan words and phrases.

The major mountain range of the area honors this Indigenous past, as the Maya Mountains dominate the interior of Belize and stretch into eastern Guatemala. Though these peaks do not set any worldwide elevation records, they might make a list of the most remote crags.

A map of geological regions in Belize, including the Maya Mountains - graphic by French & Schenk/USGS
The Maya Mountains - photo by Pgbk87

The image above provides a long view of the range. At the center of the photograph is Victoria Peak. Rising 3,670 feet (1,120 meters) above sea level and named for Queen Victoria, geographers believed this mountain to be the tallest in Belize until the 1980s.

The crag is the crown of the Cockscomb Basin Range, a subset of the Maya Mountains and part of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. The spine of the range appears to some like the comb of a rooster, hence the nomenclature. The Belizean government created this reserve in 1986 to protect native jaguars. Many consider it the world’s foremost example of jaguar preservation, and the reserve likely features the most densely populated jaguar numbers in the world. The peak itself was designated a natural monument in 1998.

Resting approximately 20 miles from the Caribbean Sea, on clear days the peak juts above the horizon from the shore like a jagged tooth. Despite the relative proximity to the ocean, Victoria Peak requires three to four days to scale and a government-mandated guide, as the jungle terrain is brutal. It’s a gorgeous crag and would be a fantastic High Point.

Victoria Peak - photo from
Victoria Peak from 18 kilometers away - photo by Cristian Rodriguez

As GPS technology improved, however, scientists realized Victoria Peak did not serve as the roof of Belize.

Instead, that crown goes to a spot farther inland now known as Doyle’s Delight. The spot is named after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes Fame, who penned the novel The Lost World in 1912. Though the plot points of that book transpire in South America, biologist Sharon Matola thought the dense forest of the Maya Mountains matched Conan Doyle’s jungle wonderland. The name stuck. A movement to rename Doyle’s Delight to Kaan Witz – Maya for “Sky Mountain” – has not gained much traction and the Belizean government lists Matola’s christening as the official name.

Where Victoria Peak stands out from afar, Doyle’s Delight requires a surveying marker to designate. The Delight stands 3,688 feet (1,124 meters) above sea level – a good 18 feet above Victoria Peak – but one might never guess that no other points in Belize rise higher. Doyle’s Delight is simply the highest point on a ridge deep in the Belizean jungle. When an expedition placed a marker there in 1970, they had to clear trees to mark the spot.

From a botanist’s or biologist’s view, Doyle’s Delight provides world-class ecosystems, full of a wide variety of rare plants and animals; for the mountaineer who loves exposure, the High Point provides a little less.

The marker atop Doyle's Delight - photo by Meerman, Matola, et al.
A 2004 expedition to Doyle's Delight - photo by Meerman, Matola, et al.
The region around Doyle's Delight - photo by Meerman, Matola, et al.

Steep relief aside, the Belizean jungle still bathes Doyle’s Delight in arboreal resplendence and the enterprising mountaineer still covets a national High Point. Belize might be a tiny nation, but to reach this ceiling a trekker must undergo a grueling journey. Expeditions in 2007 and 2008 by seasoned mountaineers required eight days to summit a peak that doesn’t hit 4,000 feet! This fact just goes to show that elevation is far from the only attribute a climber must tackle.

An excursion from this month – May 2024 – claims only eight parties have stepped foot on Doyle’s Delight by foot. Joel Winter’s ascent report on Peakbagger features this preamble:

“Hidden deep in the remote Maya Mountains of southwestern Belize, Doyle’s Delight involves a nearly-100 km round-trip trek of ferocious bushwhacking with the potential for encounters with armed and hostile Guatemalan poachers, river parasites, 8 species of venomous snakes, flesh-boring ticks, and oppressive heat. Only 8 confirmed expeditions have ever reached the summit by foot. (Compare that with the ~800 people who summit Everest every year.)”

Later, he noted, “Blisters abounded and ticks embedded. Upon summiting, I succumbed to a scary bout of heat exhaustion and vomited my way down the mountain. I lost over 10 pounds on the trek.”

The distinct natures of the two most famous mountains in Belize emphasize how arbitrary the notions of High Points are. One might easily argue Victoria Peak is the national mountain of Belize. A nation’s High Point only exists thanks to human-generated lines on maps; change the geometry of a nation and the extremes of that nation might change with it. In a country as large as the United States, something like Denali will likely pop up, providing a “worthy” acme. Draw some straight lines between Guatemala and Belize, however, and one might need to travel to a nondescript ridge to stand atop an entire nation.

If one braved eight days of hiking through a gnarly, virgin jungle, the journey would at least provide a most peculiar name for a mountain. I’m certain it would be a delight!

Further Reading and Exploration

Victoria Peak, Belize – Peakbagger 

Victoria Peak – SummitPost

Victoria Peak Natural Monument – Belize Audubon Society

Doyle’s Delight, Belize – Peakbagger

Doyle’s Delight – Belize – SummitPost

The August 2004, Expedition to Doyle’s Delight by Meerman, Matola, et al.

Belize – Doyle’s Delight – Country Highpoints

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