To climb el Pico Duarte, go to el Pico Duarte, every Dominican should climb the Pico at least once… since childhood I have been hearing about said mountain over and over with more emphasis towards January… Well I finally conquered the dammed place, and I know finally what lies in store, what I’m not so sure is IF I would recommend that journey to a third. I PERSONALLY enjoyed it, BUT for many people in my group it was HELL.
I’m going to start with the preparations. Because make no mistake, if you are not ready for this DON’T DO IT! I’m not overreacting here is the plain truth. First the physical conditions: No out of shape person should do this, why? Because it can be hard for them… IF you think you’re fit enough you are going to have to exercise a lot more O_o yes, sorry but climbing stairs (of 30+ floor buildings) every other day and walking hills two-three months in advance is the difference from arriving in the afternoon or arriving at night at “Comparticion” (last camp) and believe me, you’ll WANT to get there before the light is out. Also getting used to climbing stairs, hills and uneven ground is going to help your knees and ankles to get use to abuse because they’ll be abused… especially if it’s raining because of the mud (calf deep mud :S). Second the food, the least trouble it takes to cook it the better. Or if you have an arrangement with the locals for them to cook you you’ll be fine. The weather: It can rain, fast! So carry all your belongings in waterproof bags and carry a poncho yourself.
We started at 7:00am from the town “La Ciénega” the whole group walks together until half an hour later when people start to disperse. The fit ones race ahead while the rest of us… take a longer time admiring the nature 😛 Once you pass “La Laguna” (a point in the trail) the view of the surrounding mountains becomes breathtaking. There aren’t many animals on sight because of all the human trafficking; however, you can still see birds here and there perched on the highest trees.
At some points the trail is a narrow path in-between two elevations so it gets difficult to walk; even more so if the mules are right behind you. NOTE: It is usually explained at the beginning of the trail that you have to yield the pass to the mules since they just tend to –go forward- and push everything in front of them out of the way, including humans. It´s advisable to always let the mules pass, even if it means you have to step in between trees or bushes. Also, NEVER stand beside a precipice edge, because they can and most certainly push you into it.
After you pass “El Cruce” comes the infamous “Loma del Arrepentimiento” or Hill of Regrets, were it is said that most people question their decision to ever embark on such a journey. Basically is a little steeper with rocks covering the whole track, so it´s a good idea to have a good pair of boots to walk this part.
However, at this point you start to see clouds at eye height, and pretty soon you are covered in fog. But make no mistake… the heat is overwhelming! The temperature won´t start dropping until 6pm so there’s plenty of heat yet.
By now you are on one of the highest points, which gives you a view of the rest of the smaller hills. Looking at this view it actually makes you feel as if you have accomplished a lot already… (hang in there, not yet!)
Then you arrive at “Aguitas Frias” if you are out of water reload now! There aren’t any more water sources until you reach camp. This water source is a small hole in the ground where it is said the Yuna River is born from… I was a little apprehensive to drink water from it but the thirst and the exertion got the best of me, Oh well! I’m still alive.
From them on I walked a little more than an hour to reach Comparticion. After 6pm it got cold fast. So I set up my tent as soon as I got there, went to take a bath (on the frikin coldest waters I ever step on), changed into winter gear and got ready to spend the night. The night sky was… inspiring, breathtaking… I had never seen sooo many stars before! 😀 However the cold didn’t allowed me to stay outside much, the temperature dropped below zero that night… to -1c I heard someone say.
The next morning we had breakfast early and then we set to cover the remaining trail to the peak. This part was by far the most demanding one for me, whether it was because of the exertion of the previous day or because I never ever got to see where the trail was going most of the time. But eventually I made it! I reached the peak, climb alongside Duarte’s bust, made my victory calls (since is the only area with cellphone signal), took my pictures and headed back to camp… Uff!
The next day we headed back to “La Cienega” It was a lot more easier to go down the same way, (the gravity helps I guess :P)
Overall I enjoyed very much this adventure and would probably repeat it next year. Only that next time I would take more food and a much smaller bag to carry while in the trail.
Feel free to email me should you need additional information. Good Luck!