(Warning – this is sort of a long post, because climbing Pico Duarte is sort of a long walk…) Two weeks before I left the DR, Dustin and I decided to have one last adventure together. Our challenge? To climb Pico Duarte. At just over 10,000 feet, Pico Duarte is the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. In 3 days, we would hike 30 miles and conquer an elevation gain of 6500 feet.
On Tuesday we headed up to Jarabacoa to make final preparations. We borrowed various items from friends to make our trip happen – a moto, a car, a tent, sleeping bags and pads, moleskin… THANK YOU to everyone who lent us stuff, let us stay at their houses, and fed us during our Jarabacoa days!
Early Wednesday morning we drove to La Cienaga, the most popular starting point for the trek up Pico Duarte. We met up with the head of the guide association – since the hike is in a national park, hikers are required to have a guide. He arranged for a guide, Victor, and two mules – a pack mule and an “ambulance” mule, just in case we had an emergency. What “ambulance mule” really meant was mule for the guide to ride and for me to ride when I couldn’t walk any more. Victor had me pegged from mile one, offering me the mule, “It’s ready whenever you want it,” but I was determined to reach the summit on my own two feet!
So we started walking. And we walked. And we walked. Up and up and up and up until I thought I couldn’t go up any more, and then still up! There were a lot of switchbacks, but even so the trail was steep. Add the altitude change to that, and I struggled. I’m pretty sure I became a rather unpleasant hiking buddy, but Dustin put up with me, encouraged me, and tried his best to make me laugh. Periodically throughout the hike, we thought we saw Pico Duarte ahead of us. We would ask our guide, and his response was inevitably, “No, that’s not Pico Duarte. You see the mountain we’re on now, the one behind it, and the one behind that one? Pico Duarte’s behind THAT mountain.” He would chuckle, and we would groan incredulously.
Wednesday evening, 9 hours of walking later, we arrived at our campsite, 13 miles up the trail. In a very melodramatic fashion, and almost in tears, I proclaimed to Dustin that I was so cold and so tired and my body hurt so badly that I would not be able to walk when I woke up in the morning, that there was no way I would make it to the summit, that I would have to ride the mule! Thankfully, though, I did sleep, and when I woke up my legs felt fine!
Thursday we had 3-ish miles up to the summit, then back to the campsite. We summitted at 11 am to breathtaking views. Mountains and valleys stretched endlessly in every direction. And we had arrived just in time – after 20 minutes, the clouds rolled in, so we headed back to camp. We spent a lazy afternoon resting, napping, and strategizing for the next day.
Friday morning. The first 5 miles of our 13 mile trek were uphill. Even thinking about facing another uphill made me want to cry! So for the sake of everyone’s emotions, and for the sake of making it down the mountain in a reasonable amount of time, we decided I would ride the mule. Best decision ever.
My years of horseback riding came right back as my mule, Shrimp, navigated steep uphills, tight switchbacks, and even steeper downhills. Meanwhile, Dustin sprinted up the mountain, doing in 50 minutes what had taken us 2 ½ hours the other direction! After 6 miles or so, (read: after the hardest part) I got off the mule and hiked the rest of the way to La Cienaga. We made good time and had the afternoon and evening to enjoy with friends in Jarabacoa before heading back to the coast Saturday morning.
More than checking “Climb Pico Duarte” off our bucket lists, this trip was much-needed time for the two of us to get away together before I left and before the craziness of goodbyes started. It was restful in its own way, and aside from a few hours on day one, enjoyable. Definitely a wonderful memory to take with me back to los estados and a great adventure to end my time in the DR!