I can remember the first time a mountain, or just small hill, caught my attention. When I was in the Marines Reserve in PR (09-15), we performed field training in Camp Santiago, in Salinas (south of SJ, dry and hilly). En route to Camp Santiago, we passed through Cayey (central part of PR, mountainous) and I recall looking through the window at the mountains and thinking, “I want to be up there”, for no reason. So did I when in formation for too long in Camp Santiago, I just daydreamed of landscapes and the view “up there”. I think the seeming mental freedom and physical challenge of going uphill drove me, and I was with the right people to do so. Another instance was in summer 2014, in Camp Wilson, in the widely known MC base, 29 Palms, California. Located in the Mohave desert, this place the government decided to build a base in has several mountains close by. They were not in “walking distance” from our camp, but they were not far either. The valleys and mountains in that area had me fascinated those 14 days. I knew they were desert like and possibly not “mountaineering worthy”. But still… I dared to, they were just, THERE…
In 2016, during a monthly reunion with fellow “acampadores” of ADAPRI, Puerto Rico’s backpacking association, one of them mentioned a trip to Pico Duarte on March, 2017 , in the Dominican Republic, and started passing around a roster for those interested. I had no clue of this place, “never heard”, so I asked him and he quickly told me it was DR’s and the Caribbean’s highest mountain. After knowing of this expedition and having assurance that I could request leave on 2017 and go, I bought a flight few days later. I didn’t read much from PD at the beginning, I decided that I will just get there in shape, with the right gear (thinking long term) and enjoy with the rest of the group (about 25 boricuas). We had scheduled about 2 meetings and a “test hike” in el Yunque before our expedition.
Hike in El Yunque
As planned, we visited El Yunque National Forest (3,540 ft) on January 29, 2017 to do a “test hike”. The peak is nearly always covered in thin mist, showers are frequent. It is very humid and full of green, a beautiful tone of green in its vegetation. The scenery is plain beautiful.
We started our hike that day at about 9am, about 14 of us. The sky was very clear and we were very hyped to get up there. I got to Palo Colorado Information Center a couple of minutes late and without my boots on, so as when I play soccer, I felt that pump while tying my laces when there are other players already in the field kicking it around. You know when you get the feels over simple things like this, it means you like it.
It took us about 2-3 hours to reach the peak, trails are acceptable/can do in flip flops if experienced in hiking type.
Elevation gain in Pico Duarte is about 3 times that of El Yunque and we will be ascending (hiking) for about 8 hours the first day just to get to approx. 8,000 ft and camp (Comparticion), then. Back to El Yunque, we made several stops but nothing too long, it was a steady hike and nobody was lagging behind. Some people in ADAPRI have been into hiking and camping, and it shows.
So we reached summit in the afternoon, it didn’t rain and the sky was very clear. Took lots of pictures there and rested for a while, Myrian did her thing jajaja.
Finally, it was a great day with awesome people, all of them. The spirits were very high after reaching the summit and so was our excitement to reach Pico Duarte in March. Afterwards, we ended up in a restaurant in Loiza, near the beach, and took a group picture there. I hope our faces can describe how good of a moment it was. For me, it has been the type of thing that I think of every single day, and have been preparing for months now.
Pico Duarte being the first real “mountain” I hike, had me thrilled the moment I signed that roster. I started looking up stuff in the internet, documentaries, books (I own Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills jaja) and a bunch of other sources. First, I made an inventory of the stuff that I already had and the “stuff to buy”. From Maño we got a gear list, which I copied into Evernote (app) and started making my own. Made it checklist style and added an available budget and funds spent on top with a “last updated” date on it.