Attempting the Summit of Pico Duarte: Part 3


Map to the top (c) ABR 2016

After a night of inventing new ways to sleep in a bunk with zero support in the middle, and a breakfast of bread and cheese cubes, the events of the prior day’s harrowing driving adventure faded fast. I wasn’t enthused about the food we had been able to bring, but I did my best to fill up. The hike up the tallest mountain the Caribbean wasn’t going to be easy, not with the accelerated itinerary we had been forced to make.

We had one day to try for the top, and I wanted to shore up as much energy as I could.

(c) ABR 2016

Martin, my hiking partner, and I finished breakfast around 5, but we ended up waiting for our guide for nearly an hour before we could leave, because our illustrious mule had escaped in the night. Perhaps he sensed the coming hike and wasn’t all that excited about it. Luckily, we didn’t have much for the lovely animal to carry, just a jug of water and our two small day packs.

(c) ABR 2016

The first part of the Cienaga route, the main trail up Pico Duarte, is fairly flat. So, we had a nice warm-up as we followed the stream up the slope, pausing only to take pictures at the little wooden walkways that served as bridges. We moved as fast as we could, anticipating the long haul that was the come. The question about whether or not I could make it to the top hung over my head.

From Los Tablones, things started to get real. The trail became increasingly steep, with the steepest incline hitting us about halfway up between La Laguna and El Cruce. I kept repeating to myself “There is no way that this is only 0.5 kms!” as I struggled up the incline. The trails on this part of the mountain had carved deep canyons into the soft soil of Pico Duarte, some taller than me. The wear of people’s feet and the tropical weather seemed to be a hard force on this place. The trees here also took on an oddly swampy quality, with moss hanging down from the tall branches as the forest shifted from tropical to temperate and the air grew colder.

(c) ABR 2016

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. We reached El Cruce, and judging by the map that’s at the top of its post, I was expecting to settle back into the same plod that carried us up from Los Tablones to La Laguna. It was tiring, but nothing that we couldn’t maintain.

(c) ABR 2016

This part of the trail was far more difficult than that ever-present map suggested, however. I don’t know if it was just that we were tired after our ascent, but those 3 km felt endless. I have to believe, even now, that whoever measured that segment was simply wrong. Maybe it was the same someone that measured the La Laguna-El Cruce segment. But it was here that the tropical forest finally fell away, leaving us in the fog, amid the temperate pines that seem so at-home on tall mountains.

(c) ABR 2016

As you may read if you look up Pico Duarte, there was a fire on the mountain in 2005 which wiped out vast swaths of the forest. For some, this made for a disappointing trip, but I found this part of the mountain (now partially regrown) to be really beautiful, despite the fact that I was exhausted. The little trees dotting fields of grasses among the tall survivors of the fire opened up a wide view of the mountainous inland. The views of the sunrise from there the next day were unbelievable.

(c) ABR 2016

Once we finally hit Aguita Fria, I cursed the sign. This was the high point before the camp where we would spend the night, and I knew right then that I wasn’t going to make the top. My feet were blistering in my boots, my legs were starting to feel weak, and my head just wasn’t in it. I knew how much further I had to go, and it just didn’t feel feasible, not with the entire hike back down the mountain waiting for me in the morning.

Bad Aguita Fria! (c) ABR 2016

So, I complained my way down to Comparticion camp, annoyed that we had to hike down after hiking up for so long. But the camp was a welcome sight. Several small, wooden cabins huddled around a fire pit. A little garden peeked out from behind a long building with a kitchen that housed wood-fed stoves. Mules relaxed in the fields that surrounded that little spot of human habitation, and when I finally dropped down to rest, a camp cat came to relax in the sun with me.

Our trusty mule (c) ABR 2016

Martin went on to the summit, although he didn’t return until the sun had nearly set. I was disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top, but when he finally got back to camp, the look of exhaustion on his face let me know that I made the right decision. Pushing for the top would have been irresponsible of me, and I hike enough to know my limits.

Even without the summit under my belt, the whole experience was adventure enough, and that is still one of the hardest trails that I have ever hiked in a day.

(c) ABR 2016


Expedition South Island: Day 5: Mishaps and Accomplishments on Stewart Island


Expedition South Island: Day 6 and Beyond: Driving, driving, driving… and resting in Christchurch


  1. This looks like such a difficult hike!! But so rewarding. I’ve been on a bit of a “find the best hikes/treks” spree so I’ll have to add this one to the list!! Also how cute is your little mule?!

    • Definitely put this one on your list! Just give yourself enough time to make it. XD Our mule was awesome. Made the hike so much more enjoyable.

  2. Seriously, that looks hard, but so fun! I wish I did more of this before we had kids. Or at least had someone who could watch my kids for free for a long weekend so my husband and I can be adventurous again!

    • I can imagine that kids would make it much harder, especially in another country. D: But hey, I’m sure when they grow up you can start going out with them and that will be great.

  3. Looks hard but a lot of fun! It’s always extra rewarding when you put in the work though.

  4. Amber

    Wow, this would be difficult, but I’d try it! The scenery would be gorgeous at least.

  5. Susan Croox

    Good call! Thanks for sharing your journey. It makes for a good story 😉

    • Thanks! I’ve had to change my plans a few times since then, which is always difficult. But if you aren’t enjoying your trip, what’s the point?

  6. You find the greatest places to hike. So proud of you! I am slowly getting into it.

  7. Looks like an incredible place to hike. Not sure about those stairs; pretty scary:) Great pics

  8. Wow I would love to try something like this someday! I am no where in shape to do this but I hope one day I will be!

  9. well done for trying! you need to know your body – imagine how much you could have hurt yourself if you had of pushed too hard

  10. I’ve been there! (sort of) My parents are from the Domincan Republic and one day we decided to go and when I saw what my cousins were planning I said are y’all crazy let’s go get some food! ha… BUT we went to the monument which has an awesome view you are awesome for doing hike!

  11. Reading your post reminds me of my coming hiking trip that is just a few days away! Hope it won’t be as tough as yours…*finger-crossed* haha..

  12. Oh, hiking! My favorite kind of travel. I would love to get there someday!

  13. It’s always so hard to listen to our bodies, especially when there are other people around who ‘can’ keep going on a trail like that. It’s a fine line, often hard to see, between pushing yourself to better things and pushing yourself too far, but kudos to you for listening and doing what was right for you!

  14. losttogether1234

    I am sure the hard work was all worth it for the view at the top and sense of achievement. I had never heard about this hike before, but it looks like a great one.

  15. Justine

    Great article! It looks like a lovely hike with all that beautiful scenery.

  16. I cannot wait to make it to the DR. I love the strange sense of humor with which you write. I cannot image sleeping on an uncomfortable bed and getting up at 5 am to hike a mountain all day. I would do it, but I thinking about the blisters on your feet. Thanks for sharing!

  17. JC

    Yet another spot I’ll have to add to the “Hikes I Must Attempt” list. Looks like you had a great adventure despite not making it to the summit. I always have an issue with severe altitude headaches so it’s always good to know your limits.

  18. Wow this looks like it was awesome!

  19. Epic hiking story. And the mule never showed back up? We rarely do intense hiking like this during international travel, but I think we need to start.

  20. Looks like a beautiful hike.- and I know what you mean about reaching your limit. I’m not a fantastic hiker, but I’ve had to pull the plug shy of the summit once or twice. I feel like if I wake up the next morning and *don’t* feel angry that I diverted, then I know I did the right thing… really helps in learning limits for sure.

  21. Sounds like this one really pushed you to your limit! I’m glad you don’t feel disappointed you didn’t make the summit, better that you didn’t hurt yourself. The views look incredible though!

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