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Ascent of Pico Duarte on 2014-03-24

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Karen Musser
Daniel Musser <1846>; Guides Franklin Perez; and the mule handlers "William" and "Jonathan"
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, March 24, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Pico Duarte
    Location:Dominican Republic
    Elevation:3097 m / 10164 ft

Ascent Trip Report

I looked for good trip reports and information on this trip and was dissapointed at was available out there. Backpacker magazine recommended the hike and two private outfits to book it from. One being Iguanamama out of Cabarete DR. We booked with Iguanamama and their website was completely incorrect with its data on the climb in terms of mileage and vertical gain at each station and as such, the trip made no sense. So I continued to research the trip and eventually helped them correct their website to be consistent with the actual mileages and elevations given within the national park and it should be pretty close now. I hope this report will help those that are planning to go. Some things to consider when doing this:

1) it is nice to support the local economy my hiring the mules. They will carry the heavy gear and food for only $10 per day and I found the local people to be very kind and appreciative.

2) the guides in the area are knowledgable. If you book directly with the ranch at La Cienaga you can get a rate of around $275 per person for a 3 day ascent. If you book through an adventure agent like Iguanamama it includes a hotel in Jarabacoa at a really cool place on the river with dinner included and runs around $400 per person for 3 days or $380 if book online (current prices).

3) the true vertical gain includes a lot of regain because the La Cienaga route follows a lot of ridges where you climb in and out of saddles. I estimated around 940 feet of additional gain to climb from La Cienaga (the national park TH gateway)to reach up to the intermediate stop at La Comparticion. Since La Comparticion climbs down for the night, there is also that 656 feet of regain which occurs on day three back which is the only regain the maps let you know about. Thus, figure the affects on your feet of more like 1,596 feet of total regain just to get to the bunk houses at La Comparticion. BUT there is also regain that is not mentioned anywhere between the night stop at La Comparticion and the summit of Pico Duarte - figure around 340 feet each way from La Comparticion to the peak and back to the bunk houses. Thus, a total of 8,358 feet to the top of Duarte (not the net gain of 6,500 feet on emight estimate simply subtracting the starting and ending elevations). Because of the regain coming back, you are looking at a total trip total of around 10,394 feet - so you a better idea of how much wear and tear on your legs is required. Do not simply think it is the trailhead elevation minus the top elevation. This mistake is why many people find this hike harder than they thought it would be. Thus, if you take no side trips and you start from the portal at La Cienaga, you are looking at a total gain of around 10,394 feet. I added a buswhack of Pico Yaque so I ended up with a total gain of the trip a bit more at 10,778.

4) Conditions - the trail has a lot of stones in the path that the park service clears every 5 years. We caught it at the end of a clearing cycle and when it is at the end of the 5 years there are a lot of rocks to slow you down unless you want to roll an ankle. They started the process of clearing the trails the day we came out!

5) Be careful booking with poor guides. Some preditory guides will jump you the minute you get off the bus at Jarabacoa. Our guides warned us of these people and sure enough we ran into the same "guide" two days later guiding a group of young swedish girls. These ladies were in superb shape and very adventurous - fortunately but their "guide" did not have enough food for them and our guides ended up feeding them or I dont believe they would have had the strength to get down in the 2 days they were trying.

6) The guide that took us was named Franklin Perez and he can either be booked through Iguanamama with all the fancy trimmings like the dinner and hotel room at Jarabacoa River Club or separately through the ranch he works for without the extras and his number is 1-809-931-1429. I explained to him about peakbagging and how others might want to add the destination of La Peloma nearby - the second highest peak even though it is not as exciting at the top. I think he at least understands our purpose even though I have heard many of these guides do not understand why we might want to tag some of the other nearby peaks along the way. I would be careful to simply be talked into a trip from someone off the bus in Jarabacoa!

Summary of Our Trip:

We booked a 2 night 3 day deal as my wife wanted to summit on foot with me. We took mules for gear and in case she wanted relief at any time. We were all proud she did all the vertical in 2 days without use of the mule. She did reward herself with the mule ride on the way down. We could have easily gotten the second highest peak in DR Loma La Pelona on our second day and A little bummed I had to pass on it. But fires were burning the night that we camped at La Comparticion and the smoke threatend us in the morning so the guides asked us to climb Duarte and get back and was going to get off the mountain in 2 days instead of 3. Daniel and I got back to La Comparticion before the mule riders (we are fast coming down) but when we got back the guide said...good news! the smoke is gone we can stay longer. So instead of having to do a 18 mile day we were going to have a long camp day. And there was not time to go back and get the second peak which was up by Duarte. But we ended up meeting an interesting group of Swedish girls that were adventurists and we traded stories around the camp fire and had a great time. The ladies had just filmed themselves jumping off a cliff near Semana that was 45 feet into the ocean and had to climb up a sketchy rope ladder to get out of the ocean. Yikes!

Recommendations:

Decide if you are there to just nail the country high point or if you are determined to bag as many of the tall peaks in the area as you can. Then determine your fitness level and whether you are too proud to ride a mule or not. For those wanting to bag this peak from the La Cienaga portal, the following recommendations are given to enhance the lack of info out there for these ascents:

1) Basic Duarte Trip - assume 3 days guide assisted with mules and overnighting in La Compartcion one night each way. This is the easiest of the trips described but it is no easy hike. Remember that until the park service completes the rock clearing activity a lot of miles were spent on ankle rolling material. They just started the project the day we returned go figure? Figure if hiking it that day one is 11.5 miles with 5,992 feet of gain the first day (including regain). Second day is far easier with 2,806 feet gain (including the regain) in 6.4 miles and enjoying the peak and more friendship with hikers at the La Comparticion. Third day is 11.5 miles back but with that unexpected 1,596 feet of total regains. Total Mileage is around 29.4 miles and total gain is around 10,394 feet.

2) Duarte-La Peloma Trip - same as above but convince your guide what peakbagging is, then insist on tackling the second highest peak in Hispaniola. The guides will try to explain to you that it has no view and is a waste of time. You either should no some Spanish or have someone explain before you go. There is a trail to the summit and it adds only an extra hour or two to the easier second day. But only half of the 7 guides I met understood english well enough to explain the why part and only two would allow it.

3) Duarte Trifecta - same trip as above but add Yaque to the third day return adding about one mile round trip and 300 feet of extra gain to day three stats described above. But, it is a steep class 2 bushwhack through thick wire grass and hidden rocks to the summit. Be careful to not roll an ankle on the large rocks buried in the wiregrass slopes. The few easy lower class 3 opportunities are a welcome relief to avoid rocks in the wiregrass so aim for those outcroppings when you can.

4) Solo Duarte Slugathon - exactly same routes as trip number one except the guides have you get up early day 2 and hike up Duarte and enjoy sunrise then return to the La Comparticion again for early lunch and bust all the way back in day 2. This is a very strenuous option. People do it and then realize it is too much and end up on the mules. This is because the official stats do not adequately keep up with all of the regains. If you do this and are committed to hike every step, you are going to have a day of of 11.5 miles and 6,000 feet of total gain followed by nearly 18 miles and 4,400 feet total gain second day.

5) Duarte Trifecta Slugathon - do everything in trip 3 above but in only 2 days. The easiest way to do this is to hit Yaque on the way up day 1 and do the other two peaks on day two. I don't know the exact mileage and elevation gain to grab nearby La Pelona but I am guessing it around 1.5 miles extra and probably around 600 feet more gain. This would be around 11,500 feet of total gain and nearly 32 miles in 2 days!

6) Add in the La Rucilla!!! I do not know any stats on this bushwhack or the conditions of attempting but you have got to add an extra day to do this and likely camp at Aquita Fria if the guides will let you.

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The summit of Pico Duarte, the highest mountain on the island of Hispanola at 10,164 feet (and highest peak in the Carribbean)has a bust of Duarte, a white cross, an the flag of DR at it's summit (2014). Photo by William Musser.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2680 m / 8798 ft
    Elevation Loss:1341 m / 4402 ft
    Distance:28 km / 17.4 mi
    Grade/Class:1 mostly with easy 3
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Guide, Pack Animals, Hut Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Cloudy smokey pleasant
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:2577 m / 8458 ft
    Extra Loss:590 m / 1936 ft
    Distance:23 km / 14.3 mi
    Route:La cienaga portal
    Trailhead:La cienaga portal  1110 m / 3642 ft
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:751 m / 2466 ft
    Extra Gain:103 m / 340 ft
    Distance:5 km / 3.1 mi
    Trailhead:La compartcion  2449 m / 8038 ft
Ascent Part of Trip: DR-duarte (3 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDate
1Pico Duarte2014-03-24 A
2Pico del Yaque2014-03-25 B



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