Mission: Dominican Republic
By Gary Fallesen
Jose Veras returned in 1998 to his native Dominican Republic from the United States, where he has lived for three decades working as a school teacher. He had taken up climbing in the Northeastern U.S., cutting his teeth on the High Peaks of the Adirondacks in winter.
He and a Puerto Rican friend, Julio Vazquez, were the “Jamaican bobsledders” in reverse: going up hills rather than down them on winter mountaineering trips. That led them to Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean at 10,127 feet (3,087 meters).
“It was first climbed in 1944 as a (100-year) celebration of independence against Haiti,” Veras said. “Since then it is like a rite of passage for every Dominican to go up and climb it.”
The climb was a two-day, 28-mile roundtrip hike after which Veras “got somewhat emotional. Every Dominican that you tell you have climbed Pico Duarte says, ‘Oh, wow.’ It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
Pico Duarte is part of what is known as the Dominican Alps, located in Parques Nacionales Ramirez in the central mountain area of the Dominican Republic. The area is home to the four highest peaks in the Antilles – Pico Duarte, La Pelona and La Rucilla, which are both around 10,000 feet or 3,049 meters, and Pico Yaque (9,055 feet/2,760 meters). La Pelona is considered the twin summit of Pico Duarte and it is connected to it by a one-mile long, narrow col called Valle de Lilis.
About 3,000 people a year climb Pico Duarte. There are three routes up the mountain.
The main route begins at Cienaga, at an elevation of 1,110 meters, meaning climbers will gain more than 7,000 feet. Cienaga is the park entrance. Guides are required and fees are posted. In 2005, a guide cost 300 pesos per day. There was also a 100 peso entrance fee. Mules also are “obligatory” and cost 200 pesos per day. The mules will carry most, if not all, of your gear. A riding mule is 250 pesos per day.
Most people hike about 11 miles to a camp at about 8,100 feet. They rise early the following morning, climb the remaining three miles to the summit and then make the long hike out.