Pico Duarte Climb
And now the fun begins.
That morning as we begin the marathon walk I notice a boy of about 11 slowly trailing me on a mule. It turns out the mule is for me when I poop out.
Why should anyone expect that? I had no trouble the day before. But the summit is 19 km away and 6,000 feet higher than Los Tablones.
Our schedule calls for making the summit in late afternoon, then descend another 5 km to overnight at the second shelter. Definitely a demanding hike, but I intend to walk most of the way with only an occasional timeout to ride a mule at the highest altitudes, near the top.
However, the youngsters who are my climbing companions want to see if they can climb Pico Duarte in record time and they set off to do it. Their loping pace makes it impossible to stop, smell and photograph the flowers, and the flowers and ferns in many places are extraordinarily beautiful.
Between taking pictures and the burden of a long (but fruitful) life, I fall farther behind. I'm embarrassed to be riding long before I'd ever dreamed possible. But at least atop the mule I can pause to take photos without feeling like I'll never see the summit.
The weather is postcard perfect until after lunch and we make the final assault on Pico Duarte. In minutes we are covered in cloud. The sharp, clean smell of the mountain fog arrives just ahead of the sound of distant thunder.
As the rain starts and thunder surrounds us, I come across 2 unexpected, grisly scenes. One is the 7-month old skeleton of a mule, the other a carcass of a horse. No one is sure what happened to the mule, but the horse apparently died from lung problems just the day before. Altitude sickness?
Well, no one talks about it much, but people also have died, usually of heart attacks, while attempting this mountain.
The thunder subsides but it's drizzling at the summit, marked by a statue and flapping, wind-tattered Dominican flags. A metal pole beside the flags hums with the sound of enough electricity to power a small village.
Lightning obviously is still present and this is not a place to stay for long, especially since clouds obscure almost everything.