Cerro de Punta Climb,
Puerto Rico's highest mountain:
Hiking Puerto Rico's highest summit, Cerro de Punta in the Toro Negro Forest Reserve, is one of my most difficult assignments. At only 4,390 feet, Cerro de Punt is an alpine runt, but I have a real problem locating the trail to the summit.
Finding this trailhead and almost anything to do with hiking in Puerto Rico is uncommonly difficult. This is an island where people don't like to hike, and I hear lots of strange explanations about why this is so.
My favorite excuse is from a woman who defensively says, “We really don't have the proper shoes for it.”
But a tourism official admits, “We don't like to walk. We are a ‘car' people and we like to drive everywhere. We'd drive to the bathroom if we could. The idea of walking through the forest on dirt paths where you might get your shoes dirty does not truly appeal to a lot of us.”
Which explains why most of the trails in El Yunque, the Caribbean National Forest, are paved with asphalt. And why Cerro de Punta, Puerto Rico's highest mountain, has a paved road going to its summit. So no one much cares about the hiking trail since you can drive up the mountain.
Except for me. But finally after numerous phone calls from the States and then after hours of searching for the trailhead, I will begin to wonder why I do. I have to keep reminding myself that it's my job to walk up hills even when no one else wants to.
The drive down from San Juan to the Toro Negro Forest Reserve starts promising enough. I arrive at the forest reserve office late in the morning and easily obtain a map outlining 12 miles of hiking trails that begin right outside the office door.
Great! And a trail guide for Cerro de Punta?
“There isn't one.”
“Everyone drives up there.” The forester shows me the route.
What about a hiking guide?
“There aren't any. Nobody ever wants one.”
I go to my backup plan, the Parador Hacienda Gripinas located near the foot of Cerro de Punta. I phone and inquire
“Do you know where the trailhead to Cerro de Punta starts?”
“Sure. We'll get you off in the right direction.”
I should have paid strict attention to those words.