WEDNESDAYEL YUNQUE PEAK = 3496 feet
Arrived in San Juan at 2:30. Eric met me at the exit and took me straight to El Yunque. Arrived at about 4:00PM. To officially camp in the park, you need to get a permit from the El Yunque Ranger Office, but it closes at 3:00PM. We got there at around 4:30PM, so I had Eric take me straight to the El Yunque trail-head.
Taxi’s will charge you $65 to take you from the airport to the entrance to the park, but not into it. It has something to do with liability—leaving customers up in the park (They are not allowed to come into the park and wait to pick people up--takes away from the travel agencies).
So I found a guy on CraigsList (Eric) and arranged for him to pick me up at the airport and take me directly to the trailhead for $75. You can find public buses and such to get to the park entrance at the highway, but it would take you hours longer to get there, and then you would have to find transportation up into the park—a waste of the day. Eric also held a day bag for me while I was hiking as he came to pick me up later in the week. Transportation is costly in P.R., but Eric was convenient, trustworthy, and very informative. I would recommend him. You may find his listing on CraigsList, or his phone number is seven-eight-seven-three-eight-three-zero-one-six-six. He lives in Juncos, southwest of the park.
The EL Yunque trail starts across from the Palo Coronado Visitor Center. Lots of tourists on this trail. If you plan to camp, like me, don’t tell anyone you are doing so. Tell anyone who asks you are “all-day hiking” so the big back-pack you have doesn’t look odd. Only 2 people asked me, so no sweat. The trail is easy, flat but long. The first part is concrete and later becomes small rocks flattened into the path. Lots of small water streams to collect water on the way up, so don’t worry about starting out with a load. There were some small rain shelters going up to rest at if necessary. I took my time and loaded up with water half way up.
I reached the junction to Las Picachos trail at 6:30PM—park closing time. I took the Picachos trail to the end. The last part is 60 cement steps going up. At the top, there is a small square area surrounded by a low concrete wall.I got here at 7:00 when the cloudy mist and drizzle enveloped the area. No clear views here from this time on. I forgot my tarp string—left it in the day bag with Eric—so I slept on the tarp in my bivy and rain outfit. It rained lightly on and off during the night, but came down strong once in the AM at about 7AM.
By 8:00AM, I loaded my bag and took off down the trail, and then continued on up the EL Yunque trail again for 30 minutes. (You come out from behind the tower-maintenance buildings onto Road 10) I hiked up the road for about 10 minutes and came to El Yunque observation tower.
I laid out my bags and clothes to dry. Quite windy but scattered sun. The observation tower is open so you can walk inside it in case it rains. But the wind throws the rain inside so it’s wet inside. After tourists started arriving, I packed up my things and walked 10 minutes down 10 to the Roca EL Yunque trail sign. Its past the El Yunque trail where you emerge from the forest, and on the right side, right after another maintenance building (In fact, it starts behind the building). I walked this trail for about 10 minutes, climbed a few rocks and found a ledge to dry out my clothes. It felt so nice, I stayed here for 4 hours to dry out and rest. Also,there was nobody here. Thought about sleeping here for the evening, but there was no flat area.
At about 4:30, I went back to EL Yunque tower and farted around. Tourists came up every 20 minutes or so. I was going to wait it out before spreading my bag out for the night when the park rangers came at 5:30PM (I guess they come up at this time daily to clear people before the park closes).
I took my bag and started down the road ahead of everyone else as if I were going all the way down to leave the park, but I turned off onto the Roca El Yunque trail and sat down on the rock ledge. I waited here until 7:00PM, figuring the rangers would have left by then. I hiked back to the road as it was getting dark, and walked up the observation tower. Nobody was there of course, so I went on top and spread my back and tarp out for the evening. The tower on top has a low wall around it to block direct wind, but it swirls quite a bit. It rained lightly during the night but got very windy. I slept here for the evening. (Although I had no protection from the rain, I did take 2 carabiners from my bag and looped the tarp in half so it did cover my head and bivy opening. This helped a little, but rain and condensation still leaked in every night).
FRIDAY: The park opens at 7:30, so I got out of my bag at 7AM and hung my stuff out to dry below and on top. (If the rangers came, I would have told them I got stuck on the mountain last night, but they did not). I stayed until 10:30 when the first tourists came up. I packed up my stuff and started down Road 10. I walked this all the way down to Route 191 and took a right. There will be a sign stating the road is closed to vehicles. I walked down the road for about 15 minutes before I came to the trail-head sign on the right, “El Toro Trail.”