The last two days Jill and I were up on Chirripo. It was a scenic and interesting, but also a very long hike. (See the photos on my Picasa web gallery.) The trailhead is at 1520m, the hut at 3400m and the summit at 3820m. The round-trip trail distance is 40 km (15km on day 1, 25km on day 2).
On Day 1 we started around 6:00am to take advantage of the first light and the relatively clear conditions in the morning. The trail climbs fairly steeply through the cloud forest and has markers for every km so you always know how far you still have to go.
We reached the “Base Crestones” hut around 3:00pm. This gave us some time to rest and check out the hut and nearby surroundings. Interestingly, the hut has the best drinking water in all of Costa Rica and free wireless Internet (hence I was able to tweet from the mountain)! We went to bed early (7:00pm) to catch some sleep prior to the next, big day.
On Day 2 we left the hut around 3:15am to have a chance at a clear summit. Due to the proximity of both Oceans (Carribean and Pacific) there is usually cloud build-up surrounding the summit by early morning. The remaining 5 km and 400m elevation gain was not too bad. We reached the summit around 6:30am and enjoyed a half hour of clear visibility in all directions over the top of cloud layers far below.
We got back down to the hut and took a short rest there. At 10:00am we continued our descent. Although already somewhat tired from the many km and the cumulative more than 2500m elevation gain in the last 28 hrs we now had a long way down ahead of us.
Around noon it started to rain; drizzle at first, then steady rain! (It’s not only cloud-forest, but rain-forest after all! And according to the locals this November was exceptionally wet…) We reached the shelter at Llano Bonito about half-way and had a short break and snack while it was just pouring down. But we needed to move if we didn’t want to get caught on the trail by the dark.
The rest of the trail was fairly miserable. For one, we were tired and our legs and feet began to ache and hurt. Then the rain and everything getting soaked added to the discomfort. Above all, though, the trail in the lower half is very muddy, and walking down through the slippery mud was extremely difficult and tiring. One had to be very careful not to slip and land in the mud.
This is also why we walked rather slowly and ended up hiking the last km in the dark with our head-lamp and flash-light. We were very happy to reach the trailhead by 6:00pm and shortly thereafter back to the comfort of a hot shower in our room at the Talamanca Reserve followed by a celebratory dinner.
I’m glad we reached the summit together. Chirripo is a great hike but very strenuous – probably nicer in the dry season. It goes to show that you can’t judge a mountain simply by the altitude of it’s summit. For example, Guatemala’s Tajumulco is 400m higher than Costa Rica’s Chirripo, but far easier – literally a walk in the park by comparison. Chirripo marks the 6.th Panamerican Peak and the 3rd within the month of November.