Climbing Mount Chirripo
Written by Tyler and Ali Weeks, previous guests of Adventure Inn
Hiking Mount Chirripo is, for many, a challenge, adventure, and calling, all in one. The highest of all mountains in Central America, its top is accessible to anyone with the persistence to press on, step by step, and requires no technical gear when seeking the summit. What is required is mental perserverance, and an ability to conquer from within the outdoor challenges of slope and variable weather patterns. For those enduring enough to press through the many offerings Mother Nature makes along the way (blaring heat and heavy humidity, cloaking clouds and varying intensities of rain...even temperatures cold enough to occasionally evoke snow and frost near the top), views of both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans can be had, but rarely, and often only at sunrise, before the skies at 12,526 ft are enveloped in fog and clouds.
For our honeymoon, my lovely bride (my Malaika, Ali Wise) and I began the endeavor early in the morning, with Sun's rise veiled in the common occurance of a cloudy day. The plan was to make it to the ranger station, 14.5 kilometers up from the trailhead by mid-afternoon, in our hopeful attempt to avoid being caught outdoors amidst the heavy rains of a July day's Costa Rican downpour. The hike brought us through many different ecotypes, all fed by the waters that daily fall to and through the rainforests. Countless species of birds, insects, and plants were the backdrop to our ascent, providing a heavenly distraction to the aching in our legs that built, as we clambered closer and closer to the mountaintop. Only 40 passes/people are allowed in the park on any given day, yet it seemed the allure of Chirripo had global reach; we shared conversation with locals choosing to summit their country's highest peak, as well as gringos like us, from such places as the USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and England.
By mid-morning we'd reached the halfway point, where we could refill our water supply and sit down to reminisce on elevation gained and prepare for elevations still to be tackled. A dry first half of the hike succumbed first to misting weather, and eventually to a steady drizzle as the higher trail beckoned our energies forward. While the first ten or so kilometers were picturesque rainforest, composed of any number of towering trees, epiphytes and bromeliads, gargantuan ferns, bamboos, and flowering plants, the elevations and weather patterns further up stunted the growth of such large flora, creating a much different surrounding, known locally as 'Paramo' as we neared our resting place for the night.
Gifted by two kilometers of basically flat and forgiving trail, we were able to prepare for the last push to our lodge (know that the term is used loosely...a very accommodating kitchen, but no insulation, temps of 5-10* C at night, and no way to dry out whatever may have been drenched on the way up). Deemed 'The Repentance', and for good reason, the last kilometer to the ranger station increased greatly in gradient, and given the rains we'd endured for over four hours now, boasted a mighty mud and muck to add to the fun. But in times of great challenge, one must simply, well, keep things simple...and so step by grueling step, our goal for the day was reached.
Fast forward to the next morning, after listening to mighty rains pound the roof above our head until just past midnight, we awoke and departed for the summit promptly as 3am. Spitting just the slightest bits of snow, the weather was chilly but accommodating, and we could see stars in the skies just to our east. Hiking with headlamps, and having left all we wouldn't need for our summit bid at the lodge, it took just under two hours to reach Chirripo's final challenge. With dawn threatening to break, we could see the ominous peak's silhouette on our approach, and were reduced by its mighty incline to hike hand over hand for the last 300 meters. Yet at 5am, having beat the sunrise to the finish line, and with all of Costa Rica and Central America below our feet, the chilly winds, damp clothing, soaked shoes, and aching muscles were forgotten. Fate was on our side, and scattered clouds gave way to the sun's mighty rays, providing shifting views of the surrounding hills and mountains that no words or photos could ever capture. Yet pictures aplenty were taken, and rather than a sense of conquering, ours was much more a communion with Mother Nature and the might spirits of Mount Chirripo.
Though still challenging, the descent back down to the ranger station, and then to the trailhead to Casa Mariposa (the most homey and eco-friendly hostel a hiker could ever ask for) was a time to reflect... to quiet one's thoughts and abandon words, while simply awing and enjoying the natural surroundings. For all the pain experienced in the ascent, we both felt a bit sad that our experience on Mount Chirripo would soon be coming to an end. That said, the thought of a warm shower and hot meal overcame any longing to begin again toward the might mountaintop, knowing Chirripo's indelible impression lives eternally in the heart of any and all who choose its challenge.