Cerro Chirripó is the highest peak in Costa Rica, located in Parque Nacional Chirripó in the centre of the southern part of the country. In order to enter the park, you must register with the ranger station in San Gerardo de Rivas, so they know who will be making the tough 20km ascent each day. We know several Ticos and Ticas who hiked to the summit and back in one day (sometimes overnight), but we would definitely not recommend it; the base lodge at km14 is the perfect spot for food and rest on the way there or back (confirm your spot in advance).
We began our slow but steady ascent from Los Ángeles at 5am, accompanied by one of the neighbourhood dogs. The path to the main trail was guarded by some local residents.
Each kilometre up to the base lodge is named, with the signs also providing their altitude so you can track your progress.
At lower altitudes the canopy is thick and moss dominates, giving an enchanted feel to the trail.
The entrance to the park is at km4, where we stopped for a picnic breakfast and chatted to some fellow hikers – one of whom was celebrating his 66th birthday by hiking up for the 30th time!
There is an overall thinning of the canopy as you ascend and we found the resulting increase in sun exposure nicely balanced out the gradual drop in temperature due to altitude.
Shortly after km7 there is a rest stop providing drinking water for topping up your bottles and cafe selling essential coffee, snacks and basic pharmaceuticals. Good preparation for the relentless, exhausting climbs of kms 8 and 9.
All along the way, we were impressed with the variety of flora. Bromeliads in particular feature around the middle of the route…
… along with the intriguing barbas de viejo
Km10 marks the point where you first break through 3000m of altitude, as well as the beginning of dramatic changes in the landscape…
…along with some more interesting plant life.
Towards the end of km10, the scenery transformation is almost complete. Mist is now the only cover on the path and you can feel the chill.
A fire around km11 in the ‘80s still leaves its mark now, with grey, twisted trees dominating the views.
Any rejoicing at reaching Monte Sin Fe – the high point en route to the base lodge – is short lived as you drop considerably before commencing a steep re-ascent, doing penance at Los Arrependitos along the way.
Breathtaking rock formations feature as you approach the base lodge, which is nestled amongst the tallest peaks. Our arrival time was 1pm.
We were warned about possible sub-zero temperatures here, compounded by the lack of any hot water. However, rather generous meals and surprisingly warm sleeping bags more than counteracted the harsh outside climate.
After a very early night, we set out at 3am on the 5km hike / climb to the peak of Chirripó, the aim being to see the sunrise from the summit. Our progress was delayed by a fellow hiker in need (who wasn’t quite prepared enough for the cold), however we all made it up by 7.30 in the end. It is worth noting that the park has no emergency service of its own, save for other hikers! (Anyone unfortunate enough to be seriously injured would be rescued by porter with horse or even helicopter)
The views from the top were incredible in all directions. We were lucky enough to have clear skies in spite of it being the middle of the rainy season.
There are many other sights in the surrounding area and with hindsight a second night in the lodge would have been a good idea…
… but as it was, we set off on the hike back down after taking in a – naturally – substantial breakfast.
The trail in reverse is a bit like Burton turning into Disney, with the burnt mountainsides of the high altitudes giving way to the lush greens of the lower slopes. Fauna highlights included a wild pig in the former scenario and a rabbit in the latter.
The long downhill hike was harder than expected, really taking its toll on our joints, making the final signpost a very welcome sight!
Climbing Chirripó is a right of passage for Costa Ricans and although we might have skipped it had we not ended up volunteering in the area, it has been the most incredible experience of our trip so far.