The following is an excerpt from a Tico Times feature on Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s tallest mountain.
Indigenous groups who lived in the shadow of Chirripó allegedly referred to the peak as “the magic mountain.” On a clear day at the summit, it is said that you can see both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Momentarily, you are hovering above Costa Rica, looking down at the layers of rolling mountains as they descend toward the sea.
The mountain’s magic, as I interpreted it, is its geographical distinction from the rest of tropical Costa Rica. Jagged mountain formations, thin cold air, oak forests and fern groves are not traditionally associated with this country, where surfboard shorts significantly outnumber winter parkas.
Formed by glaciers that melted tens of thousands of years ago, the park’s ashen rock cliffs spiral and jut from the earth above small lakes and marshes in the valleys below. Clouds frequently roll through and cover the peaks. At night, stars glow just beyond the mountains. And if you watch the sky for a few minutes in the early morning, you’re likely to see stars cascade across the atmosphere.
Once you hit base camp, the bulk of the climb is behind you. Cerro Chirripó’s summit is an additional two-kilometer ascent, preceded by a four- to five-kilometer hike across the Valle de los Conejos (Rabbit Valley).
The final trek up to the peak is difficult, requiring some all-fours hand-and-foot climbing up the side of the ridge, but once you’ve gone that far, turning back is no longer a viable option. Plus, there’s a log book at the summit to write your name, securing your place in the illustrious society of Central American mountaineering legends. If that isn’t motivation to finish, I don’t know what is.
Most hikers summit Chirripó in two days. A first-day, 14-kilometer hike to the albergue, or base camp, is the first step. After a night at the base camp, with Spartan barracks, cold water and a kitchen for guests to prepare meals, most set out early the following day to scale the peak in the morning hours before heading back down to the small towns outside Pérez Zeledón, the region’s largest city.
Read our 2012 feature story on the climb:
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