Last week I stood on the top of Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica.
It. was. incredible.
At 12,530 feet, Chirripó is the highest mountain in Costa Rica, the 5th highest peak in Central America, and the 37th most prominent peak in the world.
Just a few behind Mount Everest…
Well more than a few but they’re on the same list which, yeah…I know.
Cerro Chirripó is located in Chirripó National Park in the southern region of Costa Rica. The main trailhead to the park is located in a small town called San Geraldo de Rivas, just 1.5 hours from the city of San Isidro and about 7-8 hours from my site.
I swear everything is 7-8 hours from my site.
For the past six months, I, along with a group of seven other volunteers, have been planning, anticipating, and training vigorously (ha just kiddin’) in preparation for our hike up Chirripó.
Between reserving park permits for eight people, overnight lodging at the bottom and top of the mountain, and pulling together the few pieces of cold-weather clothing I brought to this country, this three-day overnight trip took a bit of planning.
But that didn’t stop us, even though the days leading up to our departure were wet, rainy, and cold.
Our basic itinerary went something like this:
Day 1: Stay at the bottom of the mountain near the park entrance at Casa Mariposa
Day 2: Begin hike at 5:00am and arrive at Crestones Base Camp (11,155ft), 3.4 miles from the summit of mountain, at 12:30pm.
Day 3: Begin hike at 3:00am to arrive at the summit for sunrise at 5:00am. Leave Crestones Base Camp at 8:30am and arrive back at Casa Mariposa at 1pm.
I’ll save you the boring details, like the concerning amount of nuts I ate and how I didn’t shower between the first and second day of our hike (thanks for bringing the wet wipes Tory!) and give you the basic rundown from start to finish in case you too ever want to hike Cerro Chirripó!
After arriving in San Geraldo, we stopped at the park office and got the permits for our hike the following morning. A few of us opted to have some of our food and clothing sent up the mountain (via horses) as we anticipated a much chillier climate up top. I sent up a few pieces of warmer clothing and some food for dinner (since it was $12 for a meal at the top of the mountain whoaaaaa) in a lightweight bag and it costed $6 (that was even after I took a cucumber out which would have costed an extra $2, more than the actual cucumber itself).
After checking our things, we visited the very small grocery store in town to pick up a few last minute items. I suggest doing the majority of your grocery shopping in San Isidro de El General because it was slim pickins at the one in San Geraldo.
The walk to Casa Mariposa from the center of town is a 30-minute steep uphill walk that will both prepare you and terrify you for the next day’s lengthy hike. After arriving we made dinner and prepared ourselves for the following day and went to bed early for our 4:00am wake-up call.
When our alarms went off at 4:00am, it was POURING RAIN. With fear in our hearts we dressed for wet weather, wrapping our bodies and backpacks with ponchos, rain covers, jackets and hats. Fifteen minutes before heading out into the darkness, the rain subsided, we jumped with glory, and commenced our journey at 5:00am geared with headlamps, flashlights and walking sticks.
Well I’ll tell ya even though the main entrance was just literally a few steps away from the lodge, we somehow missed it and marched onward until we found ourselves in a place called Cloudbridge Nature Reserve.
The first few hours of our hike were filled with intense emotion and panic (nah we were fine…) as we searched for the main entrance to Chirripó Park, which we now know we passed within thirty seconds of leaving Casa Mariposa.
We got lost while being lost by taking an obviously wrong path but after backtracking, and discussing our individual interpretations of the various maps and signage, we took a questionable, steep path with high hopes that it was going somewhere towards Chirripó.
After an hour we were magically dumped out right on the main entrance of the Chirripó National Park.
The majority of the journey was uphill with a few glorious, relaxing, flat streaks…but mostly uphill. It was mild uphillage though.
At 12:30pm, we reached Crestones Base Camp, 14.5 kilometers from the bottom, and about 5.1 kilometers / two hours from the actual top of Chirripó. We would stay there the rest of the day and night in anticipation for the next morning’s last uphill stretch.
Arriving at Base Camp
Base camp was VERY COLD. Oh and there was no warm water, the water was in fact ICE COLD hence the no showering.
Immediately after we arrived it started raining and didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon. We spent the rest of the afternoon eating, playing cards, eating, and hotboxing our dorm room with our body heat. With our 2:30am wake up call the next morning, we all headed to bed around 6:30pm.
At 2:30am, I rolled out of bed already dressed in my hiking gear (ta-da), put my shoes on, wrapped my travel pack towel around my neck as a scarf (lite packing tip #1) and readied myself for the last 2-3 hour leg of our hike to the summit.
I highly overestimated the cold temperature and immediately started stripping unnecessary layers of towel scarves and sweaters. I removed my hat, gloves, and jacket but I was glad I had them for the top as it gets a little chilly up there. I regretted wearing two pairs of leggings but I dealt with it.
With a 3:00am start time, we arrived at the top of Cerro Chirripó just in time for the sunrise around 5:15am.
Once the sun was out, we celebrated our one year anniversary as Peace Corps Volunteers with a morning brewski.
After two glorious sun-filled hours on the top of the world we headed back down to base camp, regrouped, and began our descent back at Casa Mariposa. The return was wet and muddy but from base camp, only took 3-4 hours to get back down to the bottom.
We arrived at the bottom around 1:00pm, rediscovered the amaze-ball-ness of a hot shower, and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee and sitting by a toasty fire watching the rain outside.
While my knees, calves, and hammys were destroyed the next day and walking was near impossible, hiking Chirripó was hands down the most memorable experience I have had yet here in Costa Rica.
PACKING & FOOD
In my constant attempt to be an efficient traveler and packer, I am always looking to pack the lightest. And while I slightly regret not packing one more travel outfit, I think I did pretty good.
– 1 baseball hat (didn’t even use)
– 1 dry-fit short-sleeve shirt
– 1 dry-fit tank top
– 1 light long-sleeve shirt
– 2 pairs of yoga leggings
– 1 raincoat
– 3 pairs of underwear
– 1 sports bra (would have appreciated one more)
– 3 pairs of socks
– 1 2-liter bladder for water
– 1 quick-dry towel (didn’t really use don’t judge me)
– Anker phone charger (I love this thing)
– Rain cover for backpack
– Band-aids + first aid stuff
– Swiss army knife
– Deodorant, sunscreen, conditioner, shampoo
Vegan Protein Bombs (main staple):
– 2 scoops of Nitrofusion vegan chocolate protein powder
– 3 tablespoons of coconut oil
– 1/4 cup of chia seeds
– 1/2 cup of peanut butter or nut butter of choice
Easy Vegan Chia Pudding (main staple):
– 1/4 cup chia seeds
– 1/2 cup water
– 1 scoops of Nitrofusion vegan chocolate protein powder
– optional: dried coconut, cacao nibs, raisins, nuts
– Mixed nuts, peanuts
– 1 can of tuna
– Peanut butter + banana + chia seeds