Tora Adventure

Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.

Climbing to the top of Costa Rica at Cerro Chirripo [Day 225]

Quepos to San Gerado

We’d been to the El Salto waterfall in the morning, so were running a little late on time. We took an 11am bus going to San Isidro del General (2350colones/$4.25ea) and arrived at 2.15pm. San Isidro has a number of bus stations within walking distance, all serving different destinations so it helps to know where you’re coming and going to. We’d just missed the 2pm bus to San Gerado, which meant the next one wasn’t until 6.45pm. We decided a taxi was the best choice and it cost 11,000 colones / $20. Not ideal, but we wanted to get there before the office closed and before dark to find accommodation.

 

 

San Gerado

This is a small mountain town with around 400 people. The tourist trade exists here, but it isn’t in your face due to the challenge of getting here in the first place. A majority of people come here with the plan of hiking the highest point in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo at 3,820 metres (12,533 ft). There are a couple of other interesting hikes in the area, including to Cloudbridge Nature reserve. It does get cold and windy here even in “summer”. We arrived on the 6th of April which is just about the start of wet season. We did get some rain a few times when we were in town.

 

The town itself has only a couple of small restaurants and a couple of small grocery stores that cater much more towards camping/hiking food and gear.

 

San Gerado town centre

San Gerado town centre

 

We stayed at Hotel Marin which is right next to the Rangers Office (14,000colones/$25.50 per night). This is about 2.5km from the park entrance, so they offer to drive you to the entrance in the morning. The other option is to stay at Hostel Mariposa (18,000colones/$32.75 per night) which is almost next to the park entrance. We looked inside and it is truly a beautiful and rustic place. These places will also store your excess luggage for free while you go and hike.

 

Hotel Marin - San Gerado

Hotel Marin – San Gerado

 

Cloudbridge Nature Reserve

This reserve was founded in 2002 by two former South Africans living in New York City. They’d hiked Cerro Chirripo and were concerned by the deforestation in the area and came back to buy land and improve the area. The project is 100% donor supported. The trails are really clearly marked and at times present quite a big challenge as you hike up some steep hills. The access to nature is amazing. We hiked in the middle of the day and still saw quite a lot of wildlife. The waterfalls are also really impressive. They do nature hikes on request especially in the mornings and at night. If you have some time, this is something worth exploring in more detail.

 

Dragonfly at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Dragonfly at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Butterfly at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Butterfly at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Rodora with a butterfly on her finger at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Rodora with a butterfly on her finger at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Fruit at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Fruit at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Waterfall at Cloudbridge nature reserve

Waterfall at Cloudbridge nature reserve

 

 

How to get a permit to hike Cerro Chirripo

This is more difficult than it sounds as its 14km up to the base camp and a further 5km to the peak. Some people were doing this in a day trip because there were no available dormitory spots. There are a total of 60 spots at base camp, but only 10 spots per day for those without a reservation. The other 50 spots are often reserved by Costa Ricans 6 months in advance using a tour company. The ranger office opens at 6.30am and the next day’s reservations are on a first come first served basis. When we inquired the day before, there were only 6 total available spots for the next day. We chose to get up at 4.45am and camp out at the entry gate to ensure we got a spot for the next day. No one else was as crazy as us and we were first in line. We booked 2 nights at the top, but in hindsight you really only need 1 night if you want to save some money.

 

Costs were:

$15pp/per day in the park

$10pp/per night in the dormitory

 

With this option you also need to take your own stove to cook with, all your own food and a sleeping bag as it gets really cold. We rented a stove (2000 colones/$3.60 per night); bought gas for the stove (1425 colones/$2.60); rented sleeping bags (2500 colones/$4.50 per night). We met another couple at our hotel from Argentina who agreed to split the cost of the stove and gas and we shared a meal on each of the two nights.

 

 

Hiking Cerro Chirripo

We had an early morning breakfast of granola and banana which was definitely needed. We arrived at the trail head at 5.30am with daylight already quite bright and the temperature rising. Each kilometre of the trail has a marker and an elevation marked. The hike up is fairly scenic as you push through lush green forest.

 

Kilometre marker "0" for the hike up Cerro Chirripo

Kilometre marker “0” for the hike up Cerro Chirripo

Starting the hike up Cerro Chirripo

Starting the hike up Cerro Chirripo

Views on the hike up Cerro Chirripo

Views on the hike up Cerro Chirripo

Some tough bits climbing Cerro Chirripo

Some tough bits climbing Cerro Chirripo

 

The trail itself is quite well maintained and for the most part it was dry. The biggest challenge was hiking with 15kg+ of weight in our packs. There is water available at the halfway point and at the base camp. The halfway point has a fairly nice cabin, but you’re not allowed to sleep/camp there. My GPS still calculated we climbed around 3200m elevation in the 14km including the downward slopes.

 

Halfway marker at Cerro Chirripo

Halfway marker at Cerro Chirripo

 

We stopped for lunch around the 10km marker and regained some energy. It was interesting as above around this marker the trail becomes less green and more like a desert. The trees are often small and the trail appears much different to what we started with.

 

Dry and hot trail on top of Cerro Chirripo

Dry and hot trail on top of Cerro Chirripo

Spiny Green Lizard at Cerro Chirripo

Spiny Green Lizard at Cerro Chirripo

 

A lot of people tell you that hiking is half mental and half physical. You could probably mix those percentages around but there is a real element of truth in needing some mental strength for these things. It took us 7 hours total time to reach the base camp. This is somewhere nearer to the quicker time suggested. A lot of factors will vary the total time needed. Those last few kilometres were tough due to the altitude, but you just keep saying that each step forward gets you closer to your destination. When you see your final destination and eventually reach it, there’s not many words to describe that feeling of elation.

 

First view of base camp at Cerro Chirripo

First view of base camp at Cerro Chirripo

A view of the dorms at Cerro Chirripo

A view of the dorms at Cerro Chirripo

A distance vs altitude map of Cerro Chirripo

A distance vs altitude map of Cerro Chirripo

View outside of base camp at Cerro Chirripo

View outside of base camp at Cerro Chirripo

 

 

Climbing to the top for Sunrise

This was meant to be the main reason for doing this and the potential of seeing the Caribbean and Pacific at the same time. We were out of bed at 2.30am and on the trail by 2.45am. They suggest it takes about 2 hours to climb the 5km to the physical top. The trail at times is certainly very rough going and practically non existent at other times. We made it up on top at 5am and it was very cold and windy. We carry a simple thermometer with us and it was reading 0C. The wind must have been somewhere around 30-40kph. Later we were told by many people it was unusually very windy on this day. We’d carried up all of our warm layers and our sleeping bags and it still wasn’t enough. We got a couple of good photos just as the sun rose but then it became a total cloud/white out.

 

Sunrise at Cerro Chirripo

Sunrise at Cerro Chirripo

Reaching the peak of Cerro Chirripo with a total whiteout behind us

Reaching the peak of Cerro Chirripo with a total whiteout behind us

No need for a guide, just read the many trail markers

No need for a guide, just read the many trail markers

 

Overall experience

We got a little unlucky with the sunrise, but the challenge of climbing the peak of Costa Rica and knowing that very few people do this is a real box ticker. It gets you away from the majority of crowds of tourists and a real dose of mountain adventure.

 

 

Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/

 

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2 comments on “Climbing to the top of Costa Rica at Cerro Chirripo [Day 225]

  1. Allie
    February 17, 2015

    Hey, I was just wondering if you can camp on Chirripo at all? We would really like to avoid the dormitory fees.

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