Almost everyone who climbs Chirripó goes up to the accommodation huts first, rests there overnight, and then takes another day or two to explore the summit, surrounding peaks and paramo – it’s not really feasible to climb Chirripó in one day. During high season, you’ll have company on the path up the mountain, and the trail is well marked with signs stating the altitude and the distance to the summit. Watch out for altitude sickness, though; if you have made a quick ascent from the lowland beach areas, you could find yourself becoming short of breath, experiencing pins and needles, nausea and exhaustion. If this happens, stop and rest; if symptoms persist, descend immediately. The main thing to keep in mind is not to go off the trail or exploring on your own without telling anyone, especially in the higher areas of the park. Off the trail, definite landmarks are few, and it’s easy to get confused.
The hike begins at 1219m and ends at 3819m, the summit. It’s almost entirely uphill and so exhausting that you may have trouble appreciating the scenery. On the first day most hikers make the extremely strenuous fourteen-kilometre trek to the accommodation huts – reckon on a minimum of seven hours if you’re very fit (and the weather is good), up to twelve hours or more if you’re not. In San Gerardo de Rivas you can hire a porter to carry your gear for you (around $60 per 20kg). On the second day you can make the huts your base while you hike to the summit and back, which is easily done in a day, perhaps taking in some of the nearby lagoons.
The walk begins in a cow pasture, before passing through thick, dark cloudforest, a good place to spot quetzals (March–May are the best months). After a relatively flat stretch of several kilometres, where you’re likely to be plagued by various biting insects, you’ll arrive at a rest station halfway to the accommodation huts. Some people stay here, splitting the hike into a less-taxing two days, but conditions are extremely rustic, with three sides open to the wind. The Cuesta de los Arrepentidos (“Hill of the Repentants”, meaning you’re sorry at this point that you came) is the real push, all uphill for at least 3km. At Monte Sin Fé (“Faithless Mountain”), about 10km into the trail, is another patch of tropical montane forest, more open than the cloudforest. Keep your eye out for the refugio natural, a big cave where you can sleep in an emergency, from where it’s just 3km to the accommodation huts. At the huts, the land looks like a greener version of Scotland: bare moss cover, grasslands and a waterlogged area where the lagoons congregate. There are no trees, and little wildlife in evidence.
The rangers based up here are friendly, and in the high season (Jan–April) you can ask to accompany them on walks near the summit to avoid getting lost. Do not expect this, however, as it is not their job to lead guided walks. It’s just ninety minutes’ walk from the accommodation huts along a well-marked trail to the summit – there’s a bit of scrambling involved, but no real climbing. You’ll need to set off by dawn, as clear weather at the peak is really only guaranteed until 9 or 10am. There’s also a little book in a metal box where you can sign your “I did it” message; bring a pen. From the top, if it’s clear, you can see right across to the Pacific. However, you’re above the cloud line up here, and the surrounding mountains are often obscured by drifting milky clouds.
Top image: Cerro Chirripo in Costa Rica © world_xplorer/Shutterstock