There is nothing more amazing than the feeling you get when you get to see the sun bathing your face with it’s morning light from the highest peak of your beautiful home country.
I must admit, even though Chirripó is Costa Rica’s highest mountain, I had never actually seen any image that referred to this place. I knew it was there and that it was cold (actually very cold), but never had I seen a picture of it. It was a mystery to me. Like having a treasure hidden in your closet that even though you knew there was something important there, you wouldn’t dare to even look at it.
That is how I felt of this place. I wanted to get to the top with no expectations whatsoever and see everything with my own eyes!
We started out as a group of about 8 people planning to go do the hike. Everyone was excited at the beginning, but when the time came to show up and say “Yes! I’m going, I just payed!”, 6 of them canceled and just Juan and I ended up going. I don’t really know why this happens, and it happens a lot they say, but it’s like the mountain decides who goes and who doesn’t. I guess that for me it’s a little bit of a challenge to keep your intention on going and doing it no matter what. Sad, I must say, because they lost an experience of a lifetime. But well, not really my problem, I, on the other hand, was the happiest person alive to live this experience!
The trip started once that Juan came looking for me at about 5:30am on a Saturday. We had to drive to Perez Zeledón and from there it was like an hour drive to the base of the mountain. It was hard to keep him from listening to Justin Beiber, but I finally convinced him and we could listen to normal music for about 4 and a half hours.
Once we got there, we actually found ourselves joining the tour bus that had left earlier. Yes, we were on a tour schedule, and had to rendezvous at the National Park to get our bracelet and tickets for food and entrance to the Shelter on the valley atop the mountain.
To make it a little bit clearer, there is actually 15 km from the base to the Shelter. Up there you are allowed to stay up to four days depending on the permit you get. We stayed up there only one night. From the shelter you can do lots of hikes. Chirripó is only one of the hikes you can do, about 3 km from the shelter, but there is also Ventisqueros, Crestones, Terbi, Ditkevi, Guardianes de las Aguas Eternas, etc, etc… Chirripo is the highest, though, standing at 3820 meters above sea level. We made all of these hikes in just 2 days, which I don´t really recommend you doing if you want to take it slow!
Once at the base we slept at the Hotel Uran, located about 20 m from the entrance to the Km Zero of the trail. Great food. Amazing service. Had a small talk with the whole tour group to get to know each other and off to relax. Some of us even went to a nearby waterfall located about 15 m from the hotel. Beautiful place to relax!
These are all from the time we spent waiting for midnight and walking to the waterfall.
The time had come. Juan and I were ready and had even taken things off of our backpacks because we knew they were not going to be needed. 11:40 pm. Everything quiet. Backpacks on our backs and headlamps not yet on. We made sure nothing was left on the room and headed out. 11:55pm. We started stretching. We had a 6-7 hour walk in front and this was totally needed. There were 2 groups: the ´slow´ one that started at 12 am and the ´fast´ one that was intended to catch the first group started at 1 am. We were on the slow one because Juan and I were both carrying a lot of weight and thought that maybe we needed to have more time on our side.
12 mid night.
“Let’s go team!” – the team leader shouted.
All of us grabbed on to our walking stick and started moving. All of us cleared our heads, switched the headlamp on and looked straight ahead. Again, much like the Arenal hike, all you could hear were footsteps and see the lights of the people you had in front. It was going to be a 6-7 hour walk, but we had our energy drinks and bars with us.
The first km is called the “Thermometer”, it’s one of the hardest. It’s called like this to measure who can handle the rest of the hike. It does live up to it’s name, i can assure you that!
14 more kilometers to go and you already feel your legs throbbing. This is a very mental hike. All you got to do is look at your next step and keep on doing it. We stayed with one of the guys from the tour and got to know him well. His name is Jean. Curious thing about him is that Juan and I thought we had a lot of weight on our backs… Well, Jean had 16kg on his backpack. He didn’t pay for the things to be taken up (They are called Arrieros, you pay for the weight taken up and they do with horses), like Juan and I did with half of our stuff.
We only made stops at Km 4, the gate where the warden had to be, Km 7, which is half way and there is also a little bit of a shelter where you can fill your Camelback again, and, km 10 that we really needed to rest a little. The last 2 km are the hardest. It’s called “La cuesta de los arrepentidos” or The Repentant Slope, you can imagine why. But from then on you get so much energy knowing that there’s one one km to go!
Finally! The Albergue (shelter). It’s more like a hostel right now, though. Amazing, I must add. The architecture is great for being so high up and every room has bunk beds with super comfortable mattresses. Once we got there, we had breakfast and went directly to rest. There was a long hike still on the way and our legs weren’t answering. Oh, we also had a cold shower first. Can you imagine? We were at probably 6 degrees Celsius, and THERE WAS NO HOT WATER. All you had to do was stand in front of the shower head, count to three, and open the shower. It literally HURT. It had taken us 6 hours and 20 minutes to get up there. We got there on a great time. Almost nobody had passed us and we had a small window for sleeping.
9am. Get up again.
The next hike was Crestones.
We could barely walk but hey! This is the first time I get to go to Chirripó and we had already done 15 km up. There was no way I was going to miss any landscape. So, at a relatively slow pace, we started going up again. This time I took less stuff on my bag, yet the camera gear is heavy.
Crestones is AMAZING. You can feel the scale from the images. Up there, the valley looks like no other landscape in my country. We took a couple of pictures, had lunch, smiled like I never thought I could, and kept walking towards Terbi. We got to Terbi (3760m above sea level) at about 1:15pm. The third highest mountain.
From there we took the same path to get to Guardianes de las Aguas Eternas, a pathway that has rocks on it’s sides and you feel really small. The next stop was El Valle de los Conejos. This was after you went down the mountain and got to a more barren type of valley with a crossroad and some benches. We had the option of going to Ditkevi (a Lake), back to the shelter, or to Ventisqueros, the second highest peak. Only Juan from the 15 of us decided he didn’t want to go to Ditkevi.
2pm. Waiting for the people at the Crossroad in the Valley.
This lake’s name, Ditkevi, means: Place to have close encounters with God. Jean and I waited for the group and I went to meditate for some time until everyone gathered. The energy there feels so perfect.
Someone. though, decided it was a good idea to get INSIDE the lake… it was cloudy out, temperature was cold, and yet they wanted to get inside the freezing lake!? Well… it was another challenge. A girl started out and got in with no problem, and obviously everyone started cheering and motivating each other to get in. At the end I had to… Peer Pressure basically… But who cares? I actually did want to get in. So I took off my shirt, thought of all the cold waterfalls I had got into and started running inside. The feeling is none like you’d ever imagined. You do feel like your body just changes. As if you are reborn. The skin itches and you breath again. You are another you and leave that body somewhere inside the mountains of this magical place.
4pm. We were walking back to the Shelter. Done. Some crazy ones decided they were going to Ventisqueros, so they did. My legs would have never been able to. We still had to wake up early in the morning to see the sunrise at Chirripo.
5pm. Rest. 6pm. Dinner. 7pm. Sleep. Even though my head was unbearable from the heat, the weight and the walk, I managed to get some rest.
We woke up at about 1:30 am. Grabbed our stuff, put on a jacket and headlamps and started our walk to Chirripo. When starting out I remembered my camera didn’t have enough battery so Juan waited for me as the group continued. I ran back to the room. That moment when we were out there at 2 am, i glanced up and couldn’t accept what my eyes were looking at. I will just leave you with this image:
Yes. The WHOLE Milky Way was on top of us. I just could not believe it. We stayed behind the group and managed to take plenty of long exposure images. WHAT A NIGHT! It was 3km from the Shelter to the Highest Peak, so we still had some way to go.
Finally the sun started rising in the horizon and we were almost at the top. 5 am and there was still a steep way up. We had to leave our jiking poles halfway because at this moment we were to use our hands for grabbing the rock.
5:15 am. We were on the top! I was the happiest person on Earth. The view was something out of this world. The sun was bathing my face with it’s morning glow and I was up there staring at it. Tears fell down my cheeks and and couldn’t stop smiling. The lakes, the volcanoes, the clouds, the Sun. We had the most beautiful treat I could have ever imagined having. We were blessed with that view.
The way down was also spectacular. I had never walked such an amazing landscape. It was like walking a painting. Juan and I got to the Shelter, had breakfast and slept for a couple of hours until we were ready to go down. This time we did not pay for Arrieros, so our bags weigh 12 kg each. It was going to be a tough way in the middle of the day, but we were super motivated knowing that we had such a show in the morning and we only had to go down.
Ready. Set. Go! 9am we were on our way. Music on our earphones and nothing was going to stop us. The whole scenery on our way down was also something to notice. it was beautiful. We only stopped at km 7 to re-fill with water, but from then on we knew there was no stopping. To finish it up, it started raining at km 4. This was a bit of a problem because I had a sweater and a towel strapped to my bag and couldn’t get it inside the backpack, so as it got wet, the bag got heavier. My ankles and my legs were moving on their own because I had little energy. I don’t know how I finally got down, but we did, and it was the happiest moment of all. It took us 4 hours to get down.
1pm. We had lunch at the Uran, grabbed everything and threw it in the car. Luckily Juan was the one who decided to drive. I had little to no movement on my legs.
We even stopped at the beach to get to know Dominical which I hadn’t visited, and then continued our way to the city. We were back at about 5 pm.
This was probably one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done, and if I have the chance, I will do it again this year for sure. I hope you can as well. The magic in this mountain is something nobody should miss experiencing. I have the treasure now, inside my chest, my lungs and my skin. This is what I was looking for.