Sep 11

Hiking up Mt Chirripo, Costa Rica

The night before our hike up Mt. Chirripo, we spend an agreeable evening in a restaurant outside Rivas, Costa Rica.  After enjoying some good conversation with the restaurant owner, we bed down in Mango right before it starts to pour outside.  The next morning we rise early and begin the drive to the trailhead of Mt. Chirripo, Costa Rica’s highest mountain at 12,534 ft.  Mt. Chirripo also bears the distinction of being the second tallest mountain in Central America, after Guatemala’s Mt. Tajumulco (13,845 ft).  Ana and I previously climbed Mt. Tajumulco in July of this year.  For the writeup and pictures from that hike click here. 

About 2 km outside of the town of San Gerardo and 1 km from the trailhead, the road towards Mt. Chirripo becomes too steep for poor Mango to handle.  We back her down the mountain and park her safely away from the trailhead in a hotel parking lot.  We pack quickly and then spend the next 7 hours hiking the 17 km (9.6 miles) and 6500 feet from where we left Mango.  The elevation changes from 4500 feet at the trailhead to 11,000 ft. at the Crestones Base Camp, our stop for the night.  It is a difficult climb and we are very tired but happy when we climb over the last ridge and see the Crestones Base Camp a few hundred yards away.

The steep road approaching the Mt. Chirripo trailhead On the trail heading up the mountain The higher we climb, the more the vegetation changes

We spend the night at the Crestones Base Camp which is pretty comfortable considering it is located at 11,000 feet and 10 miles up a long and arduous trail.  The building is pretty big, with an area to cook and summer-camp style dorm rooms sharing 4 beds each.  In all there are beds for over 50 people to stay at the base camp.  There are nice bathrooms with running water and cold showers.  Solar panels are mounted on the roof and provide enough electricity to power lights from 6 to 8 in the evening.  There are also two computers with internet in the lobby, and a Wi-fi transmitter in the eating area.  We found no one who lugged a laptop 6500 feet up the mountain to take advantage of the free Wi-fi.   Other than us, there are several other groups there.  Everyone is bundled up like the Michelin Tire Man in whatever warm clothing they brought up from the lower elevations. We hang out with Amelie and Constance who are two French girls from Paris, also travelling around Costa Rica for a few weeks.  Amelie works at the French embassy in San Jose and Constance is her friend, visiting for several weeks.

Valley below the crest of Mt. Chirripo

The next day we awake at 0430 and start a very early morning hike up the remaining 1500 feet and 5 km to the summit at 12,532 ft.  It takes us about 2 ½ hours.  We are rewarded with a wind-swept yet beautiful early morning view of much of southern Cost Rica.   If we squint hard enough we can actually see both the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans.   After enjoying the views from the highest point in Costa Rica for about half an hour, we descend 1 ½ hours to base camp where we shed some pack weight by eating the tuna and crackers we brought with us. From the base camp, it is a further 14.5 km knee-jarring descent over 6500 vertical feet back to the car. This descent section takes us about 4 ½ hours. We spend the night in Mango parked in a resident of San Gerado’s front lawn. Amelie and Constance camp out with us and we volunteer to give them a ride the next morning down to Playa Dominical on the Pacific coast.

Enjoying the view near the top On the summit of Mt. Chirripo

Click here for the Climbing Mt. Chirripo Photo Gallery

Author: chad


October 11, 2008

Ana, nice hair! Are you going for the Elvis meets the Munsters look? (see leaf hair pic) hahaha :) That’s really cool you guys climbed the 2nd highest mountain in Central America! Good job! And what a view near the top! You guys looked very happy in the pictures, which made me happy. I’m also glad there were others hiking it as well and that you had such a nice place to stay at during your trek up. Keep up the good work! Hey, thanks for letting us know you got to Ecuador OK, glad to hear it. Did you have any problems getting Mango back? Love you! Netters

January 2, 2009

Hi, I plan to hike up Chippiro in April. Did you reserve?..I read that noone may hike without a guide..You didn’t mention a guide..What’s the deal? Thanks Anthony

April 27, 2012

I’ve received a number of questions regarding the logistics of hiking Mount Chirripo, so I’ll try to answer some of them here. I think you can climb Mount Chirripo easily without a guide and also without making any reservations. Strive to show up early at the ranger station, where you can pay the park entry fee and book a bunk at the refugio for the night. Worst case you can always sleep outside the refugio if you bring a warm sleeping bag. The trail head is several kilometers past the ranger station and was unattended. Sometimes companies want to tell you that you need a guide as they have a vested interest in you paying them for their services, but the trail is really well marked with a kilometer post every km. The trail from the trailhead to the refugio is easy to follow, and doesn’t have any offshoots where you can get lost (aka: you can easily do the trip by yourself).

Getting to Mt. Chirripo. We met several other tourists who had taken a bus from San Isidro del General towards Mt. Chirripo. The bus either goes to Rivas or as far as San Gerardo, and from there you can hitchhike the rest of the way in. The Ranger station is before you get to the trail head, but you won’t miss it as there is only one road in and it goes right past the ranger station. There will likely be other hikers and locals heading your way, so as long as you take the first bus towards San Gerardo in the morning, you should have plenty of options for getting to the trailhead at a reasonable hour. Worst case you can rent a taxi out of Rivas or San Gerardo to take you to the trail-head. If you do this though expect to be charged “excessively”.

As far as water, we just brought a Nalgene 1 liter water bottle for each of us, and then stopped to refill at the various streams on the way up. My strategy was every time I filled it, I’d drink half my bottle quickly, and then drink the other half slowly in case it was a while before the next stream. I think there were abundant streams the first 8-10 km or so, and then I vaguely remember not encountering many streams between km 8-15 ish and being pretty thirsty for several km. If you drink a lot, you might want to bring an extra half-liter plastic bottle that you can fill up somewhere around km 5-8. We have a Steripen, which we used to purify the water. There is tap water from a well at the large refugio (Crestones Base Camp) when you get to km 17. There are also stoves you can pay to use and cook a meal. I think we just brought food that we didn’t need to cook that night. Most people spend the night at the refugio (they have about 50 bunks with mattresses on them, bring your own sleeping bag and a thick jacket for the cold nights, bring a headlamp as you’ll need it once the lights turn off). In the morning, everyone gets up at dawn and hikes the remaining distance to the summit of Cerro Chirripo. You may want to print out a simple map for the trail from the refugio to the summit. There are a few trails on that part, and they are marked with signs and everyone is heading in the same direction, but a simple map may give you peace of mind that you’re going the right way.

If you are a moderately strong hiker you should do fine. The trail is in really good condition, it really isn’t technically hard, it’s just that it really does keep plodding steadily upward for 6500 vertical feet over 17 km. The grade isn’t very steep though, there’s no scrambling until the very last few hundred vertical feet at the summit. Once you reach the refugio, the remaining trek to the top is a lot easier than what you just came up. The day after we descended Mount Chirripó, I remember being pretty sore. I think if I did a few more practice hikes where my legs and knees had an opportunity to adjust to the pounding on the long descent, I would have been less sore. Maybe practice walking up and down some steep hills to get yourself in shape. Do some leg squats while watching TV, or get your quads strong on the leg press if you have access to a gym. The pounding going down the mountain did more to make me sore than the uphill part I think.

The hike is really beautiful and ascends through a lot of vegetation zones. Make sure to carry a rain jacket/pants plus a windproof warm jacket/layers and hat for the frigid temperatures on top. Good luck, I hope you have a great trip and hike!


P.S. If anyone wants to leave a comment with the current prices for the public bus, park entry, mattress at the refugio, cost to rent the stove, etc. that would be great!

August 30, 2012

Thanks a lot for those details. It really helped me plan my hike. And definitely worth it. If you want an authentic place in a touristic Costa Rica, go there! A bit expensive, though :)

Heather Shea
March 3, 2013

My boyfriend and I are climbing Mt. Chirripo next month and we found it so helpful (and comforting) to read all of your tips. Thank you so much!

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