Monday, September 5, 2011

Parque Nacional Chirripó

Last week we took our first official vacation (four consecutive nights out of site) during Peace Corps. We went "home," at least as close to home as any place is for us, we went to the mountains.

Monday we packed gear and prepped some trail food and Tuesday morning we got an "alpine start" and caught the 4:30am bus to Puerto Viejo where we caught the 5:30 to San José, in San José we took a bus south to San Isidro del General. We ended up getting to San Isidro with more time to spare before our final bus than we had anticipated , so we called our friend and fellow CYF volunteer, Kari, who lives in the area and we caught up and ate some delicious Peruvian food for lunch.

After lunch, we headed to the central market/bus terminal to catch our final bus to the community of San Gerardo and the start of our climb. Just as our bus was pulling out, a crazy gringa yelled for the bus to stop and climbed on the bus with a large backpack. When she boarded the bus, all the other passengers knew it because her voice only went to eleven and her b.o. was hovering around that level too. The young Ticas sitting behind us snickered and held their noses. It was one of the many moments here where we wish we didn't look the way we do. We were sure the gringa loca was going to be heading to park with us, but fortunately (or not) she was an ex-pat who owned a farm in area and got off the bus before our final stop, but not before joking with a Tico in really bad, super loud Spanish.

When our bus arrived in San Gerardo, we decided to ride it to the end of the line where we thought our hostel was instead of getting off at the park office and walking to the hostel with our packs. When we got off the bus, we found out that our hostel was another 1.5K up the hill and the office was about a K behind us. Since we had about an hour before the office was supposed to close we headed to hostel to drop our packs. We got to the hostel, met the owner dropped our packs and headed down to office. We got to the office a little after 4:00 to find the gate locked. We upe-ed, but it appeared that no one was there, despite still being more than 20 minutes before closing time. Although we had already made reservations and paid our entrance and lodging fees, it is necessary to check in at the office and get a ticket to show at the shelter and the office wouldn't open until 6:45 the next morning, well after our desired start time. Thankfully, a ranger had forgotten some paperwork (in his haste to leave half an hour early?) and had to return to office. He let us in and we filled out the necessary forms, with the magic ticket in hand we were finally officially ready climb some peaks. We trekked back up to the hostel and then went out for casados. After dinner, we reorganized our gear and chatted with the hostel owner, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Mali, about Peace Corps and Costa Rica.

the start of the trail
We got up at about 4:30 and were on the trail at 5:15. The trail starts just below a mile above sea level (1520m) and gains more than a mile over a little less than 15K. We had perfect weather and pretty good trail conditions so we were able to make it to the shelter by 11:00. We checked in with the ranger, ate lunch, finalized plans for the afternoon, and moved essential gear and snacks to our summit packs. We were back on the trail at noon.

After a pretty level one and half mile hike to the Valle de los Conejos we began a steady climb north to Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica at 3820 meters (12,532 ft) above sea level. After crossing some passes between unnamed peaks, we were presented with some gorgeous views of the Lagos Chirripó and the summit of Cerro Chirripó. The weather was so clear, we could easily see the sign and flag atop our destination. After a quick snack and a change into hard shells, we were ready for the final ascent. The last part of the climb was on a fairly exposed ridge line, with a little bit of scrambling, it was great. Once atop, we took in the incredible views, signed the summit register and snapped a few photos. The weather was perfect, it was so nice I opted to descend in just my short sleeved shirt. From the top we were able to glance our next destination, the Valle de las Morrenas, a collection of glacial lagoons. About forty minutes later, and one slip by Tarah, we were standing among the remnants of ancient ice. We just stood in awe of the spectacular landscape, including the backside of Cerro Chirripó, and the perfect weather we were being blessed with.

the highest point in Costa Rica
Tarah making her way to Valle de las Morrenas
After a few photos, we were ready to head towards the shelter for the night. We climbed out of the valley and passed below Cerro Chirripó on our way to the Valle de los Conejos where another lagoon was tucked away. Unfortunately, I had remembered the beta for Laguna Ditkebi incorrectly so when we weren't seeing the water that I thought was just off the main trail, we wisely decided to wait for the morning to find the lagoon. We got back to the shelter with plenty of daylight and changed into warm, dry clothes and got  ready to make dinner.

After seeing many alcohol stoves on the AT and Matt using one during our Laguna Hule adventure, I constructed a small alcohol stove to use while we are in Costa Rica and our Jetboil is in North Carolina. We were able to warm instant potatoes and soy crumbles for dinner and enjoy a little dulce de leche for dessert. We made it an early night, since we had hiked about twelve hours and it was pretty chilly outside our sleeping bags. We once again set the alarm for dark and early and tried to get some shut eye. I ended up being too warm with my layers and summer weight bag, so I had a pretty miserable night until I finally got up to go to the bathroom and shed most of my clothes. The last couple of hours were much cooler and much more pleasant.

homemade stove
We ended up hitting the trail a little later than anticipated, but were still hiking a bit after 6:00am. Our first destination for the day was, Cerro Ventisqueros, the second highest peak in Costa Rica at 3815 meters (12,516 ft). The trail for Ventisqueros left the main trail well before the Valle de los Conejos and cut steeply through the mountain vegetation. We weren't sure which summit was our destination, and it seemed like we were going to be making turn at the looming ridge and head down through a saddle before climbing back up, but we were pleasantly surprised when we crested the ridge and saw our summit waiting above a technical, exposed ridge line. The hike wasn't along a knife's edge, but you didn't want to slip either. The climb felt a lot like our times in Baxter and Grafton Notch State Parks in Maine, needless to say it was great. Again the weather was pretty great so we were able to see a ton, unfortunately our new adventure camera doesn't take as nice of photos as our old one, so the photos aren't that spectacular. We were able to see the Pacific Ocean to the south, volcanoes in the central valley, and a number of lakes, communities and fincas. While trying to take 360° video, the camera battery died and that is when I realized that I had left the spare in the shelter. Instead of heading directly to Laguna Ditkebi from the summit we had to backtrack to the shelter to grab the extra battery.
Tarah making her way to the summit of the second highest peak in Costa Rica
us atop Cerro Ventisqueros
The detour ended up being for the better as the weather was changing and it allowed us to summit the remaining two peaks and get off of exposed rocks (almost) before the storm rolled in. After grabbing the battery we headed up Los Crestones, the symbols of the park. We knew from some prior research that there was bouldering and climbing options on Los Crestones, but being out of practice and not having any protection, we decided to just do some scrabbling. We took in the views and pondered possible climbing routes before heading for the nearby summit of Cerro Terbi. As soon as Tarah had finished signing the register atop Cerro Terbi, it started spitting. We hightailed it down to the Valle de los Conejos and set off in search Laguna Ditkebi. Not making it to the lagoon the night before, turned out to be blessing in disguise as we it meant we didn't need to rush and were able to enjoy the hike in and the splendor of the hidden lagoon. We ate a leisurely lunch under gray skies and then headed back towards the shelter. On the way back to the shelter it started raining again, so we decided to seek refuge at the shelter and wait a bit before hitting the final trail in the park.

heading to Los Crestones
Tarah getting down
us at Laguna Ditkebi
After ditching unessential gear, we decided that we only had limited time in the park and quality rain gear, so there was no reason not to explore the last trail that the park had to offer, after all we wouldn't be summitting anything, just heading down to a grassland. Like most of the trails in the park, other than the one for Cerro Chirripó, this trail didn't appear to receive many users or much maintenance. The trail wound through a variety of trees and plants and was covered in tapir scat in spots. We passed on the lookout point since the sky had started to rumble and called the hike bastante when we reached a sketchy river crossing in the Sabana de los Leones. We returned the way we had come and just when we thought the storm was going to pass and we would be able to climb to the lookout point, the sky got noisy again and we decided we would just need to try and plan another trip to the high peaks of Costa Rica.

the end of our trail
When we got back to the shelter we changed into our dry, warm clothes and got in a game of canasta before dinner. We ate some burritos with beans and crumbles for dinner and some burritos with peanut butter and dulce de leche for dessert, both were delicious. After dinner we prepped a few things for our hike out the next morning, but since we were wearing and/or sleeping in most the gear that needed to be packed we couldn't do too much. We set the alarm and both slept better than the previous night.

all bundled up and ready for bed
We got up before 5:00 and ate a simple breakfast while most of the other hikers in the shelter were being served a catered meal and waiting for the pack animals to arrive to carry their gear down. We were packed and on the trail by 5:30. We had another day of great weather and were able to see a couple of different types of birds on the way down. We got to town around 10:00 and set off in search of pinto. We struck out at the first couple of places, but eventually found some gringopriced [read: overpriced] pinto that was pretty tasty, though we didn't receive our plantains or tortillas. We freshened up in the bathroom and caught the 11:30 bus back to San Isidro del General.

on the way down
We weren't able to take the first bus to San José as a bunch of Ticos were heading to the city for the weekend, but we were able to catch a bus at 2:00 which got us into Chepe a little after 5:00. There was a little mishap on the way to San José, when the bus stopped at rest area, a little boy either climbed on the bus or didn't get off like he was supposed to, so about two minutes down the road we turned around to return the little stowaway. By the the time we got to San José it was raining pretty good and we had about a ten block walk from the bus terminal to our hostel. We made it to the hostel smelly, wet and hungry. We took hot showers and headed out in search of hot cheap food. We ate some delicious fish casados at a soda we had eaten at before and then made our way back to the hostel to crash.

The next day was an uneventful bus ride back to Puerto Viejo where we ate at our favorite pizza place and picked up some groceries to get us through the week.

You can find more photos and some videos HERE

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