Ascent of Cerro Chirripó on 2017-02-03

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Adam Walker -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Friday, February 3, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Cerro Chirripó
    Location:Costa Rica
    Elevation:12530 ft / 3819 m

Ascent Trip Report


Cerro Chirripó is a wonderful, rewarding, and long hike, but the red tape is daunting. In many respects, it is similar to Mount Whitney in the USA—an overly popular trail to a commanding high point controlled by a protective bureaucracy.

I reserved our hiking permits online several months before at the SINAC (Costa Rica National Parks Agency) web site. They had a calendar web page that showed how many permits were available by day, and I was alarmed that my preferred dates were already full. January and February are high season. I was able to get two permits for Adam and me, but it was a hassle—I had to set up two accounts and pay twice ($36 each for a two-day hike) by credit card online.

Then I had to send an email to the company running the Crestones Lodge hut to request lodging, and then call them up to make sure we were set. The confirmation email says that lodging payment is required in 10 days or all our permits would be cancelled, but the guy on the phone assured me that foreigners could pay at a bank branch in Costa Rica upon arrival.

So after renting our car at the San José airport, I stopped at a Banco Nacional branch in Alajuela, waited in a long line, and paid another $36 each into the bank account number in my email.

Thursday, February 2:

The last step was completed on the afternoon before our hike. Delayed by a miserable traffic jam in San José caused by bridge construction on the main freeway, and a rushed drive-up of Volcan Irazú, we hustled as fast as we could on the InterAmericana highway #2 over Cerro de Muertos so we could get to the park office before its 4 PM closing time. After passing numerous buses and tanker trucks on blind curves, we made it to the Park office just before the village of San Gerardo by 3 PM.

After waiting for the previous group to get their permits validated, we did the same, and then drove up a few minutes to the Crestones office, where we got our hut lodging permits. It was quite the rigmarole, but at least now all our papers and permits were in order.

We passed a very pleasant afternoon in the Casa Mariposa hostel, conveniently located a few meters from the trailhead. We got all ready for the big hike and ate a nice dinner at the neighboring Hotel Uran restaurant. Our plan was to get an early start, climb to the summit of Chirripó by mid-day, spend a night at the hut, and Saturday hike down and get back to San Jose.

Friday, February 3:

Adam and I got up at 4 AM and started hiking up the trail at 4:33 in the dark. We made good time on the wide, easy-to-follow path as the sun rose. It was humid, and Adam hiked without a shirt for a while. The trail had lots of signs—kilometer markers, landmark names, and inspirational poetry. We saw other hikers, and packhorses for supplying the hut, but overall the byzantine permit system does a good job at keeping crowds down.

We arrived at the Crestones Hut at about 9:30, after five hours. There were no clouds in the sky, so our plan for going for the summit today seemed like it would work out fine. After a short break we continued onward through the relatively flat “paramo” terrain of scrubby low vegetation towards the peaks ahead. We were confused as to which was Chirripó until we saw its sharks-tooth form jutting up from behind the col south of the Piramade subpeak.

The final trail to the summit was steep and rocky, Class 2+, but we were on top at 11:13, six hours, forty minutes from the trailhead—a good trail can make mountain travel very efficient. Most people had summitted earlier in the day from the hut, so only one other party was on top with us, a pleasant young Costa Rican couple we chatted with. The weather was still nice for us, but the lowlands below were now quite cloudy, especially towards the Caribbean. We rested, ate, and socialized for about an hour, savoring our “fifty finest” summit.

We left the top about 20 minutes after the Tico couple and were quickly down to the Chirripó-Pirimade col. We had time before we had to be back at the hut, so we decided to climb Pirimade. There was a very faint bootpath that soon faded out, but the going was mostly easy on grassy terrain with scrubby desert-like brush. As we neared to top, we heard shouting from below, but we didn’t see anyone and it had stopped, so we guessed it was probably other hikers on the popular trail below.

After an easy 300 feet of gain we were atop Pirimade, with a cairn marking the highest rocks, and then we headed down the WSW ridge, following a GPS track I had loaded. This route went down a ledgy ridgecrest with small cliffs and brushy sections, and we were enjoying doing some real class-3 scrambling for a change, since our trip to Central America had been almost all trail hiking so far. After some minor bushwhacking and some butt-scrape cliff jumps, we intersected the main trail and hiked down the easy path on gentle terrain to the main 4-way trail junction and its gazebo with rest benches.

Here we took a casual 15-minuite break to eat, drink and apply sunscreen before setting off on the trail to Cerro Terbi, a loop option that would take us back to the hut via a scenic route over another peaklet. After a minute, though, we heard yelling again—a park ranger had come up behind us and was obviously incensed at us, angrily talking in Spanish. We hiked back to him and I quickly understood that he had been yelling at us on Pirimade for being illegally off-trail, and he thought we ignored him and were trying to give him the slip. He demanded to see our park entry tickets and threatened to order us out of the park for rules violations.

I tried my best in my barely adequate Spanish to explain that a) we didn’t see him earlier and thought the yelling was others on the trail, b) we didn’t know that off trail hiking was prohibited—no signs mentioned this and I had not memorized the long list of park rules, c) there was a faint trail and cairns on our Pirimade route, d) we had not been trying to hide, since we had just rested for 15 minutes, and e) we were very sorry and would not do that again. After about five minutes the ranger had calmed down and likely recognized that we were just ignorant gringos and not malicious punks, and that we had been sufficiently chastened. We were free to go on.

The trail to Cerro Terbi was a very nice alternative to the wide, easy main trail. It was narrower, steeper, more rugged, and a lot more fun as it would up and around interesting rock formations. By the time we reached Terbi’s summit at 2:30 PM we were in and out of low clouds, normal for the tropics in the afternoon. The trail down from the top passed near the craggy Crestones rock formations, and a well-stomped out path led the base of the towers. Adam wanted to see if he could get up one, but I was still a bit nervous after my promise to the ranger, even though I doubted he had come up this way to follow us. I followed him up a big friction slab and waited while he tried to get up the top of a tower—he retreated after encountering low-5th class terrain.

From the Crestones the trail led down steeply to the Crestones hut, our lodging for the night. We arrived at 3:35 PM—our stats for the day were 10 hours of hiking (not counting the hour on top of Chirripó) and 9400 feet of gain, a personal record for both of us.

The hut was pretty quiet when we arrived, since most guests were taking a siesta, but I eventually got us checked in to a four-bunk room where a Tico couple was sleeping, having already claimed the two bottom bunks. So we hung out in the common room, where we ate, drank, relaxed, and chatted with the few others who were out there, including the couple from the summit earlier. I paid $3 to rent a towel and took a frigidly cold shower—it still felt good to be clean. Dinner was a hearty meal of chicken, rice, potatoes, and beans, and Adam, as usual, ordered two.

Of the 50 or so guests at the hut, there were only 4 or 5 gringos—my guess is that the byzantine permit system makes it hard for anyone but Ticos to get up here. We chatted briefly with the other Americans, who we had seen at the Hotel Uran restaurant the night before, but mostly we talked to the Tico couple from the summit—they spoke excellent English and were pleasantly talkative. I did also see the trail ranger from earlier today while eating, and we just exchanged quick nods of acknowledgment as he walked out—it seemed all had been forgiven.

We did not get a particularly good night’s sleep, since the couple in our room awoke at 2 AM to get started on their summit hike and made the usual leaving racket.

Saturday, February 4:

We awoke in our room at the Crestones lodge, ate some of remaining snack food for breakfast, and started hiking downhill at 6:20 AM. It was an uneventful hike—our only big rest was at the snack bar halfway down (where I bought some Oreos), and we passed quite a few folks toiling uphill, mostly Costa Rican. The permit system undoubtedly made this trail less crowded than it could have been.

By the time we got down to the trailhead, at about 9:40 AM, it was quite warm given the lower elevation. It took us about 3 ½ hours to hike down.

At the Casa Mariposa we retrieved our luggage and rested a bit—the caretaker was very accommodating despite us only paying for one night back on Thursday. Adam took a shower and I bought some brownies for a snack, got changed, and relaxed on a bench alongside a brook in the jungly ravine behind the hostel. We wished we were spending another night here, but we had a flight home from San José the next morning.

I drove us down the rugged road to central San Gerardo, and then the good gravel road towards San Isidro. We were delayed by a flat tire on our rental jeep—oddly, it was not the tire that had a screw in it. So we had the fun of jacking up the vehicle and changing the tire under the broiling tropical sun.

Down in San Isidro we looked for a restaurant, but the usual chaos of a Central American city made that difficult. We decided to look along the InterAmericana highway as it switchbacked up into the mountains, and after some back-and-forth searching found the Mirador la Torre restaurant, a relatively upscale open-air (no walls) place with sweeping views to the valley below. We had a big meal, our first real food since the Crestones hut, before continuing onward.

Click here for next ascent in trip: Cerro Buenavista
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:8018 ft / 2443 m
    Total Elevation Loss:686 ft / 208 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12.1 mi / 19.6 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Hut Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:8018 ft / 2443 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 7756 ft / 2364 m; Extra: 262 ft / 79m
    Loss on way in:262 ft / 79 m
    Distance:11.9 mi / 19.2 km
    Route:Standard Trail
    Start Trailhead:Casa Mariposa  4774 ft / 1455 m
    Time:6 Hours 40 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:424 ft / 129 m
    Distance:0.2 mi / 0.4 km
    Route:Standard Trail
    End Trailhead:Chirripo-Pirimade Col  12106 ft / 3689 m
Ascent Part of Trip: 2017 - Chirripo (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Cerro Chirripó2017-02-03 a8018 ft / 2444 m
2Cerro Piramide2017-02-03 b384 ft / 117 m
3Cerro Terbi2017-02-03 c1247 ft / 380 m
Total Trip Gain: 9649 ft / 2941 m    Total Trip Loss: 9649 ft / 2941 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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