At 3,820 meters (12,533) feet, the peak of Mount Chirripó is the highest point in Costa Rica and one of the highest peaks in Central America. It is also a very prominent peak, meaning a steep protrusion set apart from most of its surroundings, which gives an incredible view for miles in all directions. It’s possible to see to both coasts, as well as Volcán Irazú, Volcán Turrialba, Cerro de la Muerte, and Volcán Baru in Panamá.
It is technically possible to ascend to the peak and descend in one day, and there’s a yearly group event of people who do just this. A more typical schedule is to do it in two days, or three if you want to explore some of the other trails and impressive rock formations. The mountain is part of a national reserve, so it is illegal to camp or cook outside the designated base camp (Base Crestones) at 11,132 feet (3.393m). Part of the logistical complication is getting reservations to stay at the base camp, which usually has to be reserved by phone months ahead of time… or in person, the day before you ascend. There are 10 “walk-in” reservations available the day before, but it’s sort of a long trip to gamble on the possibility of getting a reservation or not.
The base camp offers shelter, cushioned bunks, kitchen utensils and pots, bathrooms, frigid showers, and even Internet connectivity! But no way to heat food unless you pack it in yourself! So we packed in all of our food, a small gas burner, warm clothes, rain gear, and sleeping bags. I was packing about 30 pounds, including my honking 6-pound camera, which made the ascent pretty grueling. There is shelter and clean water at the 7km mark and the base camp (14km). It took us six and a half hours to climb the 14 km to the base camp, and five hours the next day to descend it.
Hiking is a lot nicer when you aren’t soaked, and we managed to avoid the heavy rains by getting up before dawn and starting our hikes early. It starts raining at about noon, so you have to get most of your hiking in before it starts pouring. Overall, we had really favorable conditions for our journey, which was really nice.