Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mt. Chirripo: Pushing the Limits

On our third day arriving to Costa Rica, a small group of Elon students made reservations in order to complete a common mission: we were determined to hike up Mt. Chirripo before our departure. For those who might not know what Mt. Chirripo is, it is the highest peak in all of the country, and the second highest peak in all of Central America. It measures 12,512 feet in elevation and has an elevation change of more than 8,000 feet throughout the hike. All in all, this is not an easy feat to accomplish, and the approximately 38 kilometer hike was a test of our abilities to work as a team in order to accomplish a common goal.

Unfortunately, we lost our reservation that we had made many months ago and were faced with the decision of completing the climb in one day or not at all because the hike usually takes a minimum of two days; therefore, early on Friday morning we began our mission. As we went about the treacherous climb we were careful to maintain a steady pace so that we would be able to climb and descend the peak before it was too dark at night. Eric was the designated "split timer" and at the end of every kilometer would inform the group of the time to make sure we were on schedule. We had an efficient system going, and everyone contributed to the group's ability to succeed. Some of the responsibilities that were shared were pacing the group, splitting time carrying the heavy backpacks, and, of course, providing motivation. While all of the steep climb up to the peak was a test of endurance and our leg's ability to carry us through rocky terrain, it was all worth the effort when we finally reached the peak. For about 30 minutes, our group of four was the absolute tallest thing in all of Costa Rica which was completely surreal. We also had the opportunity to leave our mark with the other Mt. Chirripo climbers by signing a book that remains at the peak; we also took a group picture so that we could have proof of our great accomplishment. After relishing in our success of reaching the top we figured we had better begin our descent and assumed that the hard part was over. We could not have been more wrong.

I think we were all a little surprised by how difficult the return back down the mountain was. The saying "What goes up, must come down" was consistently exchanged between the members of our group as we mutually struggled and relied on each other in order to reach the base of the mountain for the second time that day. We all had our own personal moments of struggle during the descent: having weird hallucinations, joint troubles, and loss of motivation as nighttime began to creep in. Luckily, we had two flashlights to guide us through the dark, jungle-like trails and were beyond relieved to see a sign that told us we only had one more kilometer's hike left ahead of us. However, we were hit with another hurdle when we realized that we had hiked a portion of this final kilometer down the wrong trail which set us back during a time where we were all at a loss of energy. With a great deal of teamwork in these final 20 minutes we were able to maneuver our tired bodies through the finish of the hike and hail a cab to drive us back to our hostel. At the end of the day, the idea of walking any more seemed akin to a death wish, so we proceeded to sit down to a dinner full of classic Costa Rican comfort foods and pass out in our beds. As trying as the hike up to Mt. Chirripo in a single day was, it was truly an experience that none of us regret. The teamwork we all experienced that day was a true mark of the comrodery we have developed with one another throughout the course of our studies in Costa Rica, and an experience we will never forget.

Ellen Boyle and Eric Hale

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