Rincon de Vieja – Part 2 – The Hike

In Rincon de Vieja National Park, there are a couple volcanos. To reach the craters, it’s advertised as a seven hour roundtrip hike from the entrance of the park and you have to sign a waiver before doing it releasing the national park and Costa Rica of any liability. Stan and I thought we could do it quicker. We’re both fit and Stan is an experienced mountain climber in Colorado.

We set off at around 9:30 AM and began the trek. The first hour and a half was an uphill but pleasant hike through some forest / jungle. Lots of trees and shrubs around us and a canopy overhead blocking the sun. We stopped a few times to get water, but overall, it wasn’t too hard. We saw only two other people in this section of the hike — they were older but determined to continue on, it seemed.

After we emerged from the canopy section, out in the open air, we stared up at the crater and were startled with how far away it was and moreover, how steep the trail seemed to the top. We walked on and up through, still feeling pretty good and confident with our pace.

We eventually reached a sign that had two arrows and messages: one pointed to the “difficult” path and said “Use caution” and the other pointed to the “easy” path. We couldn’t decide which one to follow, we flipped a coin, and it landed on the easy path. We set off in that direction and within a couple minutes had to decend a steep, poorly constructed path downhill toward a river. We were amazed this was labeled the less difficult of the two paths — even this brief downhill section was muddy and challenging and it’s hard to see people with big bags or wobbly legs doing it.

At the bottom of the hill we had to cross a river and then came upon a wall of solid dirt and rock with a rope hanging down. WTF? Would we have to use the rope to ascend this wall like a rock climbing wall? It appeared so, and we hauled ourself up. By this point we were stunned at how difficult the going had become. And it had just started.

For the next 40 minutes we gained elevation very quickly as the trail became a stairmaster with muddy footholes and narrow lanes winding through shrubs. No crossbacks, no zig zags, no flat land. Just straight uphill. Exhausting. Very very exhausting. The farther up we got we had to stop every couple minutes to catch our breath.

We felt some raindrops and this added to the stress. The day prior we had been rained on, hard, and we didn’t want to have a situation where it started raining Costa Rica-style and we were left on the side of a mountain with the paths would quickly disintegrate into a mudslide.

As we climbed and climbed I think stopping and turning back crossed our minds. There wasn’t another soul on the mountain and the prospect of rain was scary — not only for our clothes / comfort but for the safety of being able to come back down.

We ended up making it up the steep hill, barely, and the worst was over. We still had to hike up to the peak of the mountain and then walk around the edge, but the uphill was largley over. My quads were shaking.

The top of the crater was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Deserted. Moon-like. Rocks and nothing else. Then some green leaves here and there. We walked along the narrow path at the very top of the crater and finally reached active volcano. A sign said we couldn’t stay for more than 15 minutes b/c toxic gases emitting out of the steamy crater are dangerous. We checked it out, turned back, and found a wind-secluded area where we could have a bag lunch.

Truly one of the more exhausting, crazy, but worthwhile physical experiences I’ve had!

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