San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arenal Report

Congratulations to the Arenal Expeditionary Team for their recent ascent of Mount Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak. Remarkably, the combined ages of the climbers exceeds 200 years. Sue Jones, a member of the 14 Club (people who have climbed peaks more than 14,000 feet high) had undergone a hip joint replacement less than a year before. After months of conditioning, David Fountaine, Jim Aoki and Sue felt ready to meet the challenge of Chirripó.

Mount Chirripó can be very unforgiving. Summit temperatures have been recorded at -27 degrees Celcius with wind velocities exceeding 75 mph. At 10,000 feet, oxygen levels start dropping, increasing the effort of every step. Unseasonable warm spells had left the lower slopes wet with slippery foot-grabbing mud, which imposed demands on physical reserves earlier than usual.

Leaving base camp before daylight, the team climbed for 9.5 grueling hours to reach the summit camp, from which final ascent started the following day.

A rustic windbreak with bunk beds and a supply of icy water looks inviting to cold, exhausted climbers who must start their trek to the top at 2:30 a.m. in order to return to base camp before dark. A thick layer of frost covered the ground as they started out.

The return proved equally challenging, as the mucky lower slopes caused many slips and falls when boots lost traction. The Golden Rule of climbers is a quote from Sir Isaac Newton: “Gravity always wins.” His observation was proven many times during the difficult descent. After long hot baths and much celebrating, the triumphant trio dosed up  on Aleve and sacked out at 7:30 p.m.

It took five days for the stiffness and pain to subside, during which no one walked on anything but flat ground. Already there’s talk of another climb in March, with other folks who have added Chirripó to their bucket lists. The unanimous recommendation from the Arenal Expeditionary Team: Hire pack mules to carry your stuff, including a small bottle of oxygen. It might prove helpful.

Final Note: the feria held on the second and fourth Sundays of the month at Cinco Esquinas is attracting more vendors and more buyers looking for anything from fresh organic produce to clothing, plants, massage oils and beauty products, goat milk cheese – you name it. Each session brings additional vendors with different items for sale.

Half-sized hamburgers (called “sliders”) are available hot-off-the-grill for cheap and are a real favorite with shoppers – some of whom arrive on horseback! The feria goes from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and is a great way to meet folks from around the Lake Arenal area.

–William & Jean Priest

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