The Vertical Climb of Cerro Chato

Vacation self is crazy.

Here in Texas, if someone challenged my overweight, out-of-shape self for a nearly vertical walk up a volcano, going from 0-3700 feet in 1.5 hours, I would think you were mad for even offering.

On vacation, this sounds like an adventure!

The lodge we were staying at was a starting point for the very difficult hike up Cerro Chato. Cerro Chato seems rather tiny when compared to Arenal but take it from me, it’s not when you’re climbing it! On the day of the hike, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to take on the adventure of such a difficult hike, so while we prepared for being out in nature and walking, we didn’t prepare for a 5-hour vertical trek. Mistake #1.

We started the day meandering through the trails, bird watching, and enjoying the moderately cool temperatures. When we got to the starting point of Cerro Chato, I looked up the gnarly knots of tree trunks and decided – this hike could be fun! Mistake #2=not going right to the start of the trail to complete the climb earlier in the day.

So up we went, hauling over limbs, scrambling over rocks. I quickly realized this was going to be more than difficult. After some time, we ran into another hiker headed on the way down. We asked how we were doing and he mentioned we were about 1/2 way there. yay! He also cautioned that the ‘trail’ gets worse and to find a walking stick if at all possible. boo! I quickly found a stick and sure enough, it helped tremendously with leverage.

We continued up the volcano and at a certain point, I realized I was soaked. Not just a little sweaty because we are hiking, but because we are hiking a near-vertical mountain in a jungle. I have gotten lazy about wearing contacts over the last few years and don’t even have a current prescription. There was so much exertion that my glasses were fogging up, which isn’t a big deal until Keith yelled: STOP. SNAKE.

Yep, a snake that I almost stepped on because I had serious foggy glasses and tunnel vision. Wisely, it was decided that Keith start leading on the trail so he could point out anything.

Eventually, we made it and it was beautiful. We couldn’t see as far into the distance as I would have liked, and there was no clear view of Arenal but it was still a treat to make it. We chatted with a few people from Switzerland, and a couple from Vancouver.

After about 45 minutes of rest, it was time to head back down. Here is where proper planning could have been better. We were down to one bottle of water and knew that the hike down was going to be strenuous. What we should have had was some Gatorade and snack bars for the top, which would have made the end of the hike a little less painful.

Going down was, surprisingly, easier than going up. We navigated the trail well and gave thanks to the recent lack of rain the jungle was having – it would have been a nightmare in slippery conditions.

About 1/2 way, we ran into a couple that spoke French, and a little English. After we communicated to watch out for the snake that was on the trail (seriously, the cutest ever and I don’t like snakes. It was a tiny thing in the middle of the trail and was all fierce about NOT budging) they asked how far. I wish my French was better because I don’t know if they got ‘ halfway up the mountain’ in English but they did get a chuckle after I told them ‘Je Sui’s fatigue’.

For the last 1/2 hour, my knees started to complain, and then my ankle. 3 surgeries on my left knee and ankle have left me a bit of a mess. I stressed my body and was impressed with how well it did.

When we got to the bottom of the volcano, we still had about a 2km walk back to the lodge. This was actually the worst part of the trip. We were out of the water, and it was midday in the heat. The walk had little shade, and I was completely wiped. When we finally got to the lodge, Keith went ahead (after I assured him I wouldn’t pass out) to grab some water. As we sat outside the lobby, one of the front desk clerks saw us and asked if we just finished Cerro Chatto. I laughed and said yes – which means we look pretty rough. He mentioned most hikers have ‘that look’ when finishing but offered his congratulations. He said it’s a badge of honor to have made it up & down the volcano.

After several PowerAids, a lot of water, and food, we went to the room to crash. I didn’t leave until the next morning and it was a pretty rough night of shivering, then sweating, then shivering with all my limbs screaming while my body recovered from the day.

Was it worth it? It was a great experience. Should we have planned better so the after-effects weren’t as bad? You bet. When Costa Ricans say a trail is difficult, believe it!

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