Cloudbridge Reserve, Costa Rica, Mar 1st



About a year or so ago I taught a Spanish class here at work. One of the guys that came to that class was from Costa Rica and talking about hiking and outdoor activities, he recommended me to visit Cerro Chirripo if I ever went to Costa Rica. Talking about best times to do it, he mentioned end of February – beginning of March is usually the best time as it doesn’t rain as much. As I always do, I took note of all that info and saved it. Lucky me, this year I had to go to Costa Rica for work and it was by the end of February. So with some planning I took a couple days of to head to Cerro Chirripo with the original intention of backpacking three days and summiting the mountain. While planning I learned that they issue about 40 permits per day. 30 of those can be reserved and the rest are first come - first served. Unfortunately my planning was late so I didn’t get to reserve in advanced. Still, being adventurous (and hopeful) I decided to try my luck and head south to San Gerardo Rivas and try my luck. The worst that could happen was that I was going to spend a couple of days hiking in the area. With that in mind I did some research and learned about the Cloudbridge Reserve, a privately protected area adjacent to Cerro Chirripo National Park. So after my work was done in San Jose, early on Friday morning I got on a bus to San Isidro del General and from there I took a 4x4 taxi to San Gerardo. My first stop there was at the ranger station to check for tickets for Cerro Chirripo. I was told they had 8 tickets available for Sunday but that to get those, I would have to get to the park office very early or even consider sleeping outside. That afternoon I checked at the Hostel, had dinner and went to sleep early to have a really early start.

The following day I woke up at 3AM, got dressed and hiked about a mile down to the park offices were I found a group of people already waiting. I was told then that my chances were not very good but I decided to stay and see. While waiting one girl left which increased my chances just a bit and then, about half an hour before the office opened, another couple left. Long story short, I got in and got one of the last permits for Sunday. I was stocked. One of the guys there gave me a ride back up to the Hostel and after breakfast (and a little bit of celebration) I got ready and went out to explore the Cloudbridge Reserve

Cerro Chirripo trailhead
The hike started on the same trail that goes to Cerro Chirripo. The first mile or so is an arduous hot climb on super compacted soil. If it wasn’t for nice valley and forest views, I couldn’t say it’s very enjoyable but then I got to the first ridge where everything changed a bit. I got views of the valley ahead and the weather got a bit cooler. At some point I found the entrance to Sendero MontaƱa, the point where I left the main Cerro Chirripo trail and got in the dense forest. Little I knew that this trail was going to be a fully forested, not often traversed, steep downhill. It reminded me of some trails, if we can call them that, back in Cerro Avila in Venezuela. The forest was incredibly beautiful with huge trees, bamboo and vines all over the place. Even though I didn’t see wildlife, other than birds, I could swear I could feel eyes looking at me.

Mountain Trail... can you see it?
After a while I finally reached the Cloudbridge main trail. At that point I didn’t have much of a plan but wanted to try to do the entire park. So at that point, instead of turning left and doing the official long loop, I turned right and headed for the longer, all trails included loop. I had a long day ahead of me. The first stop was at Caldera waterfall. I must say that, after the waterfalls here at home, you need to see more water or higher to be impressed. From there I crossed the Chirripo River and was presented with two options again. As before, I choose the longer one and headed uphill on the Quetzal trail towards Don Victor waterfall. That part of the hike was on an exposed trail beaten by inclement sun. Yes, it was hot. Luckily it wasn’t too long and before I knew it, I was back in the shade.

The Quetzal trail
 The trail turned into a canyon and then a river. That’s when I realized that, to continue I needed to ford the river. This time of year, with little or no rain, that wasn’t much of a problem. On the other side I found the waterfall and decided to stop there for lunch while I soaked my feet in cold river water.
Coming down from there was an adventure in itself. The whole time I was waiting for Tarzan or some monkey to swing by. It didn’t happen, but that gives you an idea of how it was. Finally down I had a couple smaller loops to do. The first one was the river trail which doesn’t go close enough to the river even though you can hear it all the time. At some point I passed a viewpoint for Cloudbridge waterfall and noticed a side trail that probably went there. I did explore a bit but was not able to get closer. Then thunder stroke. I didn’t know if we had chances of rain or not but that sound was enough for me to start thinking about speeding my pace a bit. I got to a clearing were I could see the entire valley and noticed that, even though I was still hearing thunder in the distance, the clouds didn’t look too menacing. So, instead of going straight down, I took the waterfalls trail to complete the loop. This trail is very easy and short and goes thru three or four waterfalls.
Pacifica Waterfall
One of those is Pacifica waterfall. By far the most beautiful fall in the park. I took some time there to admire it and take a lot of pictures before heading out of the park and then walking the road back to the Hostel. After a nice shower, I made some diner, got my gear ready and went to sleep early for an early start the next day



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Gumjuwac Saddle, Feb 23rd

Snow! Finally! After a long wait, we finally got some new snow on the ground and the slight promise of good snowshoeing. Val and I had been waiting for this since the beginning of winter and to this date; we had tried once before, but with the lack of snow, that attempt ended up being a hike. So with our hopes high, we headed up to Mt Hood to try Gumjuwac Saddle, a route we had never tried before. Even though you can make this route much longer by going either to Lookout Mountain or to Barged Lake, we decided to just get to the saddle as I needed to get back home and get ready to get on a plane to Costa Rica. While driving there, we noticed that there wasn’t a lot of snow so, instead of putting or snowshoes on at the trailhead, we started with them attached to our packs. Soon after we started ascending though, we started potholing… yes; the snow was deep enough for us to actually use the snowshoes! So we shoed up, and started going up. The first part was completely forested with very little views of Mt hood across the highway. As we gained elevation, the snow actually got a lot better. We were breaking trail on fluffy powder. It was perfect. At some point I think I lost the trail so we navigated a bit and did a very steep section going up with snow up to our knees. The reward was an open view of Mt Hood and Mt Jefferson in the distance. Further up it was a winter wonderland. It certainly accounted for all the snowshoeing we hadn’t done this year. Up at the saddle with no views, we stopped for a quick lunch and then we headed down making a second stop to once again get the full view of Mt Hood and some crazy clouds going over it. Certainly not enough snowshoeing for a year, but at least we got to do a descent route.



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Cape Horn, Jan 25th

It wasn’t too long ago that I did this hike but with Val, we wanted to get out and do a nice hike with Carole and Mark. This was the perfect fit in both distance and elevation for what we were looking for. Besides, weather was looking pretty nice considering it being the middle of the winter. We were lucky to have a crisp blue sky day which offered great views of the Columbia Gorge. The only thing was that it was quite windy that day. Temperature was descent but as we discovered during the hike, the wind chill factor was probably below freezing. The hike itself was beautiful as expected even though we didn’t have a lot of chances to stay at the several viewpoints. With the wind it almost seems you’d fly away and land somewhere in the Columbia. The highlight of the hike came when we passed over the top of Cape Horn Falls. With the cold wind picking up moisture from the river and the waterfall, all the surrounding bushes were completely frozen. It was a very nice spectacle of shiny glass that we took our time admiring. It was a beautiful hike as always



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Salmon Butte, Jan 18th

I read about Salmon Butte somewhere and made a mental note to research a bit but then forgot all about it until Steve, a friend and hike leader in the Portland Hiking Meetup Group, posted it in December. After looking at some of the comments and pictures from that hike, it was clear I needed to head up there. Since weather was looking pretty descent for the weekend, it was a perfect opportunity to do it. This trail used to be a bit shorter until a washout took out a bridge over one affluent of the Salmon River. Now, you need to drive as far as the road will take you and then continue on foot. Around the area there are several spur trails that follow the river. We discover after a couple of excursions that none of those are the actual trail. As the instructions say in a very well know website, you have to stay on the road until you get to the old trailhead. So we did that and soon enough, we were deep in the lush forest. The trail started gentle which was perfect to warm up before we started gaining elevation. Most of the path meandered thru dense forests without many views until you make a turn half way up and the Mack Hall Creek valley opens in front of you. Coming from the dark out to the blue and bright sky was incredibly nice after a couple of weeks with very crappy weather. From that point on is when you really start climbing steadily to the summit. As you follow the ridge, you rarely get a view of anything but something in the back of your mind tells you you’ll get your reward. Towards the top we found some very well packed snow so we continued towards the summit. Then we came out of the forest to what looked like a forest road. The map doesn’t indicate this so it’s difficult to know for sure. The important part is that, as you continue on this very wide path the views start slowly appearing around you. First is Mt Jefferson to the south that peaks thru the branches of trees. Then is the top of Mt Hood in front of you that grows larger as you continue towards the last turn. And then the reward, as soon as you make the last turn, you top Salmon Butte and the views expand to the north giving you, on clear days, an expansive panorama that includes Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier and everything in between. Besides being an open spot with ample views, it’s more than perfect as a lunch spot. We stopped there for a while soaking in the sun and enjoying the views before heading back the same way.



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Hummocks to Boundary trail, Jan 1st

After celebrating the end of 2013, Val and I decided to go for a hike to welcome the New Year. Knowing that snow has been very low this year, we ventured towards St Helens. Our original idea was to start form the Johnson Observatory on the Boundary trail and head towards Helens Lake but once we got there, we found the road closed just above the Hummocks trail. We though the road closure depended on snow on the ground – it seems it just depends on dates. With that, we opted for trying the Hummocks trail and go towards the Boundary trail and see where we got. The morning was crisp but not too cold and the trail was empty. The first portion went thru marshes and a small pond. Some of the scenery was a bit unrealistic as it doesn’t resemble anything on the other side of the mountain. Once we got to the fork with the Boundary trail, we followed it up and the views of the mountain and Toutle River drainage opened up to our side. It was both incredible and scary as there was no snow to be seen. The trail was pretty easy to follow all the way to the empty parking lot. From there we walked to the observatory which I hadn’t seen before. It was an eerie feeling to be there with the building closed and all by itself. With nobody around, it looked like we were visiting ghost town. Views from the observatory were not short of spectacular. In fact, we walked up to the upper viewpoint and stopped there for a quick byte before continuing a bit further on the Boundary trail. We did up to a point that offered really nice views and then opted to turn around thinking about the drive back home. On the way back we crossed a lonely soul running on the trail and a big family group when we were just about to walk out. I wonder if there’s a better way to start the year.



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