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Conversations from Costa Rica: Stepping out of the comfort zone to climb a mountain

Taking a road less travelled or climbing ‘mountains’ provides global learning students life-lessons and fun!

Anica Gilbert  | 

Group of students at the summit of Mount Chirripó.

During fall break in the semester-long program in Costa Rica, one group of students hiked Mount Chirripó.

This semester Anica Gilbert, a sophomore strategic communication and vocational ministry major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is participating in the new global learning program in Costa Rica, one of the top study abroad destinations in Latin America. Gilbert will share the group’s experiences in a series of blog articles this semester. This is the third in the series. 

* * * * * 
Studying abroad in Costa Rica for three months is like being on a vacation all the time, so when fall break arrived, I knew that this was our chance to do something truly memorable. Our group had seen plenty of beautiful beaches, tropical rainforests, and busy streets of the big cities, so a group of five of us began making plans to climb Mount Chirripó. 

Chirripó is the highest peak in Costa Rica, with the summit being 12,533 feet above sea level. The trail is 12 miles to summit, passing through all different kinds of terrain. We walked through the jungle, only to find ourselves hiking rocky mountain landscape seconds later. The hike is fairly challenging, with long sections that have steep inclines. In addition to the steepness, the elevation change adds another challenge because of how quickly it changes. Climbing Mount Chirripó is considered to be a rite of passage for Ticos (Costa Ricans), so we felt both excited and anxious as we made our plans to hike.

Our plan was to spend two full days hiking. On the first day, we set out to hike nine miles and then stay overnight at the base camp, which is a hostel where hikers can pay for a bed, a hot meal and a cold shower. Then, we planned to get up early the next morning and hike the three miles to the summit in time to see the sunrise. After sunrise, we were to walk the full 12 miles back.

Sign at entrance of mountain in Costa Rica

The entrance to the national park where the mountain awaits!

So, the day finally arrived, and at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, we nervously laced up our hiking boots and strapped on our packs for what would be the most fun, and most challenging two days. The views were beautiful right from the beginning. We walked through jungle humidity with a steady incline for hours. The trail proved itself to be as difficult as we had heard, but right when discouragement set in, there would be an outlook with a view reminding us how far we had already come, or someone in the group would say something to make the rest laugh or to encourage those who were struggling to press on. The first nine miles took us through the most beautiful places, while testing us mentally and physically.

After our eight-hour day of hiking, five sweaty Gringos finally arrived at the Creststone basecamp. This part of the hike is honestly a blur. All I really remember is checking in, eating a sandwich and trying to warm up enough to fall asleep until it was time to go again the next day. I must have fallen asleep eventually, because the next thing I knew the alarm was waking us up at 2 a.m. to begin the climb to the summit. All of us were either giddy with excitement or sleep deprivation as we layered up for our three-mile climb to the highest point in Costa Rica. 

The environment we walked through on our second day was a complete turnaround from what we had just been in the day before. We made our way through rocks and shrubbery while listening to the water in the rivers rush all around us. At this point, we ran into a group of friendly Ticos who were summiting too, so we kept close to them as the hike turned into more of a crawl. 

View of lush mountains and a rainbow.

An amazing view along the trek.

The elevation, darkness, and sheer steepness of the 3-miles to the top make this section arguably the toughest part. It took us about two hours to finish, putting us at the top just in time for a cloudy sunrise. All of us struggled, but it was amazing to witness the ways we encouraged and strengthened each other as we needed it. The view from the top was amazing. It was so surreal to look down and see just how expansive, yet detailed God’s creation is and how far we had come. 

I don’t think that any of us thought that this would be how we spent the beginning of our fall break, but it has been the most rewarding part of study abroad so far for all of us. 

I am grateful for the way that we had to push ourselves and each other. Climbing the mountain showed us just how strong we are and the value of stepping out of our comfort zones. Those scenic lookouts we stopped at along the way illustrated how during trials in life, the Lord grants us with small glimpses of how far He has already walked alongside us so that we can find the strength to continue. 

The climb reminded me of how God intentionally places people in our lives during difficult times to speak encouragement and truth to us. Summiting with my friends, new and old, taught me that both beautiful and hard things are better when they are shared. I am thankful for this unexpected study abroad experience, for the friendships formed, and all the memories made!

Learn more about Lipscomb's semester-long global learning program in Costa Rica.