Ascent of Volcán Barva on 2017-02-01

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Adam Walker -- Trip Report or GPS Track
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Volcán Barva
    Location:Costa Rica
    Elevation:9534 ft / 2905 m

Ascent Trip Report

WARNING: I do NOT recommend this hike. It features extremely difficult jungle bushwhacking with high potential for injuries or getting hopelessly lost. It is likely better to approach the summit of Volcán Barva from the south where there might be a path. Do not attempt unless you are in excellent physical condition, have experience in dense vegetation, and have a reliable GPS unit you know how to use well.

Our story: From the Poás National Park parking lot I drove our mini jeep downhill and then across the foothills to the Barva section of Braulio Carrillo National Park. The roads were narrow, winding, and mostly unsigned, but in good condition and very scenic as they passed coffee plantations. From the village of Sacramento the road to the park is steep and eventually becomes a rough dirt road. Our jeep had no problem, but passenger cars would need to be driven carefully. I had to stop and hill-hold the clutch when a herd of cows blocked our passage for a few minutes.

The road ended at a small parking area with a ranger-manned cabin. There was not much happening here today, a big contrast from the mobbed scene earlier today at Poás National Park. We got ready for our hike and stopped at the ranger cabin, where we paid USD 12.00 each for entry, got a park brochure, and then headed up the gated road into the rainforest at 12:50 PM.

I had the 1:50K topo map of the area on my GPS and printed out, plus a recent text trip report from my friend Rob, but no GPS track, and the trail map on the park brochure was utterly useless. We came to a trail junction and figured out that it was a loop trail that rejoined the wide road a little bit further, so we stayed on the road. The weather was misty and overcast, changing to light rain in a white out. We figured this might be the case given our afternoon start.

The road became narrower and more trail-like, and soon crossed over the continental divide at a sign (Pacific this way, Caribbean that way). A little ways beyond was a good picnic shelter, and trail heading right (east) signed for the “Laguna Barva”. We took this turn and in about 10 minutes a short side trail led to the tiny jungle-choked lake—not much so see in the thick clouds. The main trail continued uphill shortly to a viewing platform above the lake, and a sign saying “Prohibida la Entrada” guarding the jungle beyond. We had been hiking an hour so far--this was as far as trails went, and my GPS said it was 630 meters (0.4 miles) to the summit. Our Poás hike this morning has been further, and not too bad, so we figured we’d be OK as we plunged into the cloud forest.

At first it was usual bushwhacking as Adam followed tapir trails around thickets on a kind of plateau. We had to descend to a col before climbing the main summit cone, and the terrain and vegetation led us to an area south of the actual col point—that seemed OK as we clambered over deadfall and through dense brush. But suddenly we came to the edge of a deep slot canyon, obviously the brook leading south from the col. Crossing it looked like it involved going up and down two densely forested 6-meter cliffs. So we turned left and tried to stay above the cliff, heading towards the col (where presumably the brook disappeared) while looking for a crossing.

It is hard to overstate the difficulty of this terrain. Our progress was very slow and we got thoroughly muddy and wet from our exertions. I started seriously thinking about turning back, and if I had been solo I would have. But Adam plugged on ahead, and eventually I liked the look of a log that spanned the canyon--I shimmied across, Adam followed, and now we were headed uphill towards the summit point. The vegetation and deadfall were horrendously brutal—we were gradually becoming one with the forest, drenched and muddy. Adam went first, and I was constantly monitoring the GPS and nudging him when necessary, but navigating uphill to a summit is usually pretty easy.

The terrain flattened out a bit, and we saw some yellow flagging, and this led us shorty to an incongruous sign in the jungle: “Cerro Chaman 2887 msnm”. It was nice to have confirmation that we had reached our goal—it has taken us an hour to travel a 0.4 mile, but the GPS said our route was 0.82 miles. Rob’s trip report mentioned the sign, and he also tried to use the yellow flagging to find a better way down, unsuccessfully. We scouted around briefly for a trail but to us it seemed like all routes petered out quickly. We were cold, tired, and wet, so we did not stay long at the summit before heading back down the way we came.

Navigating down a peak is trickier, so I had to correct Adam’s course more as we plunged down through the forest. I was aiming for our log crossing, but the dense vegetation was likely degrading my GPS unit’s accuracy, and the vegetation severely constrained our forward travel options. We crossed a small creek not far the summit, and after more downhill we came to the familiar-looking slot canyon. I could tell we were a bit north of our log, so we had to turn left to get there, but the terrain was at its worst. We had to crawl on our stomachs under massive fallen logs, and then clamber over jackstrawed rotten timbers. Adam slipped and bruised his back.

After this section the canyon looked crossable, so we slid down to the brook, rock-hopped across, and climbed a muddy class 3 bank with only rotten roots as handholds. Happy to be across, Adam led uphill, hoping to reach the easier vegetation. After a short bit I pulled out my GPS and was shocked by what I saw—we had gotten turned around and were now climbing back uphill towards the Barva summit!

This did not seem possible, since we had just crossed the same canyon that we had crossed on the way up. I thought my GPS might be having one of it’s occasional “drifting” episodes, but there was no evidence of that. At this point we were not in a good state. We were both drenched and chilled by cold rain, had very little food and water, were tired, sore, and muddy, and it was getting close to 4 PM. If we got lost in this jungle, it could have quickly become a real survival situation.

I turned Adam around and had him head towards the lake platform and its trail, and soon realized that the canyon brook must start up near Barva’s summit, flow down to the west to near the col, and then turn south. We had crossed it at a south-flowing point on the way in, and its west-flowing point on the way out, where it was easy to head back uphill towards where we came.

Happily, heading west and downhill brought us to a much smaller non-canyoned brook that was flowing north—this made sense, since we were now north of the col. After the trivial crossing we went uphill and soon hit the plateau area with tapir trails. From there it was easy to get back to the lake platform and its very welcome trail at 4 PM exactly. We were both very, very relieved to be out of the jungle. Adam asked to see my GPS unit, and he physically kissed its screen for saving our bacon.

The sign at the ranger station said the park closed at 4 PM, so we hiked quickly down the trail in the steady cold rain, stopping only at the nice picnic shelter to change into what little dry clothes we had—my hands were particularly freezing due to being out to use the GPS. At 4:45 we reached the trailhead—as we took off all the muddy clothes we could before getting in our car, the ranger started closing up shop. He never spoke to us but was likely happy we had returned.

We had a long drive back to our hotel in Alajuela, including lots of time in heavy traffic in the suburbs of San José.

If anyone else is interested in Barva, and has time to spend, I recommend scouting out a route from the south, starting near the Canopy Adventure on Route 114 at about WGS84 10.08837, -84.1111. Ask around and one might find a path that starts near there and heads north to the “Cerro Chaman” sign. I cannot image it could be worse that hiking in via our route.

Click here for next ascent in trip: Volcán Irazú
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1152 ft / 351 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1152 ft / 351 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.5 mi / 8.8 km
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Bushwhack, Mud/Swamp
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Raining, Cool, Windy, White-out
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1086 ft / 331 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 1020 ft / 310 m; Extra: 66 ft / 20m
    Loss on way in:66 ft / 20 m
    Distance:2.8 mi / 4.4 km
    Route:Tourist Tr, Bushwhack
    Start Trailhead:National Park hut  8514 ft / 2595 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1086 ft / 331 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 1020 ft / 310 m; Extra: 66 ft / 20m
    Gain on way out:66 ft / 20 m
    Distance:2.7 mi / 4.4 km
    Route:Tourist Tr, Bushwhack
    End Trailhead:National Park hut  8514 ft / 2595 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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