Cerro de la Muerte: The Mountain of Death

Part of the Talamanca Mountain range, Cerro de la Muerte is the highest point in Costa Rica and rises 11,000 feet above sea level. Stories were told by our guide of past journeys and unprepared travelers who succumbed to the cold and rainy weather of the mountain, giving the mountain its ominous name. It is our luck that a highway now runs to the mountain’s summit as it gave our group an opportunity to plan a full day hike from the summit.

Because a one-way 10-mile hike would take the entire day, our professors decided we would  start at the top and hike our way down. The bus took us up the winding mountain road and we stopped for a brief moment at an overlook. Supposedly, one could see something of great significance but the cloud cover was thick and we couldn’t see anything, much to the disappointment of Prof J who had looked forward to showing us the view.


Piling quickly back onto the warm bus, we continued our ride up to a point just below the summit where the bus dropped us off and we huddled in packs to keep warm.

It started raining.

Actually, raining is not quite the right word. It started spitting a drizzle that was cold and infused with whipping wind.   Propelled by his desire to not push us through a rain-soaked hike, Prof J wanted to turn back. As an intense non-lover of rain-soaked hikes, I certainly appreciated the effort to avoid such an experience; however, Prof D convinced his fellow chaperon that we could, in fact, find it in our biology-loving hearts to make the trek down Cerro de la Muerte.

So we hiked.


The first part of our hike began at the summit and followed a barren trail through the paramo habitat. Characterized by cold temperatures, harsh slopes, and short shrubs, I could hardly catch my breath. My inner voice rang constant reminders to stay calm and breathe, reminding myself that I was heading down the mountain to more oxygen. Picking my way carefully over wet rocks and around damp shrubs, I saw no sign of wildlife. This part of the hike was quick, cloudy, windy, and cold.

Cerro 1

As we began to move into the transitional forest, the cloud cover began to dissipate and we were afforded incredible views of the valley. I turned a corner to unexpectedly see a rainbow arching over the trees ahead and it was in this moment I thought of Ben.

Benjamin LaMontagne passed away February 22, 2014 and every day I wear the bracelet his mother (my friend) gave me in remembrance of him. The purple and gold bracelet with the words “Remember Ben” inscribed on the top is a daily reminder to not only remember that Ben lived but to also live every moment of our lives in honor of him. When I rounded the corner of the trail and saw the valley, felt the sunshine, glimpsed the rainbow, I thought of Ben and took a moment to reflect on his life well lived.

Cerro 2


“Wait until you see the golden moss,” Prof D said. “You will feel such euphoria.” Considering the lack of cloud cover and small amounts of sunshine, the golden moss was not quite as euphoric as one would have hoped; however, it was quite a sight to see.

Golden Moss

Our guide thought it would be amusing to wear the moss as cover and hide himself amongst the trees:

Golden Moss Luis

Other photos from the incredible hike down Cerro de la Muerte:

Roble Cerro 4Roble Oak

Cerro 5

Cerro 3

A Song to Costa Rica

There comes a point (at least for me) in a long hike when I am simply moving without thought, shuffling my feet forward and hypnotized by the rhythm of the walk. The tall oak trees rose above me and birds called (though I did not see them). This is the moment I remember when our guide started singing and his song carried us down the mountain. 

He sang:
“Que linda es mi Costa Rica
la virgen de los Angeles bajo
y como la vio tan bonito
as cielo jamas regreso…”

And I listened.
“What beautiful is my Costa Rica
The virgin of the angels came
and it see so beautiful it never came back
Because it is so beautiful
They call it the Central America Switzerland.”

It is indeed beautiful.

Next time we leave Savegre Valley and head south towards Drake Bay and Corcovado!

One thought on “Cerro de la Muerte: The Mountain of Death

  1. Lovely writing. Tears in my eyes when you shared your thoughts of Ben. I especially like how you walk onward without my thought hypnotized by the motion. I use to swim like that. I miss it.
    Missy, I am so going to miss you on LI. So many things you do deeply impact people in our community, and me! The kids that you first taught are now teens. The lessons, daily routines and values you shared are now spreading > like ripples in a pond. How do you keep up this high energy & passion?


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