ADVENTURES AROUND THE WORLD© Christopher Earls Brennen
Hike B1. Piedra (or Lost) Canyon, Costa Rica
- Hiking time: 2 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 2.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 210 feet
- Topo Map: Costa Rica 1:50,000 Topographical Map, #3247-11, Fortuna
- Difficulties: 4 rappels up to 120ft
- Special equipment: Helmet, harness, rappel device, two 160ft ropes, 4 quicklinks, 30ft webbing (all equipment provided on guided descent)
- Permit: Guided Tour with Desafio, La Fortuna (www.desafiocostarica.com). Price: $85
- ACA Rating: 3B I
The Central American country of Costa Rica is a prime destination for canyoneers because there the sport is significantly developed and, for US canyoneers, presents a new dimension of experiences. This is because Costa Rica has a spine of steep mountains and volcanoes covered in dense tropical forest. Consequently the canyons through this forest are spectacular and present very different flora and fauna, a very different visual experience than any in the USA or Europe. Many small companies run guided canyoneering (or rather canyoning) trips through their local canyons (for example Pure Trek Canyoning and Desafio in La Fortuna and Explornatura in Turrialba) These companies have developed ``commercial canyons'' and the trips through them are not cheap, averaging about $60 to $90 for a half day descent. However the first time visitor is strongly advised to sign up for these commercial canyons and not attempt any wilder, ``non-commercial'' canyons that might involve unwitting trespass or worse. In this compendium we describe a number of commercial canyons that the author descended and recommends, some near La Fortuna in the Arenal Volcano area northwest of San Jose and some near Turrialba southeast of San Jose. For balance we also describe a ``non-commercial'' canyon near Turrialba though a guide would also be needed to find the entrance to and exit from that canyon.
The defect with commercial canyons is that they have usually been significantly altered to ease the passage for the guides and their clients. These alterations often include the installation not only of extensive fixed anchors but also of wooden platforms from which to enter the rappels. Some even have steps cut in the canyon bottom rock to ease downclimbs while in other canyons trails conduct the clients from one rappel to the next. Despite these alterations the canyons are spectacularly beautiful with luxurious multi-level canopies of tropical forest and exotic flora and fauna. It is a unique experience for a howler monkey to let loose with its terrifying howl just as you are about to enter a 150ft free rappel! Many of the adventure companies also offer zip-line canopy adventures; for example Explornatura offers a combined zip-line and waterfall rappel descent of Puente Vigas Canyon near Turrialba.
Piedra Canyon (translated as Stone Canyon but also known as Lost Canyon) is the commercial canyon used by the Desafio adventure company of La Fortuna. It features several big rappels (two from overhung wooden platforms) and some downclimbing in a glorious tropical canyon with just a modest water flow. The guided descents accept beginners and a maximum of two children and provide transport to and from La Fortuna.
From La Fortuna you take the road toward La Tigre and San Ramon until you get to 10o27.05'N 84o37.66'W where you should look for the Rancho de Mina snack bar on the right side of the road. Take the dirt road that goes off to the right just beyond the snackbar. Drive up the steep dirt road past several farms to the corrugated iron roofed Desafio shelter at 10o26.06'N 84o38.47'W (elevation 1400ft). Proceed on up the dirt road taking a right fork at the Pure Trek Canyoneering sign. About 1.1km from the Desafio shelter you will come to a place where the dirt road branches, one branch turning 90 degrees right. This is the drop-in point for Piedra Canyon at 10o25.71'N 84o38.54'W and an elevation of 1680ft.
From the drop-off point on the dirt road at 10o25.71'N 84o38.54'W and an elevation of 1680ft, follow the partly paved trail to the right along the side of a field for about 100yds and descend into a shallow wooded canyon. Here Desafio has constructed a wooden platform where the guides equip and instruct their tour groups and get them to do a small, practice rappel from the platform. Just below this platform is the first rappel, a 20ft drop down a sloping groove with a small stream. Just 50yds beyond this there is another, much higher and more exposed platform at the top of the 110ft second rappel. The first 50ft of this descent is a free rappel from the platform. At the bottom it drops you, unexpectedly into a small deep pool. You should reach the bottom of this second rappel (elevation 1490ft) about 30min after the start. Below it there is further descent aided by steps cut in the inclined rock.
Last big drop in Piedra Canyon
Downstream of this second rappel it is about 100yds to a neat downclimbing slot and this begins a section of canyon with a series of downclimbs and boulder-hopping. This is a beautiful place with great overhanging tropical canopy and a sparkling stream. All too soon you come to the top of the last series of rappels at 1240ft about 1hr 15min from the start. This last series starts with with a 120ft rappel from a dramatically overhung platform. It begins with a section of free rappel but drops into the cascading waterfall for the lower half. Immediately below this is a short 12ft rappel from a tree anchor on the right. You should reach the bottom of this last rappel at an elevation of 1210ft about 1hr 30min from the start.
Just below this last rappel another large canyon enters on the left. Take a moment to walk a short way up this canyon to see a very pretty waterfall similar to the one you just descended. Then, resuming the canyon descent, the trail makes two short bypasses on the right, and just beyond the second you will come to the start of the canyon exit trail on the right (elevation 1170ft). This trail switchbacks up the steep canyon side to the access dirt road and the Desafio exit shelter noted earlier during the approach. You should reach this shelter at 10o26.06'N 84o38.47'W and an elevation of 1380ft about 2hrs after the start of the descent.
Last updated 9/11/07.
Christopher E. Brennen