Just as Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Everest "because it was there," Cerro Chirripó (Costa Rica's highest mountain; 3,819 m) lures the intrepid who seek the satisfaction of reaching the summit. It's a hike, or trek, not a "climb" and any hale and hearty traveler can do it.
The mountain is the focus of Parque Nacional Chirripó  ($15 admission two days, $10 each extra day), which protects 50,150 hectares of high-elevation terrain. The park is contiguous with La Amistad International Peace Park to the south; together they form the Amistad-Talamanca Regional Conservation Unit. Flora and fauna thrive here relatively unmolested by humans. One remote section of the park is called Savannah of the Lions, after its large population of pumas. Tapirs and jaguars are common, though rarely seen. And the forests protect several hundred bird species. Cloud forest, above 2,500 meters, covers almost half the park, which features three distinct life zones; the park is topped off by subalpine rainy páramo, marked by contorted dwarf trees and marshy grasses.
Many ticos (Costa Ricans) choose to hike the mountain during the week preceding Easter, when the weather is usually dry. Avoid holidays, when the huts may be full. The hike from the delightful mountain hamlet of San Gerardo de Rivas  ascends 2,500 meters and is no Sunday picnic but requires no technical expertise. The trails are well marked but steep and slippery.
Only 40 visitors are allowed within the park at any one time. Only 10 spaces daily are available for people arriving without reservations; the other 30 spaces are for reservations (accepted Mon.-Fri. only), which require a $10 deposit to be prepaid via the Banco Nacional. Experienced hikers recommend showing up anyway, as there are usually some no-shows. The ranger station (tel. 506/2742-5083, parquechirripo [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, 6:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.) is in San Gerardo de Rivas.
The weather is unpredictable–dress accordingly. When the bitterly cold wind kicks in, the humidity and wind-chill factor can drop temperatures to freezing. Fog is almost a daily occurrence at higher elevations, often forming in midmorning. And temperatures can fall below freezing at night. February and March are the driest months.
There's a lodge–Centro Ambientalista El Páramo–14 kilometers from the trailhead, with four bunks (with foam pads) to each of 15 rooms, and shared bathrooms with lukewarm showers, a communal kitchen, and solar-powered electricity 6-8 p.m. You can reserve meals. Otherwise you need to cook for yourself. Rates are $10 per person per night. Camping is not permitted.
The community of San Gerardo runs an association of guides and porters (arrieros, tel. 506/2742-5225). Prices are fixed at $30-50 per day, with a 35-pound limit per porter.
Costa Rica Trekking Adventure  (tel. 506/2771-4582), in San Isidro, offers guided treks.