ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING
IN THE SOUTHWEST

© Christopher Earls Brennen

Hike P2. Piedrita Canyon, La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Characteristics

First rappel in Piedrita Canyon
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.

Piedrita Canyon (translated as Little Stone Canyon) is the commercial canyon used by the Pure Trek Canyoning adventure company of La Fortuna. It features several big rappels from overhung wooden platforms and descents through quite vigorous waterfalls. The guided descents provide transport to and from La Fortuna.

Trailhead

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 for about 300yds to a fork in the road where you follow the Pure Trek Canyoneering sign and fork left. About 100yds down this fork you will find the Pure Trek shelter on the right where Pure Trek Canyoning equips and instructs their clients.

Hike

Second rappel in Piedrita Canyon
(Photo by Lauren Jefferis)

From the Pure Trek instruction shelter at 1510ft you follow the trail that switchbacks down into the wooded canyon. About 300yds from the shelter you come to a wooden platform overlooking the biggest rappel in the canyon, a 150ft rappel that descends down beside an impressive waterfall into a cliff-ringed clearing in which the mist of the waterfall is constantly swirling. From the bottom of this first rappel follow the trail on the left for a short distance down to a platform bridging a narrow gully where the stream crashes down through a narrow slot. It is a 70ft rappel down into this slot and through the vigorous waterfall at the bottom. Another trail hike of about 50yds on the canyon left leads to a wooden canyon-side platform, the start of the the third rappel. This drops about 90ft vertically down the canyon-side cliff to the stream bed. You should reach this point at an elevation of 1160ft about 1hr 45min from the start.

From there it is just a few steps to the top of the third rappel, a 30ft descent down a sloping groove with a substantial flow of water. You disconnect from this in a pool that has the wooden platform for the fifth rappel at the far end. This spans the canyon above another roaring slot where you will get pounded by the water at the bottom of this 40ft rappel. It is a fitting climax to an exciting but brief canyon. You should reach the bottom of this last rappel at 1040ft about 2hrs from the start.

From the bottom of this last rappel you hike downstream about 100yds to where the exit trail leaves to switchback up the left wall of the canyon. At one point in a small side canyon a branch trail goes left but you should proceed up the drainage. About 30mins from the last rappel you will reach the canyon rim at 1310ft and proceed along a trail through a field to the Pure Trek exit shelter. A narrow, subsiduary dirt road leads from there back to the main access road about 8min away at 10o26.20'N 84o38.38'W and an elevation of 1310ft. Unguided the whole hike takes about 2.5hrs, probably more when guided.

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Last updated 9/10/07.
Christopher E. Brennen