Highpoints of Central America

On September 7, 2014 · 3 Comments

Today begins an effort to try to increase pushpins on the 12MC Complete Index Map for nations underrepresented by previous articles. This came from a realization that I’d continued to overlook certain parts of the world even after hundreds of posts. I’ll try to make it an occasional, relevant and unobtrusive effort, as with the following topic du jour.

It surprised me to learn how little information existed on the Intertubes about the highest points of elevation in each of the countries of Central America, beyond their simple names and locations. That wasn’t only English-language content either. I found little Spanish coverage as well. In fact, the highpoints of individual U.S. states seemed to receive better treatment from the digital masses than international highpoints of Central America. Mountain climbing sites such as Summitpost.org offered the most detailed accounts, albeit with not much even there.

I began by compiled the highpoint peaks onto a single map.



View Highpoints for Central American Nations in a larger map

I dug a little deeper, examining each of the seven Central American national highpoints from highest altitude to lowest. Oddly enough, the two lowest highpoints might actually be the most difficult to summit.


Guatemala: Volcán Tajumulco 4,220 metres (13,845 feet)



The highest point of Central America sat atop a Guatemalan stratovolcano, Volcán Tajumulco. While it’s possible for climbers to reach the mountaintop using their own resources and efforts, many people sign-on with one of several local guide groups that specialize in this activity. The trip took most people at least two days. One guide explained,

Conquering Tajumulco is no walk in the park. At the uppermost reaches of the volcano, the air is thin, the temperature plummets and the effects of altitude are likely to cause hikers some degree of discomfort.

The climb wasn’t supposed to be super-technical. The altitude seemed to be a primary issue.


Costa Rica: Cerro Chirripó 3,820 m (12,533 ft)


Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica
Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica by Monty VanderBilt, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Many of the tallest Central American mountains traced to a recent volcanic origin. Cerro Chirripó, the centerpiece of Chirripó National Park did not. Rather, Chirripó belonged to the Sierra de Talamanca, the intrusive eroded core of a long dormant volcanic range subsequently uplifted.

Vegetation and climate changed with elevation as one would expect: "The mountains in this area are covered in thick primary cloud and rainforest to about 9,000′ elevation. From there, the Paramo, or wet desert is the primary ground cover." Sources claimed that the lowest temperature ever recorded in Central America happened here, -9°C (16°F), although I couldn’t find a primary source to corroborate it.

Many climbers took the mountain in two stages. They checked-in and receive a permit at a ranger station, stopped at Base Crestones and then made the final push to the summit.


Panamá: Volcán Barú 3,475 m (11,401 ft)


technologically advanced summit
technologically advanced summit by steve hanna, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

What better location to place an array of antennae and broadcast towers than the highest point in Panamá? Obviously the people who constructed these installations didn’t drag all of that material up the slope by hand. They drove. A steep, muddy, rutted road climbed to the summit, and provided a primary route for hikers as well. Once atop, on a clear morning visitors reported that it was possible to see both the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean from the same spot. That would be a very rare and precious sight, indeed.


Honduras: Cerro Celaque – Las Minas 2,870 m (9,416 ft)


Cerro Celaque, Honduras
Cerro Celaque, Honduras by Joe Townsend, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Honduras didn’t focus much attention on its national highpoint although it did establish Celaque National Park in 1987 to create a protective reserve. The mountainous terrain could be best described as a "cloud forest" with increasing amounts of rainfall as one ascended. That water had to flow somewhere, and the slopes of Cerro Celaque provided headwaters to several local rivers. Honduras.com explained that Celaque derived from the local Lenca language, meaning "box of water."

…it provides water to all of the communities that are around the national park, including the cities of Gracias, Erandique, San Juan, San Manuel Colohete and La Campa in Lempira, Belen Gualcho in Ocotepeque, Corquin, Cucuyagua and San Pedro de Copan in Copan, among many others.


El Salvador: Cerro El Pital 2,730 m (8,957 ft)



Cerro El Pital might be the most visited Central American national highpoint. Interestingly, the summit itself was in neighboring Honduras so the highest point of El Salvador wasn’t even the highest point of the mountain. A road, the Ruta El Pital, provided convenient access and made the park very attractive to visitors. The easiest highpoint hiking option involved a 3-minute walk from the camping area. One account described the situation:

The views were nice, but I was not expecting to share the road with so many cars. The road is not just a hiking trail, but an actual road. There was not a steady stream of cars, but enough to be a bit annoying… HUGE!!!! camping area with hundreds of tents every weekends. A lot of people, dogs searching your tents and many STUPID people with fancy cars with super-sounds system to annoying everybody.

It didn’t seem contemplative or relaxing. However, if someone ever wanted a quick dash-and-grab highpoint in Central America, this would be the place to do it.


Nicaragua: Mogotón 2,107 m (6,913 ft)


Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua
Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua by cam landrix, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Not much more than two thousand metres high and yet Mogotón might not be an optimal choice even though Reserva Nacional Cordillera Dipilto y Jalapa was created to protect it. The situation traced back to recent history from a generation ago. Sandinista forces placed numerous explosive mines throughout the area during the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980’s. Many of those mines continue to lay buried and forgotten, just waiting for an unwary hiker to step in the wrong spot. Compounding that, jungle covered Mogotón and made it difficult to discern clear trails to the summit. It wouldn’t be advisable to approach the Nicaragua highpoint without a local guide.


Belize: Doyle’s Delight 1,124 m (3,688 ft)



While barely a bump compared to other Central American highpoints, I enjoyed learning about Doyle’s Delight the most. First, it wasn’t identified and named until 1989. Second, nobody climbed it until 2008. From Summitpost.org,

Doyle’s Delight was named for its resemblance to the prehistoric setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel "The Lost World." Towering palms and strangler figs, their trunks wrapped in a green shag of ferns and mosses, rise and converge in a leafy canopy that keeps the moist forest floor in perpetual dusk. The ridge is so remote that the British Army’s jungle training unit, scientist and other researcher with multinational expedition drop most of the expedition members in by helicopter.

Go ahead and watch a few frames of the video shot during that initial expedition. Notice the spiked and poisonous trees, the venomous snakes, the hardships of the hike, and the determination of the climbers. It was hard to believe that even today remote corners continued to remain unexplored.

On September 7, 2014 · 3 Comments

Schwebefähre

On September 3, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle received a wonderful suggestion from loyal reader “Joshua D” probably six months ago. He mentioned the schwebefähre ("suspension ferry") in Rendsburg, Germany. These structures went by various names in different languages including "transporter bridge" in English. They were so odd, so whimsical, so amazingly impractical that I found them difficult to comprehend, much less explain. Maybe this would help:


MovableBridge transport
By Y_tambe on
Wikimedia Commons

A transporter bridge had features reminiscent of a bridge and a ferry simultaneously, except the ferry was more of a gondola suspended above the river by steel cables. It was cheaper to build than an actual bridge and it could continue to operate while a ferry could not, such as during high water or icy conditions. The concept never gained significant mainstream adoption however because of all of the practical reasons one could imagine. Maybe two dozen transporter bridges ever went into operation during their heyday a few years on either side of 1900. Few survived and fewer still continue to fulfill their original purpose today.

The weird design and scarcity only increased my desire to ride one someday.


Puente de Vizcaya


Barquilla - Puente Vizcaya
Barquilla – Puente Vizcaya by Francisco Martins, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The first transporter bridge, Puente de Vizcaya, opened in 1893 in Portugalete, Spain (map). It gained a nickname over time, Puente Colgante — "hanging bridge" — and "The objective behind the construction of the Vizcaya Bridge was to link the two banks of the mouth of the river Nervión without hindering the shipping," by joining Portugalete to Getxo.

UNESCO added Vizcaya Bridge to its list of World Heritage Sites "as one of the outstanding architectural iron constructions of the Industrial Revolution, " operating continuously since its construction except for a brief period during the Spanish Civil War.


Schwebefähre Rendsburg


Schwebefähre Rendsburg
Schwebefähre Rendsburg by Henning Leweke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

Schwebefähre Rendsburg (aka Rendsburger Hochbrücke), the transporter bridge brought to my attention by Joshua D, commemorated its 100th anniversary recently (map). The gondola can accommodate up to four cars or a hundred pedestrians suspended about six metres above the Kiel Canal, taking a minute and a half to whisk passengers between Rendsburg to Osterrönfeld. The fare is also wonderful: free!


Le Pont Transbordeur de Rochefort


Pont transbordeur
Pont transbordeur by Henri-Jean Siperius, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Le Pont Transbordeur de Rochefort (map) celebrated its 114th birthday recently with several thousand visitors and spectacular fireworks, if my very limited understanding of French was correct. It provided passage over the Charente River between Rochefort and Échillais during some unusual hours, closing for lunch each day and then on Monday morning and on Thursday afternoon, all of which seemed quirky in an endearing French way.

The transporter bridge also accommodated only pedestrians and bicycles which led me to believe it was operated more as an historical attraction for tourists rather than as a serious transportation alternative. The major four-lane vehicle bridge a half kilometre to the west (Street View) would be a more practical solution. Thankfully officials preserved the old structure as a work of magnificence even though long since technologically obsolete.


Tees Transporter Bridge


Transporter Bridge
Transporter Bridge by John, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

The United Kingdom once had several transporter bridges, of which at least two survived. One was the Tees Transporter Bridge (map) in Middlesbrough. According to the Middlesbrough Council, "The Tees Transporter is a total of 851 feet (259.3 metres) in length which makes it the longest of those remaining Transporter Bridges in the world" and "is fully operational and provides a regular quarter-hourly service between Middlesbrough and Port Clarence for 12 hours a day."

The current Street View imagery actually showed the bridge in action from inside the gondola. Check it out before Google decides to update it.


Puente Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda



Recuperación del Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda

No functioning transporter bridge existed outside of Europe except for one in Argentina. Maybe.

The Puente Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda (aka Puente Transbordador de La Boca) in Buenos Aires (map) had been mothballed for decades. Recently it became a focus of restoration. Repairs were scheduled to be completed in January 2014 although I couldn’t find any information to confirm whether that actually happened or not.

On September 3, 2014 · 2 Comments

Revisiting Street View Extremes

On August 31, 2014 · 2 Comments

Time moves forward, an unstoppable force. We all must face that awful truth as we age. On a happier thought, that allowed me to revisit a Twelve Mile Circle article from nearly five years ago and see if it remained true. I concluded in Streetview Beats a Deadhorse from February 2010 that the northernmost Google Street View image correlated to a spot at 70.242777 degrees north latitude in the North Slope Borough of Alaska. The Dalton Highway went no farther, terminating at a restricted checkpoint of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

Forward to today, the final day of meteorological summer for the northern hemisphere 2014. Had the honorific shifted? I established simple rules and expanded the search to all four cardinal directions. The site must have been visited by the Street View car, not by someone aboard a ship or carrying a camera backpack. That eliminated Antarctica, Svalbard and various isolated South Pacific islands.


Nordkapp, Norway


North Cape
North Cape by Tor Even Mathisen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

The northernmost crown had been stolen! It now shifted to 71.169475 degrees north, where the Street View car reached Nordkapp, Norway. All end-of-the–line Street View images were rather boring so I posted photos from Flickr instead. I still included a link for each entry for curious 12MC audience members though (for example, Street View).

Apparently many people were drawn to Nordkapp as a tourist attraction especially in recent decades because it was considered the northernmost point in Europe. I wouldn’t have the heart to tell them they were all wrong. I think it would be legitimate to say, in their defense, that it was as far north in Europe as anyone could conveniently drive a car. European route E69 provided a well-maintained road right up to the the Nordkapp doorstep where tourists could disembark at a newly refurbished visitors center and snap lots of photos memorializing their accomplishment.

Interestingly, "Nordkapp is a Norwegianized form of the English language name North Cape." A 16th century English explorer searching for a safe route through the Northeast Passage named it, and the designation stuck.


Cochrane, Chile


Casa mate
Casa mate by Claudio Jofré Larenas, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Cochrane, Chile, extended to -47.258816 degrees south and claimed the southernmost image title (Street View). I fully expect that position to change someday. It’s only a matter of time before Street View arrives in Ushuaia, Argentina or Cabo de Hornos, Chile along the Beagle Channel of Tierra del Fuego (map). For today at least, Cochrane held the title.

Cochrane also seemed an odd choice for a place named in a Spanish-speaking area, and like Nordkapp demonstrated that British ship captains sailed far and wide across the planet. Cochrane referred to Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, from Scotland. He sailed relentlessly during the first part of the 19th century, experiencing one adventure after another, and getting into and out of trouble repeatedly. He was an archetype of the swashbuckler. Numerous authors drew upon Cochrane as inspiration for their fictional characters thereafter. Cochrane, the town, honored its namesake’s role as Admiral of the Chilean Navy, a position he also filled later for Brazil and Greece in addition to his years of service in the British Navy. The guy got around.

We should be thankful that the Street View car made it down to Cochrane. The Chilean southern highway (Carretera Austral) didn’t connect Cochrane and other southern towns to the larger road network until 1988, and even today "the trip involves gravel, winding curves and unpredictable weather."

The biggest tourist attraction — other than the abundant natural scenery of various large parks in the area — seemed to be the oddly-shaped Casa Mate.


East Cape, New Zealand


east cape lighthouse
east cape lighthouse by Christopher
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Easternmost and westernmost didn’t have the same appeal during my review because of the arbitrary nature of a prime meridian. I won’t spend as much time discussing them. A prime meridian could exist anywhere. Once again British sea power influenced events and Greenwich became a worldwide standard. Nonetheless I examined the situation for the sake of completeness.

East Cape, the easternmost point of New Zealand’s primary islands, had Street View coverage up to the farthest point an automobile could travel (Street View). It would be difficult to ever improve upon 178.544347 degrees east. Images extended all the way to a car park where visitors could then hike to the actual point.

A 22km, mostly unsealed, no-exit road from Te Araroa takes you to the most Easterly point on mainland New Zealand. The historic East Cape lighthouse stands 154 metres above sea level and is accessed by a walking track of some 700 steps – worth it for the views at the top.


Mana Point, Kauai, Hawaii, USA


201401_Kauai-PMRF-Barking-Sands_401
201401_Kauai-PMRF-Barking-Sands_401 by Thad Westhusing, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Street View provided extensive coverage of the Hawaiian islands so it was only a matter of finding the westernmost image on the westernmost major island, Kauai. I noticed images from minor outlying islands along the archipelago, however, those didn’t involve automobiles or road networks so I discarded them. I settled on Mana Point on Kauai at 159.779397 degrees west (Street View).

The area was known for two things: surfing and missiles. It was the site of Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands:

…the world’s largest instrumented multi-environmental range capable of supported surface, subsurface, air, and space operations simultaneously. There are over 1,100 square miles of instrumented underwater range and over 42,000 square miles of controlled airspace.

The updated Street View extremes delivered viewers to some interesting places. I wonder where they will lead another five years from now?

On August 31, 2014 · 2 Comments
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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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