Highpoints of Central America

On September 7, 2014 · 4 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.

Big Zero

On October 11, 2012 · 5 Comments

I noticed something I hadn’t seen before as I gazed upon a map of the Canada – United States border. Well, maybe I’d noticed it before although it must not have registered at the time if that’s the case. What? You don’t stare at maps of the border? It’s one of my fixations. I’ve learned all sorts of interesting bits of trivia along that very stretch of terrain which all involve completely legal and legitimate things in case anyone from the law enforcement community actually monitors 12MC.

View Larger Map

I was tickled — not Canadian tickled mind you, rather the idiomatic definition — about a 27.3 kilometre (17 mile) segment between British Columbia and Washington due east of the Douglas/Blaine border crossing.

Check it out: 0 Avenue. That’s “0” as in Zero. You may need to drill down a little to see the label or open it in another tab. What an awesome way to begin a numerical sequence. Most places seem to start with 1. Not here though, they start with 0 on a road that hugs the international border. This is a 100% Canadian road with only a small ditch separating it from the United States. It does not provide access to the U.S. In fact for a portion of the length a parallel road runs on the U.S. side maybe two or three metres away. This is our sad reality in a post 9-11 world.

View Larger Map

Notice how the farmer on the U.S. side of the border in this Street View image has to walk-up to a mailbox on the very edge of the border ditch. He could be handcuffed if he dropped his mail and it slid down the embankment. Crazy.

View Larger Map

The United States seems to have more than its share of 0-themed streets, avenues, and such. I found a number of instances. I think my favorite might be 0 Street outside of Cumberland, Wisconsin. It runs straight down the border between Polk and Barron Counties, and therefore serves as an excellent place to start counting from zero. That’s not what makes it remarkable. No, what is remarkable is the numbering of other streets in Barron County map. What’s up with all the weird fractional street numbers? 24 3/4 Ave? 21 1/2 Ave? Seriously?

View Larger Map

I found an example in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala that deserves special recognition. Consider the person who lives in the house at the corner of 0 Avenida and 0 Calle. I can’t imagine that it would boost his self esteem to be reminded constantly that he’s a double-zero.

View Larger Map

Few references to Yemen have ever made it onto the Twelve Mile Circle. This is a rare exception. Portions of Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, follow a numerical street naming convention. Welcome to Zero Street. It looks to be fairly significant with two lanes of traffic in each direction. Sana’a, I will note since I don’t know when I’ll have an opportunity to feature Yemen again, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its age and to its unusual architecture. Nearly two million people live here, and yet I’ve chosen to feature only Zero Street for some odd reason. I’ll have to fix that someday.

View Larger Map

Finally, I found Zero Road in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. This is the only one of the examples I provided that does not appear to be part of a numerical sequence. One wonders how Zero Road got its name. Does it refer somehow to the adjacent Ajanta Talkies Theatre, Allahabad Degree College, Jamuna Christian College or Dwarka Hospital? Does it derive from an indigenous non-English language with Zero referring to something other than a number? I don’t know.

Completely Unrelated

Loyal 12MC reader "New Taste" thought I might be interested in the Australian Government’s National Public Toilet Map. Of course I am! One never knows when an App like this might be appropriate for certain time-sensitive situations. I wish the U.S. government would fund such a resource. Goodness knows taxpayer monies are used for much less useful items. It would also help identify geo-extremes such as the Lowest Public Restroom in North America, too.

Thanks New Taste!

Memorable Crossings (Mexico)

On March 1, 2011 · 1 Comments

I examined several border crossings between South Africa and its neighbors that are available in Google Street View in the previous installment of this series. This time I move back across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, examining similar situations in Mexico where there is actually much greater image coverage.

United States

View Larger Map

There are numerous crossings recorded by Street View between Mexico and the United States. I selected one of the more obscure examples, Puerto Palomas in Chihuahua. Naturally I could have chosen a livelier location but it came to mind because of my recent article about Pancho Villa and his invasion of Columbus, New Mexico. This is where he would have left Mexico on his unsuccessful raid of the American town and its garrison. I found it frustrating that Street View didn’t replicate Villa’s route. It stopped here on the Mexican side leaving one to wonder about the topography of his path beyond the border.

This visual perspective faces away from the border crossing which is immediately to the rear, and grants a panoramic view of a quiet Mexican community. Puerto Palomas lures customers across the boundary like any good border town. Poking about, I noticed a density of pharmacies, opticians and dental offices located conveniently near this sanctioned breach in the wall. Cut-rate medicines and dental services are attractive to those on the other side of the line. The residents of Puerto Palomas are happy to accommodate.

I found many other sites of interest along the Mexican border with the United States. These only scratch the surface:

  • The crossing at Tijuana is remarkable for its huge mess of traffic trying to pass into San Ysidro / San Diego, California. I would never want to wait in that awful queue.
  • The separation between Mexicali and Calexico, California is so distinct that it practically slaps one in the face. Can you find the border?!?
  • I spent considerable time wandering through the amazing graffiti on a border wall in Nogales. I suppose it’s nicer to gaze upon imaginative artwork all day than stare at a stark unwelcoming wall.
  • My semi-legal (now forbidden) crossing point at Boquillas del Carmen still lacks Street View coverage. That’s unfortunate. I was hoping to take a nostalgic look.

Please feel free to post comments about other curiosities you encounter.


View Larger Map

I noticed a completely different dynamic at a crossing between the Mexican state of Chiapas and Guatemala. It seemed much more like the Street View images of border stations in South Africa than anything I’d observed on the northern edge of Mexico. Again, the image looks away from the border and back into Mexico. Notice the vendor stalls that line the street, an enormous outdoor market that seems to be the size of a full city block completely stuffed with all manner of shops and restaurants. I imagine there’s a lot more going on than cheap medical services unlike its northern cousin.


View Larger Map

Sadly, Street View doesn’t deliver us to a Mexican border with Belize. It comes very close but then stops just a bit short of our goal. The best we can do is to catch a fleeting glimpse of Belize from across the water at Chetumal. We will have to be content with this scene until the Street View car returns and completes its journey.

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
December 2017
« Nov