High altitude alpine climbing in Mexico

November means climbing season for the volcanoes surrounding the Valley of Mexico, and since I wanted to take advantage of all the Mount Rainier training, I signed up for a another trip with IMG. The official package includes two big cities, one rural town and two volcanoes in a week, but what we actually got was the opportunity to step away from our daily lives into an amazing vacation in which a group of strangers became friends and helped each other reach the 18,491 feet mark.

This is the story in photos:

Gear pile

Packing took about four days, including a trip to Ashford to pick up rented boots and crampons.

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We arrived in Mexico City on day 1 to immediately start the acclimatization process (the city is over 7,300 feet high). We shared a nice dinner and got up early on day 2 to leave towards our first volcano: Iztaccíhuatl. This is how our van looked like with all our bags loaded. It required some serious tetris abilities.

 

Iztaccíhuatl hut

On the first acclimatization hike towards the hut. You usually start at Paso the Cortés, right in between Popocatépetl and Izta, and walk your way up. The weather was not pretty.

Iztaccíhuatl

After spending the night on the outskirts of a town call Amecameca we headed back to Paso de Cortés to start our climb (or so we thought). Izta is seen here with a cloud cap.

Popo covered in clouds

Popocátepel, just in front of Izta, decided to give us a sneak-peek. This was day 4.

Iztaccíhuatl valley

We carried our gear to a rocky high camp and got great views along the way:

Iztaccíhuatl

Iztaccíhuatl

Iztaccíhuatl hut

The warm and cozy climber’s hut. The guides cooked breakfast and in the meantime we admired the surroundings as the clouds started to recede.

Popocatépetl

We could now see how impressive Popo is when he’s not in a bad mood. We went back to high camp with the warning that a storm was on the way.

I don’t have pictures of the rest of the day, but I can say that the wind broke one of our tent poles and just after sunset we had no choice but to retreat to the safety of the hut. Assistant guides from another group must have seen our headlamp trail, because when we got to La Joya they were already there with their vans ready to save us the last hour of hiking. They were a true blessing. That’s when the headache started. I don’t suffer from migraines, but I imagine that’s how it must feel like: a continuous pounding and your head about to explode. After a few hours I accepted that it was an altitude sickness symptom and took 125mg of Diamox. I slept like a baby… well, except for the rattling sound of the wind outside 🙂

Puebla, Mexico

After some morning pancakes we said goodbye to Izta and drove towards Puebla, where we got a full day of sightseeing and local food. Everyone got to taste the famous Mole. We may have enjoyed two bottles of wine over dinner… all I remember is an awesome recount of climbing experiences, including one in which one of the group climbed Everest by himself.

ServimontOn day 6 we were taken to Tlachichuca, a small town located at the base of Pico de Orizaba. We stayed at the Reyes family compound, also known as Servimont. It was finally sunny, so we got our packs out and let the tents dry. By now we were down to six climbers, from the nine that started the trip.

Servimont

Senor Reyes is in this picture. He is a very kind person who is friends with one of IMG’s owners. We received royal treatment. I think that at about 2pm we jumped on the four-wheel drive vehicles and drove on the never-ending road towards the Piedra Grande hut on Pico de Orizaba, at about 14,000 feet.

Piedra Grande hut

The interior of the hut, with space for more than 20 climbers.

Piedra Grande hut

Our local guide preparing the perfect dinner: roasted chicken, lots of guacamole, corn tortillas and hot drinks.

Piedra Grande hut

The hut.

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Me.

Pico de Orizaba

The Jamapa Glacier in the distance.

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Up at midnight, breakfast at 12:30 and out and ready at 1am. Woo-hoo! It was a perfectly clear night with ZERO wind.

Jamapa Glacier

The Sunrise photo already on the glacier. We took breaks every 1.5 hours or so, this one with perfect timing.

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Our lead guide. Note: the Jamapa Glacier is virtually crevasse free, with angles up to 35 degrees.

Pico de Orizaba

Very close to the summit.

Pico de Orizaba

Eight hours later, I was the first climber to reach the summit, but not without a struggle. With the air thinned to about 70% of that at sea level, I gasped for air with every breath feeling that there was not enough oxygen, but the guide kept going up, and so did I.

Pico de Orizaba's crater

The crater.

Pico de Orizaba

Such a nice “piece” of rock.

Pico de Orizaba

This was probably my favorite part of the entire climb. After climbing down most of the glacier we arrived at a nice spot where we decided to take a 30-minute break while the other group made their descent. All we had to do was soak in the sun. What else can you ask for?

That afternoon we went back to Tlachichuca looking forward to a delicious home-made dinner and at 7pm we definitely felt like it was already midnight. Six of us stayed up to play some ping pong and Pictionary. What a really fun night.

Pico de Orizaba

On day 8 we woke up to a bright sky and the first thing we did was ask for a ladder so we could climb the roof and take in the volcano’s view.

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Servimont seen from the roof.

Pico de Orizaba

We left Tlachichuca still in the morning on day 9, our last day together, and made our way back to Mexico City.

Mexico City

Let’s just say that that day was both happy and sad. Four of us explored the Chapultepec park and castle and managed to risk our lives crossing a busy avenue to visit the Independence Angel. Our last dinner was long, as long as we could make it. We tipped the guides and at 10pm we could not say goodbye, so we extended the night in a bar next to the hotel. My flight left at 6am, so there was not much sleep, and the post-trip depression had already started.

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