Pico de Orizaba
Home Up Live Music 14'ers Log 13'ers Log Lost Creek Wilderness Wedding & Belize Ice Climbing Colorado Wish List

11/27/02 - 12/01/02                                

Last year while coming back from Costa Rica we flew over the Mexican volcanoes and that sparked the bug in my head that I wanted to climb them sometime. One year later, here we were on our way! Thanksgiving weekend was perfect due to the extra days off and the end of the wet season for the volcanoes. At first I was looking into getting a guide, but was too cheap, and Peggy mentioned the idea to Ginny Singer whose boyfriend, John Erickson, had been down there a few years ago and got turned around due to weather. Both were interested in going down duringpico14.jpg (52704 bytes) that time and we started making reservations. Since time was limited we figured we would just climb the Jamapa Glacier Route on the north side of Pico de Orizaba (Aztec name is Citaltepetl) and not the other volcanoes, La Malinche and Iztaccihuatl. Pico would be enough of a challenge as it's the highest peak in Mexico and the 3rd highest in North America standing at 18,700ft!
The night before leaving we were still running around getting last minute gear, packing food, re-packing our backpacks, fitting crampons, drinking tons of water, and trying to get to bed early for our 4am wake up. It was relatively easy getting through the airport since it was an early flight, I just kept thinking about what I forgot. By the weight of my pack, it didn't seem like I forgot anything! The flight to Mexico City was only 3.5hrs, from there we took a much smaller plane for 25 minutes to Puebla (where the VW factory is) after getting told to go to four different gates (luckily the flight waspico04.jpg (77430 bytes) running late cause our luggage didn't show up till the last minute), then we took a 2 hour bus ride from Puebla to Tlachichuca (8,530ft) at the base of the mountain. We were staying at Senor Reyes which is an old converted soap factory that climbers now stay in. We were following John down some small side streets when we came up to a large steel door and rang a bell. Slowly the door opened and Senor Reyes welcomed us in! I NEVER would've found that place, luckily John was there the last time pico06.jpg (74854 bytes) he came down. The place is pretty cool to look around, between all the old machinery, Dodge Power wagons, and broken glass cemented in the tops of the walls. There was two others from Quebec staying the night also so we figured it wouldn't be too loud. It's quite a deal staying at Senor Reyes. We each paid $130 for two nights lodging, two breakfasts and two dinners, and transportation up and back to the hut. We talked to others who paid $100 just for transportation up the mountain! We started sorting through more gear after a brief walk through Tlachichuca's townpico12.jpg (72966 bytes) square, and had a great dinner of soup, bread, chicken, potatoes, and veggies.
The next morning all we had to do was get ready for the transportation up to the Piera Grande huts at 13,943ft around 11am. So, more sorting, packing and re-packing. The weather in town was great and we even got some fabulous views of Pico looming in the distance way above the town. The ride was 2 hours up a rough and bumpy 14 mile 4x4 road. Even a few spots where we had to keep backing up and trying again from all the mud. The higher we got, the worse the weather was till we got to the huts where visibility was horrible and freezing rain pico10.jpg (137666 bytes) was blowing just about sideways. At this point I'm thinking, "oh great, we're not even going to get out of the hut if this keeps up". The smaller hut (Augusto Pellet) was empty, but had an enormous hole in the roof and the repaired window was broken out, the larger hut (memorial to Octavio Alvarez) was a large stone and tin structure stirring with climbers activity from sleeping to cooking to packing for the summit that night. There were a few bunks left and we picked the one that looked like it had the least amount of leaks from above. We decided to hike up to the top of the aqueduct to 14,200ft which ended up being a bad idea and we got soaked and frozen in the matter of 20 minutes. Back at the hut we hung everything up, ate some freeze-dried dinner and played some games. All four of us spent the night tossingpico16.jpg (93040 bytes) and turning, waking up to pee, and dodging drops of water coming through the roof. Though the weather was horrible there were still some folks who got up around 1am to start the climb. pico26.jpg (100635 bytes) Talking to them later the next day they said after 20 minutes they were in good weather and glad they went since they were holed up for a couple days in the hut. And at sometime throughout the night the skies broke wide open to views of tons of stars and the Jamapa Glacier, the route we would take!!
The following morning we had breakfast outside (it's amazing how good everything tastes wrapped in tortilla shells) and laid our clothes on boulders to dry, and checked out all the cool scenery around. We were above the clouds and looking out everything looked like it was covered in marshmallows. Sure is strange to spend a lot of time at 13,900ft, simple things like walking 100 yards to fill up water containers was pretty tiring! Peggy and I decided to take diamox, we both got some tinglypico20.jpg (58123 bytes) fingers and I had quite vivid dreams as a result. Neither one of us got altitude sickness but it's one of those things that you don't know whether its working or you're just having a good day?! Not long after breakfast we could see the first rope-team working their way across the traverse high on the glacier. That got everyone pretty psyched!
It was an easy day just bumming around the hut, later we decided to hike up towards the start of the glacier to acclimatize and spot out the route for our midnight departure. There were a few other folks heading up to high camp and we slowly made our way up the rocky valley with occasional cliffs on both sides. I was real psyched about every foot of elevation gain, finally above 14K feet! We got to around 15,500ft (WooHoo, new altitude record) in a couple hours and headed back. There are cairns and some painted spots on rocks that we were hoping we could follow easily enough that night.
Back to the hut to eat, drink, and get our summit packs ready. Basically all we would have to do when we woke up would be to get dressed and strap on pico21.jpg (81326 bytes) our packs. A few weeks before I decided to be cheap and not buy a new, smaller, lighter, shorter rope. I regretted that decision every step that I had to carry my other rope that we brought! Amazingly enough there was only a handful of other folks in the hut, most had headed up to high camp or down the mountain. We were in bed shortly after 6pm and it was nice and quiet, until some loud ignorant assholes came in and chose the bunk above us. It sounded as if they were throwing their crampons and ice axes back and forth across the platform. Assholes. I kept thinking of all the ways to get revenge, but figured my stuff left in the hut may disappear the following day if so. At 11:45pm we all got up, quickly got ready, and were ready to hike by 12:05am. Peggy accidentally (not) slammed her plastic boot under the loud folks above us to get some quick justice! Whoops.
We had perfect weather to begin the climb and started working our way up the concrete aqueducts. We had a few stops for adjustments, bathroom breaks, and getting back on the trail but kept moving at a good pace. It was quite different going up by light of our headlamps and everything that was wet the day before was frozen solid ice. Basically it's you and the 15 or so feet around you that your headlight illuminates, nothing else. Slightly below the glacier at 16,000ft the snow chutes start. They were a little tricky in spots and slippery, so not long afterwards it was time to ditch our poles and strap on crampons, harnesses, and ice axes. Everything takes longer at altitude and it didn't take long to get pretty damn cold! A little bit farther we roped up (thank goodness I didn't have to carry it in my pack any farther). Once on the true glacier we did a few switchbacks working our way directly up the pico27.jpg (43835 bytes) glacier. There were occasional wands to follow also. We saw some other climbing teams farther towards the Sarcofago ridge so we started traversing across. After a short pow-wow around 17,000ft John and Ginny decided to turn back because Ginny's knees were really bothering her. Peggy and I looped the extra rope around us and kept traversing across. At this point it was pretty slow going and our hearts beating like crazy didn't help much either. At this elevation and higher we were doing nothing more that taking two slow steps digging our crampons in, placing our ice axes, then resting for a few seconds. We cut off some of the traverse and headed straight up the glacier to intercept the route. We each had food and around a gallon of water with us, but from the steepness it would've been pretty dangerous to stop and futz around too much. Also from the rain the previous week the glacier was about as hard as concrete and we really had to stomp hard to get some purchase with our crampons. Most of the glacier was close to and greater than 45 degrees, so it was no walk in the park! We could see the sun starting to come around the ridge towards us and there was the most spectacular pyramid-shaped shadow stretching about 60 miles across Mexico covering small towns and villages. Once the sun hit us it warmed up real fast, but felt great. Roberto, one of the Mexican guides who has summited Pico 130+ times gave Peggy some good tips and words of encouragement to keep going. The plan was to get up to the crater rim just above the rocks called Aguja de Hielo where Peggy could hole up and I could continue. The last pitch up the crater was the hardest, Peggy was practically sleep walking and couldn't do much beyond nods and blinks. Even eating half of a granola bar was a huge task, but she kept on putting one foot in front of the other. I kept talking to her also telling her howpico31.jpg (55781 bytes) great she was doing and not far till we could eat, drink, and sit down for once.
I got to the crater rim first and belayed Peggy in and at that point I was certain that both of us were going to summit!! We could see other climbers on the summit not far pico34.jpg (90466 bytes) away. It was 10:15am and our turn around time was 11am. I heard it was 800 more vertical feet to the summit, but it ended up being just 800 feet around the crater rim. Where we were sitting, about 4 feet away was a 2000 foot drop into the center of the volcano! Peggy wanted to take the food out of her pack and throw her pack in since it was bugging her neck so much. We both had a huge burst of energy after seeing the summit and getting food and Gatorade in us. After leaving our packs and getting the ropes back over us we did the final pitch and traverse to the summit. It was absolutely amazing. After 11hrs of almost straight climbing with close to no sleep we were there!!!!! pico39.jpg (62018 bytes) We took pictures, hugged, congratulated other climbers, and checked out all the beautiful scenery around. Unfortunately we got on the summit 4 minutes after our turn around time so we couldn't spend that much time up there, still every second was cherished.
There were a few clouds rolling over from the southside of the volcano and we started heading down. We picked up our packs and could not wipe the ear to ear grins off our faces. Occasionally the clouds were rolling across the glacier and visibility was around 20 feet, but it would soon clear up and we could spot our route again. It got real warm on the way down and we were so happy to be able to get some layers off when the glacier was a less steep slope. At this point every inch of my body hurt like hell and I couldn't wait to get some beer and ibuprofen in me. We had many conversations about food and I couldn't get Burger King or pizza out of my head. All I could imagine was eating 8 hamburgers, fries, and onion rings (yep, I got Burger King for lunch on Monday). At this point we were both walking zombies. We easily found our poles again after deciding that we wouldn't look for more than 15 minutes for them and got the crampons and rope off. Just as we were coming over a point where we could see the huts we saw our transportation rolling up the road. Over the radio John told us that a couple climbers needed to get down to make a bus. So he helped pack the rest of our stuff in the hut and we didn't even get to take a break after getting down. Basically, it was get down, stuff backpack, hop in the truck for the 2 hour ride down back to Tlachichuca. Looking back it really didn't matter though, cause Peggy and I were both so ecstatic about making it!
Back at Senor Reyes there was a basket of beer waiting in the sitting room, hot showers ready to go, and dinner soon on the table. You can tell the the Reyes family has done this over and over again just by the dinner. It was soup, bread, steak, and pasta. Perfect for a post-Pico climb! That night there was some sort of festival in the town square so Peggy and I walked down to check it out. In a nutshell....loud music and lots of fireworks, most sounded like quarter sticks of dynamite. Regardless it was not a problem in the least sleeping through the festival, the dogs, and the roosters.
The following day consisted of nothing but taking aspirin, checking out the town market, and getting back to Colorado. The market was pretty interesting, never before have I seen so many whole dead chickens and giant pots of intestines and other unidentified animal organs being cooked together! The Mexico City airport is a trip in itself. All the duty-free shops have free samples of liquor. After several tasters of Tequila, Brandy, and Rum it was back on the plane for free drinks back to Denver!!!! All in all, I couldn't imagine a climbing trip going better considering that we didn't have much time, and relying so heavily and praying for good weather!!!!!! Brought back some fabulous memories, plenty of pictures, and a bottle of tequila (of course).

pico05.jpg (84217 bytes) Dining room at Senor Reyes; One of Senor Reyes Power Wagons pico07.jpg (76282 bytes)

pico09.jpg (76019 bytes) Another one of Reyes Power Wagons; Tlachichuca pico11.jpg (70346 bytes)

pico13.jpg (81815 bytes) Peggy and Ginny while packing; Us before heading up the mtn pico15.jpg (85893 bytes)

 

pico17.jpg (96383 bytes) Looking north from the hut; Our wet bunk in the hut pico19.jpg (79132 bytes)

pico22.jpg (119236 bytes) Up around 15,000 ft; Looking towards the huts from around 15,000 ft pico23.jpg (68518 bytes)

pico24.jpg (119330 bytes) The Jamapa Glacier above the rocks pico18.jpg (78664 bytes)

pico25.jpg (51163 bytes) The evening clouds covering Mexico; the shadow of the peak pico29.jpg (29667 bytes)

pico30.jpg (62610 bytes) Peggy around 17,500 ft; another climbing team pico36.jpg (62191 bytes)

pico32.jpg (65893 bytes) Looking into the crater from the crater rim; Crater from the summit pico41.jpg (96613 bytes)

pico33.jpg (45427 bytes) Another climbing team near the crater; Last pitch to the summit pico35.jpg (61659 bytes)

pico37.jpg (85078 bytes) Peggy on the summit; Me on the summit pico38.jpg (54725 bytes)

pico40.jpg (56300 bytes) Summit shot; The summit from the crater rim pico42.jpg (69962 bytes)

pico43.jpg (51498 bytes) Headin' down the glacier pico44.jpg (22875 bytes)

pico45.jpg (26916 bytes) Fog rolling across the mtn; Pico from Tlachichuca pico46.jpg (33200 bytes)

pico47.jpg (68019 bytes) Plenty of V'dubs in Mexico; lots of catus fields too pico48.jpg (95131 bytes)