Peak: El Pico de Orizaba (18491')
Route: Jamapa Glacier- Class 2 Moderate Snow
Gear- headlamp, helmet, crampons, ice axe, warm clothing
My adventure down south to conquer Aconcagua in Argentina began with a test of the High Altitude waters in Mexico. Pico de Orizaba sits about 2 hours east of Mexico City on the border of the states of Veracruz and Puebla. Normal climbing season is November to March, out of hurricane season. Its elevation is heavily disputed. The Mexican Government has set it at 18491', but some guiding organizations pin it as high as 18701'. My altimeter gave me a reading of 18599'. I think its save to say that the mountain is 18500' plus or minus 100'. Pico de Orizaba has the honor of being the third highest peak in North America behind Denali in Alaska and Mt. Logan in Canada. Unlike those mountains it is a volcano so its prominence in the landscape is a bit more obvious.
I set out from LAX on a red eye into Mexico City on the 8th of November. The plane was pretty awful. It was jam packed and super noisy so catching a few hours of sleep before my day of bus travel was out of the question. I arrived in Mexico at 5 am and proceeded through customs, which is a much more lax affair in Mexico than it is in the United States. Then I headed for the bus. "wait where is the bus?" I walked all over the airport looking for the Estrella Roja bus that would take me to Puebla. I final found a sign leading me there. My chat with the Estrella Roja sales person was interesting. He spoke no English. He kept asking me questions and I just kept smiling and nodding, occasionally understanding. Once on the bus I could relax. I listened to some music and watched Mexico pass by my window. It was an eye opening experience to see the poverty. The cookie cutter cinderblock houses, with gravity fed water, innumerable dogs of no particular species. Then we entered the mountains and everything changed. The forests were beautiful. The trees looked ancient and almost wise, with their wispy grey-green moss beards swaying in the wind. The mountains up high hid in the clouds.
|Izta from the bus|
And before I knew it we were back in another city at the bus terminal where is had to catch another bus. This was the most difficult portion of the trip. I had a hard time finding the ticket window for the particular bus company I needed, I was carrying 90 pounds of stuff on my back and in my hands, and no one spoke english. Finally I found the window and bought the ticket, but of course the first time arounds I did not understand the direction and ended up wandering around for 10 min until I finally went back to the window and asked again. "Hablas más lento, por favor". That did the trick and I found my bus just in time. This second bus was not as nice as the first, but it was much better than I was led to believe by other trip reports, it was in no way what we in the United States would consider a local bus. This ride was my first taste of Mexican culture. At every stop someone different would come on selling something, playing and instrument, or singing. It was interested to say the least.
After 3 hours on the bus it finally arrived in Tlachichuca. Tlachichuca is a small rural town just below Pico de Orizaba.
|Streets of Tlachichuca|
|Inside the factory|
|Crampons circa 1930, not much has changed|
|Gears of the 1 piston engine that ran the factory|
|One of the few old trucks on the compound|
|The heater in the hostel|
|In the truck on the way to the mountain|
|A few of the other climbers and our transportation|
|Misty foothills, this s at like 12000' surprisingly|
|Piedra Grand Hut|
|My tent the first night|
|The path is actually an old aqueduct|
|18ft above Whitney|
When we arrived at the hut there were 2 other guided groups already there so the the hut, which fit 36 maximum was a bit full. I opted to sleep in my tent to avoid the snoring and possibly being exposed to some virus that would hurt the rest of my trip. That decision could have been bad. The weather that night was very misty. That combined with the condensation from my breath created a rain storm inside my tent by morning. All three of the guided groups left early that morning for their summit bids, as they had already been acclimatized from a trip to Mexico's third highest peak, Itza. I decided to sleep in. It turned out to be a good decision. After a small breakfast I set off for another acclimatization hike. I passed my previous high point, this time in 50 min. And continued on to the base of the Jamapa Glacier at 16300'. I took a little rest there and continued down with 2 climbers that were returning from the summit. They said that it was extremely windy up high.
|Toward summit from low camp|
|El Sarcafago from low camp|
|Toward the summit from base of glacier|
|El Sarcafago from base of glacier|
|Elevation at base of Jamapa Glacier|
|Summit from inside hut|
|Standard mountain hut|
|On the glacier|
|Glow of the sun toward the ocean|
|My best summit shot|
|I dont know Mexico, I think its higher than 18491'|
|Halfway down the glacier|
|Toward the ocean|
|My first pyramid shadow|
|El Sarcafago and the moon|
|Me and Orizaba|
|The only flowers at 14k|
|The wonderful toilet facilites|
|West face from the drive out|
|Orizaba 10k above Tlachichuca|
Mexico was a great trip. I would like to go back and climb some of the other peaks, and maybe do another route on Orizaba, hopefully next time with some good friends.