Our annual trip to Mexico’s Volcanoes was another big success with 100% of the team reaching the summits of both Iztaccíhuatl and El Pico de Orizaba!
Our team met in Mexico City on Friday November 4, 2011. After a nice dinner and a walk around the center of the city on a clear warm night we were ready to depart on Saturday for Iztaccíhuatl. We stayed true to our successful acclimatization schedule we have been using in previous years. After spending three days taking hikes to increasingly higher elevation we found ourselves at the high refugio along the “La Arista del Sol” route at 4780m/15,682’. We bedded down after an early dinner in preparation for our pre-dawn start for summit day. Waking in the wee hours we were greeted to a pleasantly calm windless night with mild temperatures. With headlamps aiding us in our route finding shouldered our rucksacks carrying warm clothes, ice axes, crampons, climbing helmets, harnesses, ropes, snacks and water for the day. Several hours of climbing brought us high on Iztaccihuatl’s flanks as we were greeted to a beautiful sunrise to the east. We applied sunscreen and sunglasses then kept a slow steady pace up the beautiful ridgeline offering stunning views that leads to the summit. The crisp calm air on the summit afforded us the opportunity to take a few minutes to relax and enjoy the views before taking summit photos and starting our descent. We were back to the refugio 10 ½ hours after we set out for the summit. Here we took a break to rehydrate then packed up our gear for the descent back to the trailhead. Another three hours of walking led us to the base of our route where we were picked up and whisked off to the city of Puebla to clean up and celebrate a successful climb with a good meal.
On November 9 the team organized gear and traveled to the town of Tlachichuca. This quaint village sits at the base of our next objective; El Pico de Orizaba, which at 5611m/18,410’ is the 3rd highest peak in North America. We had the afternoon to reorganize our gear and take a walk around town while sampling local food including local fruit and fresh guacamole.
On November 10 we loaded our gear into a 4×4 vehicle for the drive through the rural Mexican countryside that leads us to the Pierdra Grande hut at 4260m/13,976’. SMI guide April Mayhew cooked pizzas for dinner while clouds swirled outside. Weather had changed from the calm and clear conditions we had on Iztaccíhuatl to cloudy and cool here on Orizaba. We packed the same equipment we needed on our previous climb and got a few hours of sleep in preparation for our summit attempt.
Clouds had partially dissipated revealing stars and an almost full moon. The team made a final check of equipment then began with headlamps on. The route begins by picking a way through a trail lined with volcanic rock. After a couple hours of climbing we reached continuous snow that required ice axe/crampons and divided into two rope teams led by SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg. Our route continued through a labyrinth of snow and volcanic rocks that led to the final 2000’/610m of climbing. Here the route opens up to the Jamapa Glacier that wraps around Orizaba’s flanks of this classic cone shaped dormant volcano. Above we saw evidence of high winds as cloud banks repeatedly swelled and shrank over the summit crater. Temperatures dropped significantly as we climbed into a steady cold wind that the open glacier offered no protection from. Adding windbreakers, heavy gloves, goggles, and eventually our puffy down parkas our team took careful deliberate steps in the crunchy snow. Conditions on the glacier made for secure footing with our crampons as the sun rose and cast a shadow over the rural Mexican farm fields far below. We would stay in shade until reaching the crater rim which presented the challenges of keeping our feet and hands warm. Cutting switchbacks for our route offered is the opportunity to continuously switch which hand held our ice axes, which helped us warm each free hand since the cold from our ice axes was conducting through our gloves. Each team member did an excellent job adjusting to the challenging conditions and as we crested on to the crater rim we were greeted by the warming rays of direct sunlight. Here we took a food/water break and applied sunscreen before traversing around the crater rim to its highest point. The location of the summit gave us a respite from the brunt of the wind which allowed us a few minutes to take pictures and enjoy the view from the 3rd highest point in North America that we reached at 9:00am on 11-11-11!
Temperatures warmed for us on the descent and we were back to Piedra Grande by 11:40am. Our drivers took us back to Tlachichuca for showers and a nice meal. On Saturday we drove back towards Mexico City by way of the Teotihuacan pyramids. It is always nice to learn about the history and culture from these exotic destinations we visit on SMI international expeditions.
A big congratulations to the entire team on two great climbs on Mexico’s Volcanoes: John Baer, Lloyd Charton, Miriam Diaz, Mickey Jojola, April Mayhew, Rick Piette, and Kurt Wedberg.
A few pictures are below. The entire photo gallery can be found here: Mexico’s Volcanoes November 4-13, 2011.