After about a month of planning only tree guys integrated the team that would try to climb three of the mexican high volcanoes, Iztaccíhuatl, Malinche and Pico de Orizaba.
March 12 2003: I drove from Houston to Monterrey, México, slept there and the next day I picked up my friend Servando Garza and we got on the road to México City; after about 10 hours of highway and one in rush hour traffic we finally got together with Beto Carriillo, our friend from Saltillo who would let us stay at his apartment; the third member of the group Néstor Castro from Ciudad Juárez flew there and met us that night. Beto took us to a nice jazz restaurant in Coyoacán where we loaded up for
the next day when we would try to climb Volcán Ajusco (3990m) just south of the city to start our acclimatization. Once at the apartment we noticed two things, lost of noisy traffic and parking problems.
March 14 2003: After a bad night of sleep we woke up and got ready by mid morning to head to Ajusco but ended up being stranded because my truck was completely surrounded by cars in the parking garage and the guy in charge of this mess had gone out for lunch. He came three hours later and by then we decided it was too late (1:00 PM) to go hiking so we spent the afternoon walking around in the nearby mall and also went to the movies. That night we all headed to Papa John`s and devoured two giant pizzas. Fernando, our buddy`s friend also from Monterrey joined us that night for Izta in a single day push on saturday.
March 15 2003: (Day of setbacks). We got up at 4:00 AM, packed our stuff and got ready but had to wait a little longer because Beto had an upset stomach, and had to find some medication and drink some herbal tea. At 5:00 AM we picked up "la borrega", another climber for today`s mountain and left Mëxico City. At 5:45 AM we passed Amecameca and got to the park`s entrance by 6:00 AM, encountering a second setback, the soldiers were asking for a copy of the permit wich we didn`t have and we had to argue and deal with them for fifteen minutes before they let us trough, then at Paso de Cortéz the gate was closed and we had to wait until 7:00AM and pay the fee for them to open it and keep going to La Joya. By now it was past sunrise and Izta was not looking good, the upper part was covered with dark clouds.
At 8:00AM we started the hike from la Joya not knowing what to expect, we kept walking steadily along with another group from the area. At about 4500m trouble started, the visibility started to deteriorate, the winds picked up and some light winter mix started to fall. We passed the portillos and talked to a group of americans coming down wich had only made it to the stomach
because of the storm; after two hours we made it to the hut in worsening conditions, another group of mexicans had been waiting for the storm to subside but they finally gave up and went back down without going any higher. We discussed our options and the team split up, two would go back and the other four would keep going in hope of better weather; we pushed for another 30 minutes and got to the knees (5010m) where the ruins of the old iglu sit. With very limited visibility and the storm gathering more strenght we made the painful but safe decision
to go no further. So with our bodies facing the winds we started downclimbing the now slippery rocks below the knees enduring a good face beating by the sleet. Our glasses didn`t help much since they were fogging up and freezing instantly; as we kept descending past the hut, my headache started to go away at the same time as I was rehidrating myself, and back at La Joya we saw the sun come out. From Paso de Cortéz we glanced back at both Popo and Izta but they were still covered by the pesky storm clouds.
After a nice meal at the Amecameca market we said good bye to our friends from México City and hit the road on our own, and as we left town we looked back at Izta and couldn`t believe our eyes, the storm cloud lifted and the sleeping lady could now be seen with a light dusting of snow on it`s upper reaches. As the days passed we realized that that saturday was rhe only day of bad weather on Izta during our trip; now , that`s bad luck!
On our way to La Malinche we took some more nice pictures before sunset. We kept driving past Tlaxcala and Apizaco reachig the IMSS resort at around 8:00PM, my buddies were thinking of a nice hot shower and a soft bed to sleep comfortably
but my hopes were not very high since it was a weekend and we had not made any reservations, and I was right, the whole place was booked so we had to camp on he grass. Servando decided to sleep in my truck while me and Néstor hit the tent and tried to catch some ZZZZZs, , but the bad day was not over yet, and around 10:00PM a big group of students started to party
keeping us awake until 2:00AM, plus we also had some noisy gusty winds all night.
March 16 2003: We got up at 8:00AM that sunday, ate some snacks and hit the trail thirty minutes later. I didn`t know that Maliche had some pretty steep energy demandingslopes, so we had to re-ergyze half way up the mountain, minutes later we suddenly hit timberline I finally took my first glimpse of Maliche, we kept going trough the most demanding stretch of loose sand
to get to the ridge and then past the scramblig sectionto the summit. After four hours, at 12:30PM we started the summit picture session, along with climbers from Canada, Germany, England, USA and Mëxico.
While we were up there we met a guy from Puebla, Rafael Cajica (Rafa), an adventure loving man and after we talked about our next objective (Orizaba) offered to guide us to it`s summit as long as we provided him with food and some equipment ( he only had running apparel); we all agreed, specially since we were not familiar with the southern route. After an hour on the summit and two more hiking back down to the resort we got a cabin and took a well deserved shower and then nad a nice dinner. We slept a lot better that night.
March 17 2003: We had breakfast, loaded our truck and departed Maliche trough Huamantla, then passing near Tlachichuca, trough El Seco, and stopped at Ciudad Serdán to buy water and a disposable camera for Néstor; then kept going around the south side of Sierra Negra making it to Atzitzintla and then past the village of Texmalaquilla on the now steep gravel road. Now we had a cler view of the southern slopes of Pico de Orizaba wich looked very dry and snow free as Rafa had told us even tough the northern slopes had received some snow on saturday.
I drove my pathfinder past the saddle between Sierra Negra and Citlaltépetl and up to 4200m, and then hiked the rest of the way to the Fausto González Gomar hut at 4660m, after analizing the route up the mountain we went inside the empty hut and prepared an energetic dinner. Sleeping was almost impossible that night due to houling winds making all kind of weird noises around the hut, so we just tried to rest as much as we could. I kept thinking about the original plan of climbing the Jamapa glacier for a while, but later had to fix my mind on the ruta sur since all of our friends including Rafa had advised us not to do it
due to lack of experience and not so good conditions on the glacier recently.
March 18 2003: I had only slept for an hour and thity minutes before getting up and ready at 3:45AM, feeling acclimatizaed and euphoric we started hiking at 4:30AM with a temperature of 18 degrees under a full moon so bright that we didn`t need our lamps most of the way; we climbed trough loose sand for an hour and thirty minutes then we hit the rocky ridge where the winds were stroger (about 40mph); we went on scrambling for a while when the sunrise came and we saw the huge Orizaba shadow on the plains to the west, the temperature lowered to 14 degrees but that wasn`t the problem, it was the wind chill, I was doing fine because i was wearing all of my layers and three pairs of socks, but I was concerned about Rafa who was only wearing his running shoes and one pair of socks on his feet. Rafa never complained, instead he kept leading us higher and higher now on a very loose section with almost no traction and exposed to rockfall from the rock outcrop known as "el púlpito wich keeps getting more and more unstable every year; that`s where I started getting a little behind my friends who were all coming from higher altitude than me. We were all in very good phisical shape but I knew this was going to happen to me coming from sea level even though I had been taking Diamox once we hit the really thin air. At one point the wind was so strong that it got my helmet loose and almost ripped it away from my head, so I stopped to readjust the strap and then it happened without warning, ROCKFALL!!! Two rocks the size of footballs darted down one on each side about 10 to 15 feet away from me, HOLY *@#$!!! I immediately put my helmet back on and raced up to catch up with the other guys at the base of the púlpito; we climbed around it on its eastern side and took a break just below the crater rim; Rafa then told us that the winds on the rim were blowing at about 100km/hr (65-70mph), something he had never experienced before, so we had to be really careful every step of the way. That 50 yard stretch to the summt was the most difficult and agonizing I`ve ever encountered on any mountain. It was very hard to walk in a straight line, to stand still or even breathe, it was a challenge to get there but we did it. After four hours of climbing we stood on the summit, but the wind chill was biting so we started to head back down after only two minutes and very few pictures (taken with the disposable camera), also to avoid being blown into the crater.
We went down glissading on the scree/sand slopes just west of el púlpito and quickly left the fierce winds behind us, then went over the ridge and into the sandy gully where the sun started to warm us up. In two hours we were back at the hut, and prepared one last meal for our starving stomachs then talked about the dust storms and the wildfires we saw from the summit, and about how much sand and dust we had swallowed and breathed, but most of all about doing this route
since the north route would have been very dangerous, wich meant that we were probably the only ones to set foot on the summit that day.
We finished the day celebrating in Puebla, and being so pumped up by our accomplishment we never tought about the extra day we had set aside in case of bad weather on Orizaba; instead Néstor left that night to catch a plane from México City, Rafa went home and me and Servando found a hotel to rest our tired bodies.
March 19 2003: We drove back home after a beautiful sunrise on the volcanoes and then spending two and a half hours to go across México City.
It wasn`t until we got to Monterrey when I realized that we could have gone to Izta that day and climb it in a single push as we had planned, it would have been much easier then, but that`s a good excuse to go back to the mexican volcanoes some other time...