Izta for me started as one of those mountains as a 10 year old you daydream about climbing. The Mexican Volcanoes have a certain sanctity or mystique about them that most other mountains in North America lack. They are features in Mexican culture and have been woven into the tapestry of legends.
As I grew older Izta remained one of those must climbs until I bumped into university which essentially sucked al of the life out of me...then a short two weeks after graduation I received an invitation to go and teach in Texcoco (about 20 mins NE of the Mexico city airport). WIthin minutes of stepping off the plane and meeting my chaperone Javier the question which came immediately to mind (who was to become one of those life long friends you recognise soon after meeting) was... Can you see Izta from here?
Three days later as I was preparing a lesson plan in the main office. Javier came by, knocked on the window and called me out. Without words he pointed at the snow capped monster and I fell hopelessly in love. Yet still climbing this enfabled peak remained a pipedream from my shildhood. All my dreams of becoming a mountaineer had been set aside after my academic lobotomy. Izta was the realm of experienced climbers not a wanna-be hacker like me...
Fortunately for me a fellow teacher at the school (another lifelong friend) got to talking with me and not long into the conversation we were boring everyone except each other with 'mountain talk'. He had always loved the mountains and had in his youth climbed Izta, he had also entertained dreams of climbing Mt. Logan, Aconcagua and Denali, but kids and a shortage of money brought those dreams up short.
In me Gustavo saw a kindred spirit and was drawn to my mountainous obsession. It was through him that I returned to the mountains and shook off the doldrums that had held me in thrall for 5 years.
June 1 2002
I awoke after a refreshing sleep, which was a major surprise because climbing Izta was all I could think about... my girlfriend was having serious second thoughts with regards to my sanity.
I always climbed with an entourage, or at least I received a serious send off when I went. Both Javier and his family and Gustavo and his family always went with me to the trailhead. I suppose my all encompassing enthusiasm was contagious.
We picked up my guide Juan Hernandez at the airport at around 8am and made our way to Amecameca. It was here that the clouds cleared momentarily and Izta showed herself for only the second time in a month. From here she towers 10500 feet (3200m) above the town and through the clouds she looked like an intimidating peak...
By about 10:30 we were at the trailhead in La joya and my entourage saw me off with a round of back slaps and sincere farewells. The weather was overcast and looked much like the entire month of November does here in Canada. It was about 6 degrees with a light wind.
Acclimitisation took only a few minutes as I had been living at 2200m, and had climbed above 4000m on six occasions in the previous two and a half months. Juan was a very experienced guide having summitted Izta and El Pico over 50 times respectively so I knew I was in good hands.
The walk up to the refugio took about 2 hours and 15 minutes... we were in no hurry and in the white mist there was utter silence... kind of surreal. About half way up as we passed some amazing jagged outcroppings we came across a group suited in the finest equipment money could buy. After listening to their boasts for a few minutes we continued on our way.
I was amazed with how many different faces Izta has. At the trialhead in La Joya I was reminded of the Scottish highlands. There were green valleys that reminded me of the plateau on La Malinche just after you clear the tree line.
We arrived at the refugio around 1ish and proceded to have a light lunch and talk shop... despite my half assed Spanish, communication was easy as mountains have a language unto themselves. He told me of his many expereinces and I grilled him with question after question...
The afternoon passed rapidly and before we knew it the sun had set and peal upon peal of thunder shattered the calm. It was a helluva storm dropping 15-20 cm of snow and creating some heavy duty white out conditions. For the Canadian in me this was old hat, but for the fellow who hadf spent the last nine months in Mexico it was nostalgiac. I kept going outisde to stand in that eerie silence of the storm peering out at the twinkling lights from Puebla to the east.
At around 11pm after I had wrapped myself in my sleeping bag two guys stumbled into the grupo de los cien hut. After some friendly words and a brief talk with Juan they were asleep.
I fell asleep proabably around two and was awoken by Juan a short hour later.... thank god for adrenaline.
June 2 2002
The two guys that had arrived late the night before were up with us and left the hut about 20 minutes ahead of Juan and I.
After stumbling about getting my pack together Juan and I left the hut around 4:15 and were soon breaking trail on the way up to Los Rodillas 300m above us.
The snow helped make this a truer alpine experience for me, it was something both familiar and expected (especially when you are 4800m up). The trail picking was pretty straight forward there were a few sections where we had to scramble over some slippery rock but after a short two hours we were nearing the top of 'los rodillas' and the sun was rising. It was an incredible sight. The stars had been somethin' to behold, but the sunrise bathing Popo, La Malinche, and the distant spire of Orizaba was a site I'll never forget... it kind of shakes you down to your bones.
At los rodillas we hooked up with the guys who had left before us and relaxed for 15 minutes. The weather was perfect. The sky was crystal and the temperature was warm perhaps -2 or so... perfect for climbing.
The next two hours were some of the best of my life. Trekking across thin ridges with some egregious drops to either side, hiking across enormous plateaus, climbing into the teeth of a stiff 80km/h wind. The kind of experience I had been looking for in a big way.
I drank about 2 litres of Gatorade and another litre of water as we climbed, and continually snacked on nutri grain bars to keep my energy up.
After the Pecho came into sight it wasn't long before Juan was guiding me up its spine and onto the summit plateau where after a protrcated march he suddenly stopped set down his pack and ice axe and embraced me. I was there and it was glorious... you could see it all from up there. Tlaloc and Telapon which I had stared up at every day for months were anthills... a humbling and life changing experience.
The summit was awesome as we were the first to summit that day. The whole way up there was no sign of anyone else so it only served to enhance the whole trip... we had the mountain to ourselves. We hung out on the summit for 40 minutes or so... I attempted to soak it all in, memorising every detail as clealry as possible. I knew it wouldn't be long before I was back in the vertically challenged province of Ontario and this experience would need to sustain me through the winter until I could scrape the money together and climb in the spring.
The views were amazing. Peaks that had once seemed big to me looked small and insignificant from the Lady's summit.
As we hiked back the clouds came in and we were soon in the midst of a sea of cumulo nimbus clouds... this was a first for me outside of an airplane and I milked it for all it was worth.
We were at Los Rodillas in a short hour and soon were making GS turns down a 55 degree chute having an awesome time. The two fellows that had joined us on the summit were a little more cautious so we had to constantly stop and wait for them to appear out of the mist.
This section was a blast! What took us two hours to climb up took 25 minutes to descend and much of that time was spent checking up on our firends.
After a meal and a rest at the hut we were soon almost jogging back to La Joya where my friends were waiting to share in my success. Izta was in all ways a re-birth and a return to something that is almost as fundamnetal to me as eating or breathing. I can't wait to return and guide Javier to the summit in 2 months time... returning the favour he selflessly gave me.