The Itinerary and Other PerspectivesThe Itinerary
Day 1: Fly to Mexico City – Flight Leaves Denver at 8:10pm
Day 2: Finish travel to Tlachichuca and final preparations for the hut
Day 3: Arrive at Piedra Grande Hut (14,000ft) and begin acclimation
Day 4: Acclimation Hike 1 & 2 – Take time to do some trash clean up
Day 5: Acclimation Hike 3
Day 6: Summit Day
- Leave the Hut by 1am
- Meet Victor and return to Tlachichuca
Day 7: Return to Mexico City
Day 8: Flight to Denver
Other Perspectives and A Movie of the Trip By JB99
Click Here to Watch Jesse's Video Trip Report of the Climb
click here to read Jesse's Trip Report on 14ers.com
The BeginningsOn January 24th of this year I read a Trip Report on 14ers.com by Jesse (JB99) about an attempt on Pico de Orizaba made earlier that month. It ended with an invitation to message him if anyone was interested in joining him and his fiancée, Jessica, for another attempt this year. I responded, and before I knew it was training and planning for my first major international climb. Nearly 2 months of planning and training later I was heading to the airport for one of the most memorable weeks of my life.
3/13/2009 - On The Move
The first flight to LAX was completely straight forward, and we were excited to hear the flight was shorter than expected, which meant a 3 hour lay over… plenty of time to find the gate, get food and chill out for a while… or that’s what we thought. If an airport is a reflection of the city it is in, LAX speaks volumes. It took us over 1.5 hours, 1 very creepy horror movie super sterile hallway, 1 Montel sighting and another hallway to nowhere before finally finding the Mexicana check-in desk. Our flight departed at 12:30am, and we happily left LAX behind.
3/14/2009 - The First Day in Mexico
The bus left at 6am and was nothing like what most people would imagine when they think of an intra city bus in Mexico. It had reclining seats, foot rests, came with soda and a snack came with the cleanest bus bathrooms I have ever seen.
First light spread across the Mexican horizon just in time to catch a glimpse of Itza and Popo smoking in the distance… but those are for another trip. The reclining seats of the bus contributed to a long nap. I woke as we approached the last toll before entering Puebla.
It was not much longer before our bus arrived at the Puebla bus station. We had decided that the best way to handle the errands we needed to run would be for one of us to stay behind at the bust terminal, while the other 2 make the trip to Wal-Mart to pick up provisions that would have been pointless to pack. We found a safe place, and Jessica stayed behind with our piles of bags, while Jesse and I took a cab to the Wal-Mart that was 10 minutes away. An hour later we arrived back at the terminal with bags of food that would remind us of home (yay Oreo’s!) and lots of toilet paper and paper towels.
Weighted down with our bags, we got a cart man (I am not sure what else to call them other than baggage gods) and he pulled our bags to the terminal for the small bus that would transport us to the small town of Tlachichuca. As we went through the terminal we passed a large alter that would be the first of many we saw peppered throughout Mexico.
This bus was much more like what one might expect. The smaller bus set off from the bus terminal at about 10am. Shortly after departing a stout lady stood up near the front of the bus and began a very enthusiastic sales pitch. We think she was selling hand cleaner, but are not really sure. She got off at the last toll terminal, and shortly thereafter a man got on the bus with a large number of helium balloons… I mean a lot of balloons. He was a very nice man, who at one point really felt the need to talk to me, though my Spanish was not nearly good enough to understand. He was very insistent that I understand, but his stop came up before he was able to make his point… but he was very pleasant about it. Shortly thereafter came the ice cream man, well we think it was ice cream... I didn’t try any so there is no real way to be sure, but it looked like ice cream.
We arrived in Tlachichuca at noon, after 16 hours of traveling. We got off the bus, and were greeted by a friendly elderly gentleman who worked at the bus station. Apparently it was pretty obvious that we were a bit out of place. He asked us where we were headed, and upon Jesse’s reply, he proceeded to personally guide us to the front door of Servimont. This type of helpfulness perfectly characterized the way we were treated by everyone we came across in rural Mexico. It resonated in every interaction; no matter how short or trivial, regardless of whether or not there was the potential for a tip or any monetary gain. It made me feel ashamed of the way American’s treat foreigners on our soil.
Welcome to Servimont
When we arrived there were only 2 other climbers there, and they left pretty much right away with Alejandro (a guide that works with Servimont). We sat outside in the courtyard to organize our gear for the upcoming climb and acclimation period, in hopes that the clouds would clear from the mountain so that we could see what was ahead. Unfortunately this didn't happen, so the long view of the summit remained a mystery!
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, and wondering the small town. I
As I wondered I caught a glimpse of the pay phone, and decided to use my
We ended the night with another of Lucia’s wonderful soups, and dinner. It did not take long for us to fall asleep, taking advantage of the last good night sleep we would have for a while.
3/15/2009 - Acclimation Day 1: Moving to Piedra GrandeI woke up first, and looked out the window next to my bunk to see the sun rising, casting light across the massive mountain that is Pico de Orizaba. I took the time to enjoy the quiet morning and take my last warm shower for the next four days, and shave. I also took the opportunity to take some last photos around the compound
Jesse and Jessica woke up at about 9am, we had breakfast and were given sage advice by Dr. Reyes about the upcoming climb. We had made arrangements in advance to purchase fresh food for the time we would be at the hut. Jesse and Jessica had learned a lot from their previous stay at Piedra Grande, and we all decided there would be no reason to not have as much fresh food as possible. Karina and Dr. Reyes laid out all of the food they were preparing and let us figure out what we thought we would need, and what we would not. They even let us use a cooler to keep the food fresh.
We loaded everything up, and had everything ready to go by 1130am.
The Drive to the Hut
I was able to ride in the front seat of the truck with Victor on the way up, which was really nice. It is amazing how much you can communicate without speaking the same language. The drive on the paved road was spiced up by dirt devils the size of small tornados that were kris crossing the planes. The biggest had to of reached 300ft into the sky!
The road itself is not all that different than some of the rougher 4 Wheel Drive roads that serve as access to Colorado 14er’s. By the time we headed up the road, clouds had already descended upon the upper reaches of the mountain, so as the Piedra Grande hut came into view, we could only see the lower half of the climb. As we pulled up you could see the “outhouse”… literally. It had the frame for walls, but was otherwise utterly exposed to the elements. I pointed and said to Victor, “Bano?”, he laughed and said, “no! no Bano!” and gestured towards the entire area surrounding and said “Bano”.
Piedra Grande: Acclimation Day 1
I was not entirely sure what to expect as I walked up to the Orange building that would be our home for the next 3 and a half days. One of the young men who was at the hut was helping Alejandro with the two Frenchmen he had led up the mountain that day. The hut itself was very busy when we arrived, but it emptied out quickly. The hut is tall with large bunks, 3
Before long, most of the people in the hut had left, and the effects of being dropped off at 14,000ft were taking hold. Normally in Colorado, getting to 14k involves a gradual assent on your feet, so the overall effect of the reduction in O2 is not as obvious. But if you have ever driven to the top of the Mount Evans or Pikes Peak Roads, you will recognize the lightness that you feel in your step, and the overall out of breath feel that depositing yourself straight at 14k has. Remaining there feels entirely different. While I did not experience much more than fatigue, lightheadedness, a mild headache, and a significant reduction in appetite, Jessica really suffered that first night. By 3 or 4pm she had begun throwing up. Jesse and I nervously watched, and monitored her as this continued throughout the night. She told us that there were no other symptoms of AMS, so we did not ask for a ride down, but that did not make anyone any less nervous. Especially given the giant yellow sign that decorates the first wall you see in the hut outlining the potentially life threatening aspects of AMS, HAPE and HACE.
While we watched Jessica for signs of deterioration, Jesse and I continued to force ourselves to drink a huge quantity of hot tea, and delved into the books that we brought along to occupy our time. I brought Into the Wild, a great book, but not one I would necessarily recommend for an adventure like this.
I hiked around a bit before Jessica started getting sick, taking photos of the cloudy landscape, but was not very interested in doing much more than that on our first day at the hut.
3/16/2009 - Acclimation Day 2
After a long night, I woke up to sunshine and a perfect view of the mountain. Looking down at the valley below, I could see a blanket of
Some locals had shown up, and had taken a short hike up the mountain, so I felt good making and excursion without my partners, so long as I kept the Hut in view. I set off up the path, and lost view of the hut at about 14,600ft. I sat down, took a few photos, and headed down, hoping that even that little bit would be useful. Shortly after I came back, Jesse and Jessica woke up. Jessica reported feeling better, and she was able to keep liquids down, and to get down some carbs. We took it easy the rest of the morning, deciding to wait until the afternoon to take our acclimation hike.
The next set of climbers started arriving at a little after noon. The first group was a trio of students on spring break from Texas that were new to climbing, planning on hitting the summit that night. They were fun to talk to with their youthful outlook and ambition.
Next came Victor, with 2 brothers from Texas planning on an ascent the same day as us, and another trio from Austin who were also shooting for a summit attempt later that night. Somehow word had already made it to Servimont that Jessica had a very rough night. Showing a significant level of concern, Victor went into the hut to personally check on Jessica. He made several to drive Jessica down if she was still struggling, but since she had already made a 180 degree turn around in how she was feeling, she decided to stay.
Most of the people who had arrived decided to take acclimation hikes in short order, with us not far behind. All 3 of us felt really strong as we headed up to 15,200ft.
It was an amazing day, with a nice mild breeze. It was the clearest afternoon we had on the mountain, with a few clouds up high, and the rest remaining in the valley below. The 3 college students and their guide were heading down as we came to the top of our climb, and one expressed the need to borrow a pair of gloves, displaying the only hand protection he had, a
I began to have significant concerns about the 3 college students who were still planning on heading up that night, none of them looked any better than we had the night before, and one of them was having the same issues Jessica had experienced. They indicated they had planned for another summit day if need be, and I was beginning to sincerely hope they would avail themselves of another day of acclimation. As I went to sleep for the second night, my hopes were high that I would wake up in the morning to the sound of them sleeping, but I was wrong. They headed up at 2am.
3/17/2009 – Acclimation Day 3: St. Patrick’s Day
We woke up earlier than the day before with hopes of making it through the Labyrinth in the day light. We headed up for our acclimation hike at 11am,
Instead we saw one group coming down, and one group only halfway up the glacier. We approached the first high camp at about noon, and stopped to
We figured there was no way we would make it up and down the Labyrinth before the clouds hit, so we headed down, making it to the Piedra Grande hut at about 1pm. We felt strong, and became excited for our summit attempt that night.
When we got down we had the pleasure of meeting Tucker, a climber from Maine who had hiked up the road from a camp at treeline. He was planning an ascent that night with Alejandro. The trio from Austin made it down at about 2pm, and we were happy to get a report of the conditions from them. They reported ice on the lower reaches of the glacier with thin but solid snow above. Excited, we made our way to the hut to begin winding down for an early bedtime.
I however struggled to fall asleep. I am a worrier by nature, and as the hours passed, and the fog thickened I became increasingly concerned about the 3 students we had met the day before. They eventually showed up after 4pm looking frazzled, and reporting that they had not made the summit until 130pm. The student who had borrowed Jesse’s gloves gave them to me, saying that the gloved had saved him. I congratulated them on making the summit, and relieved to see them safely down I was able to fall asleep at about 430pm.
When the alarm went off at 1130pm, I awoke feeling excitement pulsing through me. I had slept the best yet, with several hours uninterrupted and was ready to go!
3/18/2009 – Summit Day!The Ascent
Because we woke up so early, we were able to take our time as we ate, and made hot tea for the trip up the mountain. I turned
The ascent up the snow quickly became exactly what we had feared it would
As we toped out, Jessica’s nerves had been pretty rattled by the lack of
Jesse and I were encouraged to hear that the level of difficulty we had
The 3 of us started up the glacier behind the brothers, and at the same
Jesse and I decided that it would be best if he accompanied her to the foot
The sunrise was absolutely breath taking. Beginning as a blue and orange line cutting the gently curved line of the horizon, it quickly brightened as the sun burst above the line, lighting the glacier’s sun cups and more pointed penitents, throwing orange shadows across the previously blue snow and ice.
Once I felt I had enough photos, I started my way across the glacier, aiming for the line the other climbers had followed, as I looked up and saw
Once Jesse and I met up again, we made fantastic time. We could we making significant gains on the climbers above us. We crossed over the first of 2 long, but thin crevasses between 17600ft and 18000ft. The second was crossed about a hundred feet higher, as the steepness of the glacier reached about 45 degrees (its steepest grade).
Once we passed the 18k mark, we started to really feel the elevation, It seemed as though we were taking 1 step for every couple of breaths. We became excited as we saw small clouds sliding quickly in and out of existence not far above. Then I watched Alejandro and Mr. Turner disappear over a crest not far above. When the brothers followed not far behind Alejandro I started referring to it as “Alejandro’s Crest”, since I was positive that the place they crossed over represented the top of the glacier.
We followed close behind, and I was ecstatic to see four people sitting at the top of the glacier as we came over the crest.
It felt almost as though the mountain was cheering our arrival as we watched thin wisps of clouds materialize just above our heads reflecting rainbows as the light refracted through them. We marveled as we watched them slide effortlessly through the sky like waves headed to shore, then they would spiral up and sink into the crater… dissipating as they sank into the void below.
Alejandro and Mr. Turner left their packs and headed to the summit not far above, but just out of sight. The brothers, Jesse and I stopped to drink water in the wind break provided by the crater rim and the glaciers ridge. After about 10 minutes of break, we decided to leave our packs, taking out ice axes, camera’s and water to the summit. As we headed up, Alejandro and Mr. Turner passed us on their way down, not wasting much time at the summit. It did not take us long to reach the summit, which was much windier than the small shelter we had found. For some reason I was expecting the metal cross to be a bit more structured than it was, instead it seemed to be a mass of metal crosses. Jesse's barametric altimiter read 18668ft, since I left my GPS on my pack there was no way for me to get a reading as well, since there are questions floating out there on the true altitude of the summit. We made it in 8 hours, and I still felt really good, a little out of breath, but good!
We took photos of the brothers, and the brothers took photos of us before we headed back down to our packs.
Total time on the summit could not have been more than 10 minutes. When we got back to the packs we drank more water and I had a candy bar that was the best tasting candy bar I had every eaten.
Once we had finished consuming our food, we got our packs on and started down. John, one of the brothers, had some questions about descent techniques, so I took up the rear, and helped him make sure he was properly using his ice axe. We moved fairly quickly, so we hit the upper crevasse in no time. It had opened a tiny bit more, and was well over a foot wide, the snow that had partially covered it on the way up had fallen in, making a bit more pronounced. It was not big enough to kill you, but was certainly big enough to break an ankle or a leg if you were to fall through it.
After we passed the upper crevasse, Jesse wanted to move a bit faster so that he could get back down to Jessica. I checked in one last time with John, and we turned up our pace, attempting to glissade a couple of times, though the sun cups made it a very painful experience each time we would get moving. We were back to the foot of the glacier just after 1030am, and Jessica seemed happy to get moving again.
We reapplied some sunscreen, and headed to the top of the Labyrinth. Jesse and Jessica decided to take the rock down, while I decided to follow their route on the snow. In the sunlight, we were both able to pick out rational routes down.
It seemed like we reached the bottom in no time at all. At the wand we had placed to mark our poles, I packed up my crampons and Ice axe, pulled out my hiking poles and we got moving. The hike down from the base of the Labyrinth was totally uneventful. The most exciting part was the sighting of a big green truck, Victor, making its way up the road to Piedra Grande.
There was without a doubt a certain amount of sadness that went along with rolling up my sleeping pad, and stuffing my sleeping bag into its sack… but the motivation I felt to get down to a warm shower overwhelmed any desire to stay!
Returning to Servimont
The trip down was pretty uneventful with the exception of one stuck truck just below the Hut that everyone helped to push out. I am certain that after the nearly 2 hour trip down, when the doors to the truck where opened it had to of been a pretty awful smell.
I had brought a small bag of whiskey shots for the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, but had decided on the mountain to skip that for our return. When we were coming down the glacier with the brothers, I told John, who was a bit nervous about the descent that when we got safely back to the Reyes’ I would do a shot of Jameson’s with him. One of the first things I did was to dig out those shots, and did a shot with John.
As the afternoon wore on, all 9 climbers who came down from the mountain worked diligently to take quick showers and organize their gear. Dinner seemed to come up quickly, and was a time that everyone spent sitting around the table discussing the lives that awaited them upon their return from Mexico.
The 2 climbers waiting to go up sought information from the climbers who had come down, and Juan, a climber from Canada seemed the hungriest for good information and was a blast to talk to, giving suggestions on new climbing books to read.
Dr. Reyes arrived after dinner and made his rounds, checking on the returning climbers, celebrating everyone’s success with them. I found myself going to bed earlier than I had thought I would, anxious to get back home to Susan.
3/19/2009 – Returning Home
Waking up in the morning was met with another amazingly clear view of the mountain. I could not help but look on it with a tremendous amount of respect and love. Like nearly every mountain I have ever climbed, I was
By the time breakfast rolled around, the trio from Austin had already headed out. We had one last wonderful meal prepared by Lucia before everyone else went on their way. While Jessica and Jesse got ready, I wrote my entry into the log book that sat on the table in the common room of the hostel.
The 3 of us, decided to take one last walk through the town that had found its way into our hearts in the short time we had been there.
Jesse was able to find the street vendor food he had been craving and we were back at Servimont by 10am. We organized our gear, and stacked it by the door to carry to the bus terminal, then went to find Dr. Reyes. We thanked him, and I have to say leaving felt a little bit like we were leaving a new family. It had become so clear to me that everyone at Servimont genuinely cared about every climber who walked through the doors. We got photos with Victor and Dr. Reyes, wished Juan a safe climb and carried our gear through the doors of Servimont, and the short distance to the bus terminal.
Before we knew it we were on the bus to Puebla. This time it was a nicer bus, but it would not have mattered to me. I was focused on watching the mountain as we caught our last glimpse of it before the bus made its last turn onto the road to Puebla, and home.