Photo courtesy: Manuel Ponce
Nevado de Toluca, Pico de Orizaba, Iztaccihuatl
February 1-9, 2003 (9 days)
Saturday, February 1, 2003 (Day 1): Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
I left home at 8:45am. As I traveled to LAX listening to the radio, I hear about the space shuttle Columbia exploding at an altitude of 207,000 ft. As I stepped into United's ticketing office to check in my duffel bag and obtain my boarding pass, I wondered what could have caused this accident. News and radio were debating whether or not it was another terrorist attack and how could a missile strike Columbia at 207,000 feet. My departure was for 11:15am. I arrived in Mexico City's airport just around 5:00pm local time. Luckly, I got a green light on the red/green stoplight for baggage customs checking. I walked over to the "D" gate area, door #8 to get on the bus to Toluca. I purchased my bus ticket right there outside of door #8 with Caminante bus (75 pesos). I just had missed the 5:30pm departure and waited for the next 6:30pm departure to Toluca. This is like a 1st class bus and it took about 2 hours to get to Toluca from the Mexico City airport. Outside of the bus depot in Toluca, I catched a taxi (celestial blue in color) and asked to be drop off at Hotel San Carlos in the middle of town, near the Zocalo (main town square). I checked into Hotel San Carlos for 2 nights (250 pesos/night). I can say that Hotel San Carlos was quite adequate: clean, spacious, cable TV, plenty of hot water, etc. I arranged to have the same taxi driver, Sr. Monteagudo, to pick me up next day at 8:00am from Hotel San Carlos and drive me to end of the road inside the crater. I went to bed around 11:30pm (sleeping altitude = 8,790 ft).
Sunday, February 2, 2003 (Day 2): From Sea level to 15,390 ft in less than 23 hours
Sr. Monteagudo was punctual and picked me up at 8:00am sharp. We drove through the scenic forest in route to the inside of the crater, next to Laguna del Sol (elev = 13,780 ft). We got there at 9:35am. By the way, I had to pay a 10 pesos entry to pass through 'Parque de los Venados' and then again 2 pesos to enter 'Parque Nevado de Toluca.' Senor Monteagudo and I had tamales that his wife cooked for us. He climbed with me for a little while. We started climbing at 10:10am. Once we gained the main ridge to the climber's left, Sr. Monteagudo headed down to his blue taxi. We agreed for him to pick me up on the other side of the crater by the dirt road after 3:00pm. I continued on and saw a class 4/low 5th class chimney. This was the hardest climbing I did in the whole trip. It was a 30 foot high chimney, but at an altitude close to 15,000 feet it took a great deal of effort. While climbing this chimney, I wondered why I chose to go up this way. It was the kind of chimney you had to stem across for a bit on the steeper section. Once I cleared this, I was so relief. I made the summit of Nevado de Toluca, actually Pico del Fraile (15,390 ft / 4691 m) at 11:55am. Took some pictures and then continued on the rim traverse towards the northern peak, Pico de la Aguila. Summited Pico de la Aguila (15,157 ft / 4620 m) at 1:40pm. I took down one of the chutes on the north side of Pico de la Aguila and hiked down towards the dirt road. Met up Sr. Monteagudo at the dirt road at 2:40pm. Overall, 4.5 hours to do most of the crater rim traverse from south to north. I arrived at Hotel San Carlos in Toluca at 4:00pm. Sr Monteagudo charged me 600 pesos for the 8 hours (8am-4pm). Took a shower and went out for a walk around the Zocalo. Went to bed early at 9:00pm (sleeping altitude = 8,790 ft).
Monday, February 3, 2003 (Day 3): Toluca-Mexico City airport-Puebla's CAPU-Tlachichuca
On day 3, Sr Monteagudo's son took me to the Toluca bus depot and I began my journey via Mexico City airport to Puebla's CAPU bus station to Tlachichuca. It was about 2+ hours for each leg. I took the 9:00am departure from Toluca to Mexico City airport on Caminante bus (75 pesos). I caught then the 11:00am 1st class Estrella Roja bus out of door #8 (gate D) to Puebla's CAPU (125 pesos). CAPU is the big-ass bus station on the outskirts of Puebla. On the way from Mexico City airport to Puebla, Popo & Ixta dominate the skyline on your right hand side. Once in Puebla's CAPU, I had a porter take my XXL Eagle Creek duffle bag to the Tlachichuca terminal (Valles #8 or #9). There I waited a bit and took the 1:30pm 2nd class AU bus to Tlachichuca (31 pesos). I arrived in Tlachichuca at 3:35pm. I stayed at Sr Joaquin Canchola's house. I walked the 5 blocks from the bus station to his house carrying the heavy duffle bag across my side. When you exit the front of the Tlachichuca bus station, go left. At the first intersection (less than 100 yards), turn left, go 2 blocks down and then turn right. Street names are painted on the buildings at each corner. I much appreciated Canchola's hospitality and lodging after my journey from Toluca. After a nice dinner prepared by Mrs. Canchola (Sra. Guadalupe Canchola), I began organizing what gear, food and etc I would be taking up next day to Piedra Grande. I had a 2 bed room all to myself. Went to bed at 10:00pm (sleeping altitude = 8,530 ft).
Tuesday, February 4, 2003 (Day 4): Piedra Grande
Since I was the only one going up with him, Joaquin Canchola drove his smaller 4WD pick-up truck. We got to the larger Piedra Grande hut at 10:30am. I made my camp (13,970 ft) outside close to the smaller hut. I camped outside because I felt that the larger hut could be noisy, crowded and full of mice. That same afternoon I scouted the trail and day hiked to 16,250 feet to speed my acclimatization. This hike to 16K took me 3.5 hours roundtrip from Piedra Grande. I started at 2:30pm and reached 16,250' at 5:00pm, tired and with a minor arthritis neck headache. I quickly went down and was back at my tent at 6:02pm. Drank almost 6 liters since 10:30am. Prepared some dinner and went to bed at 8:00pm (sleeping altitude = 13,970 ft).
Wednesday, February 5, 2003 (Day 5): Rest Day
Day 5 was pretty much a rest day for me. In the morning I walked around not too far from camp, and in the afternoon I ventured lower to the Par Agua tree camp at 13,000 ft. Again, I drank about 6 liters of water. Went to bed early at 6:00pm (sleeping altitude = 13,970 ft).
Thursday, February 6, 2003 (Day 6): Summit Day - Espolon de Oro route
I woke up at 2:00am and started walking at 3:00am from Piedra Grande. I'm glad I scouted the route up to 16.2K on Tuesday as it's always more difficult to see by headlamp. On the rock/ice mixed section, I stayed on the rock. I reached the main base of the glacier at 16,400' around 7:00am. This is where I deployed my crampons and pulled out my ice axe. Kept climbing up towards the saddle above the Sarcofago to hookup with the Espolon de Oro route (a variation of the normal Jamapa Glacier route). The route I took is highlighted in yellow below.
When I got to 17,000 feet, I had to take over 1/2 hour break as I had this pounding cervical arthritis neck headache. I swallowed 3 Advils, drank like 1 liter of water, and rested. After 30 minutes or so, I began to feel better as my cervical arthritis pain went away. I resumed climbing and by 11:15am I made the summit (18,409 ft / 5611 m). Two other guys (from Santa Barbara, CA) sumitted 5 minutes before I did. They asked me to take their pictures and ask them to take my picture. I stayed at the summit for 25 minutes. This particular Thursday was beautiful in the mountain (clear sunny skies, light breeze, not that cold). Surface conditions earlier in the morning (and even as I was descending) were hard snow, a few patches of water ice here and there. But crampons bited well. I saw some 6-inch wide crevasses and even smaller ones where you could barely put a credit card through. I left the summit at 11:40am and was back down in my tent at 2:15pm. An hour later Canchola's son came by and picked me up. Again, I was the only one coming down that day for Canchola's. Once back down at Canchola's place, I took a nice shower and then had an early supper. Mrs Canchola prepared me this delicious supper. I truly enjoyed her Chipotle sauce, simply awesome. Went to bed at 9:00pm (sleeping altitude = 8,530 ft).
Friday, February 7, 2003 (Day 7): On to Altzomoni
After a hearty breakfast at Canchola's, I said my good-byes to Maribel, Mrs Guadalupe Canchola, Canchola's son and Joaquin Canchola himself. I left Tlachichuca on the 9:45am bus to Puebla's CAPU (31 pesos). Then took the 2nd class "Intermedio" (Estrella Roja bus) to Mexico City but got off at Puente de Chalco (48 pesos). Walked over the bridge to the south side and then took the regular bus to Amecameca (7 pesos). Arrived in Amecameca's main plaza (the "Zocalo") around 2:30pm. Here I hired a taxi to take me up to the Altzomoni climber's lodge/hostel. But first I secured my permit and the taxi driver's permit (they cost 10 pesos as of Feb 2003; they just started charging on 2003). I also had to pay 60 pesos to stay at the Altzomoni lodge (also a new change). I purchased bottled water in Amecameca before heading up. We passed the 1st military post before Paso de Cortes and then at Paso de Cortes we passed the 2nd post. My taxi driver and I agree that he would pick me up the next day (Saturday) around 4:00pm. I arrived at Altzomoni (13,190 ft / 4020 m) around 4:30pm on Friday, Feb 7th. Altzomoni has bunk beds, power (electrical lighting) and two restrooms with no running water. Bring your own drinking water from Amecameca. I went to bed around 8pm (sleeping altitude = 13,190 ft).
Saturday, February 8, 2003 (Day 8): Ascent of Iztaccihuatl via La Arista del Sol
Got up at 2:00am and started walking from Altzomoni at 3:07am towards La Joya and onto the peak by headlamp. Routefinding in the dark was somewhat of a challenge ( I did not scoud trail previously). Nevertheless, I managed to make it to the Grupo de Los Cien hut twenty minutes after sunrise. Took a small break here and then headed up via some class 3 rocks towards the Knees. Even though I carried ice axe & crampons, I never used them. I summited Ixta (17,342 ft / 5286 m) at 10:37am. Took some pictures and began to head down at 10:50am. I finally arrived back at Altzomoni at 2:27pm. My taxi driver got there at 3:40pm and by 5:00pm I was back in Amecameca trying to get a hotel (btw, the taxi driver charged me 600 pesos to take me up on Friday and pick me up on Saturday). I wanted to stay at Hotel San Carlos (by the Zocalo) but was all booked. I ended up at Hotel San Marques, which is like 10 minutes north of the main plaza (Zocalo). I found Hotel San Marques to be adequate (150 pesos a single bed, 300 pesos for 2 beds). Took a shower and then walked to Fredys Pizzeria and pigged out on a medium pizza. After that, I slept like a baby that night. Went to bed at 10:00pm (sleeping altitude = 8,070 ft).
Sunday, February 9, 2003 (Day 9): Going home to LA
I woke up fairly late in the morning and went back to the Zocalo area in Amecameca for breakfast and some souvenir shopping. I caught the 12:45pm Volcanes bus to Mexico City's TAPO bus station (18 pesos). I asked the bus driver to drop me off earlier at the "Puente del Aereopuerto" (bridge by the airport) bus stop. From here, it's like a 15-minute walk without hauling a huge duffle bag. So, I ended up taking right there next to the bus depot on the right side one of those green VW Beetle taxis (20 pesos). It took the taxi less than 5 minutes to drop me off by gate "F" United Airlines departures (salidas). I got to the Mexico City airport around 2:30pm or so. My flight didn't leave 'til 5:40pm. So, I checked in early and spend the rest of the time walking around the airport looking for the best deal on tequila (at the airport, right?). I bought 2 bottles of tequila. I particularly like "La Querencia" tequila: very smooth. Was back in my home in Los Angeles at 9:00pm local time (sleeping altitude = 220 ft).