An Awesome View in MexicoWhat a beautiful mountain!!! This was our comment when we first caught a glimpse of this striking dormant volcano. It was a fun and successful expedition so I hope this trip report will help you plan your adventure.
First off, I am lucky to be able to speak flawless Spanish so hopefully what seemed easy for me to negotiate around in Mexico, won’t be too difficult for others. We live in Colorado, and after tooling around on the 14’ers here, we figured the next logical thing to do was seek out higher altitude. Yep, 4,500 feet more altitude! We chose el Pico de Orizaba as our mountain of choice because of the inexpensive flights to Mexico and that this mountain is not very technical, which would give us a good “litmus” test to see if high altitude was really in our future.
The other thing we did was hire a guide. We used Roberto Rodriguez who is the namesake guide for this mountain. He is affectionately called “Oso” which means bear in Spanish. For any of you who may be considering going down to Mexico with an American guide service, you will be wasting your money. Roberto does not speak great English, but enough to get by guiding your group. He has also successfully summited Pico with clients 177 times. His standard package rate is $800 usd which includes your transportation from the airport, etc. We chose to organize all our own transportation and hotels and meet him in the town of Tlachichuca where we payed a total of $285 usd for his services. His fee included the ride up and down the mountain to the climbers hut and all food and water on the mountain. He cooks everything for you (breakfast, lunch & Dinner), it tasted great and he did all the clean-up. You don’t even have to lift a finger with Roberto. Even if you don’t need a guide for this mountain, it sure made it easy and worth the money paid to not have to plan your meals and do any clean-up.
I contacted Roberto directly through email. It sometimes takes a few days for him to respond as he is usually on the mountain. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once again, DO NOT waste your money on an American guide service for this mountain.
Our itinerary was from February 8 – 16th, 2006 Which gave us a total of seven full days on the ground in Mexico. Our planned itinerary was a follows:
Feb. 8th – Fly from Denver to Puebla, MX via Houston, TX
Feb. 9th – Travel by bus from Puebla to Tlachichuca.
Feb. 10th – Travel by 4wd to the climbers hut (Refugio) @ 14,000ft. (Begin Acclimation)
Feb. 11th – Continue acclimatization
Feb. 12th – Summit day
Feb. 13th – Return to Puebla.
Feb. 14th & 15th – Siteseeing
We arrived at 8:20pm in Puebla so we had already planned on spending the night there. We stayed at the Hotel Colonial right down in the Zocolo, which is in the main square and heart of Puebla. This is a great hotel for sightseeing and finding restaurants to dine at. There is always something going on in the Center of the City. I highly recommend staying here to visit all the historical sites that are within walking distance. The hotel will give you a map of attractions, churches, museums, etc. that will keep you busy your entire extra time that you have in Puebla. The Website for the Hotel Colonial is: http://www.colonial.com.mx/
After shaking off our hangovers, we caught a taxi to the bus station to depart for Tlachichuca. The bus station acronym is CAPU. Just tell your Taxi to take you to “Kaw-Pooh” is how you will pronounce it. There are many bus lines at this station but only one goes to Tlachichuca. You need to look for “Valles” and purchase a ticket there. The buses run every 45 minutes to Tlachichuca at a cost of $3.65 usd. The bus ride lasts around two hours because it stops at every hamlet on the way. A taxi wouldn’t be that expense to use, but then again you’d miss all the fun of seeing vendors come on the bus at various stops selling all kinds of snacks to eat. The town of Tlachichuca is very small and you will be dropped off at the main square bus station. There are taxis waiting to take you wherever you are staying. You can pay them 20 pesos, about $2.00 usd to go anywhere in the town….that amount would include the tip!
We opted to stay at the Hotel Gerar for one simple reason….Private bathrooms in each room. The rooms were clean and Senor Gerardo is a wonderful guy. Cost is about $15-20 usd per night. He will also take you round-trip in his jeep to the climbers hut for $50.00 usd, which is the going rate in Tlachichuca. They do not feed you at the Hotel Gerar as they do at other locations, so you’ll have to walk 3 minutes down the street into the main square.
In the square we found the best restaurant in town which is the Restaurante Casa Blanca. The woman who owns the place is Senora Teresa. What a GEM of a woman!!! She fed us every meal that we ate in Tlachichuca at a cost that’s too cheap to comprehend for the service. She loves all the climbers and the friends from all over the world that she has met at her restaurant.
Contact information for the Hotel Gerar is as follows:
Av. 20 De Noviembre No. 200
Tlachichuca, Puebla, Mexico
Phone: 01 245 45-150 75
After waking up and having a great breakfast off carne asada, eggs, beans & rice prepared by Senora Teresa, we packed into the Jeep and traveled to the Refugio with my fellow traveler Bryan from Colorado, Christian (a Doctor from Guadalajara that we met), Roberto & his assistant Paco.
After we arrived we immediately hiked up the mountain until my GPS read 14,700 feet and then returned back to the hut. Finally our acclimatization had begun. Roberto took an oxygen saturation reading for both of us as a baseline at this point. I was reading between 92 & 93% O2 saturation to the blood, which was higher than the guide.
We awoke around 8:00am, ate breakfast and began our second acclimation hike around 10:00am. We took our Piolets, crampons & Helmets along with us to cache under some rocks at 15,700 ft. where the labyrinth starts so we didn’t have to haul them up the next day. After we descended around two in the afternoon, the clouds began to blow in and a strong wind began to blow. A couple of hours later the wind was raging an estimated 35-40 mph and you couldn’t see more than 40 or 50 feet in front of you. The strong wind raged all night to the point that it sounded like the hut was going to fall down. We kept our plan however of going to sleep and arising at 1:00am for or 2:00am summit attempt.
Myself, Bryan, Roberto & Paco began our ascent at 2:00am. The Doctor (Christian) from Guadalajara had already left for his solo attempt at 1:00am. After cramponing up at the bottom of the Labryinth, we continued to press on. The wind was fierce and we could only see about 35 feet in front of us. At 16,000 feet we hunkered down at the last rock shelter at the top of the Labryinth for a whole hour to wait for the horizon to lighten so we could see if there would be an opening of opportunity. Although there was no clearing we decided to push up to 16,300 feet and wait a little longer for the sun to rise. After the son rose an opening appeared and we could see the summit. A massive plume of snow flying off from it that we estimated was around 60mph due to the force that we could feel lower. We started to push higher until Bryan couldn’t go any further. At that point, Paco stayed to care for him and Roberto and I pushed higher. Our window kept opening and closing and it was a scary feeling not being able to see anything at about 16,800 feet on the glacier. At this point we decided to descend. On our ride back to Tlachichuca we had decided that we would return the next day if the weather broke. News from a contact in Puebla had told Roberto that the weather would break.
After a nice shower and breakfast at Casa Blanca, the weather did indeed break and we traveled that afternoon in the Jeep to the mountain with the Doctor, and two French People that didn’t speak very much English and no Spanish. Due to Roberto having new clients in town from New Mexico, Roberto had his other guide Lupe planned to summit the mountain with us on the 14th. The consortium at base camp now included: Bryan and myself from Colorado, Roberto, Lupe, 3 climbers from New Mexico, A French couple, 3 twenty-somethings from North Carolina, and later that afternoon arrived 4 climbers from Seattle who had just finished acclimatizing on La Malinche and were planning on summmiting the morning of the 14th.
We began hiking at 2:00am with the Doctor 45 minutes in front of us and the Seattle group on our heals. We approached the mountain with a classic mountaineering pace with only 2 minute breaks every 45 minutes. The Seattle people must have had something different in mind. They quickly passed us and later we found them sitting down and resting as we slowly passed. They quickly passed us and once again we caught up to them as they were sitting down resting. At the top of the Labryinth (about 16,000ft), the team from Seattle returned back to Base Camp as we continued on. Finally at around 16,600 feet, my fellow teammate couldn’t go any further. I felt very strong as I had each day on the mountain. I directed the guide Lupe to stay with him and get him down, and that I would continue on alone with the hopes of catching-up with the Doctor further up the glacier. The Doctor noticed my break and slowed his pace so we could summit together. At the top portion of the glacier, the ice gets very hard and reaches a solid 50 degree pitch for about 150 meters. The Doctor summited about ten minutes before me. When I reached the summit, we embraced each other in a jubilant hug……after all, we were standing on the 3rd highest peak in North America and the highest in Mexico.
Was it worth it??? You Bet!!!!
Postscript: I want to give personal thanks to several people who had recently summmited before me and gave much of their time on phone conversations to educate me about their experiences. Dave & Susan of Evergreen, CO, Dan from Boulder, CO & Mike from Cortez, CO. Thank you all very much for your help. Also special thanks to Greg Allen from Bent Gate Mountaineering in Golden, CO for his incredible help without any attitude that you find in so many shops. Thanks Greg for your Been there Done that advice.