He's got to know when to say "NO" to his rap-bolting habit.
He's got to shave his chops and put down the crotch rocket, stop shooting tiny pistols in his back yard every time he gets mad, and act like a man.
Last November, it was my time. I decided to undertake what would probably be the toughest thing I'll ever do in my entire miserable existence.......
.....walking up the Mexican Volcano - Iztaccihuatl.
This...is the tale...of that tale.
Those that know me well, know that I love three things: Shopping at REI for everything, bragging, and black women. For this trip, I was going to have to give up two out of those three, but I was willing to make the sacrifice. Casey and I wanted to test ourselves at some higher elevations without getting on a committed technical climb, so Izta/Orizaba seemed like a good place to start. We took off from LAX for Mexico City on an airplane, and if I had to guess, we only stopped making-out for maybe 15 minutes the entire flight there. Stoke was HIGH!
Instead of posting up in Amecameca like most people do, we hopped on a bus from the airport there directly to Puebla. I highly recommend this, as the approach to the Paso on Izta from the east is just fine. The only way you'd have trouble is if there was some issues with major erosion on the dirt road that winds up that side of the mountain - apparently it is closed on occasion for repairs, so be aware of that. We spent the night at the Hotel Imperial in Puebla, bought canister gas up the street at a little sporting goods store, and enjoyed the historical part of the city like a couple/three morons.
Look how rich we are! Hotel Imperial
Well. Look at that. Puebla.
From the main bus station in Puebla (CAPU), you take a small shuttle east towards (and through) San Nicolas de los Ranchos. We hopped off at a little town just beyond SNDLR to the west called Xalitzintla. Here we organized all of our expensive exclusive gear (brought to you by REI and my parents, since I'm spoiled), and left all the non essentials in one big bag. I convinced the owner of a little market there to store our bag for us until we passed back through, hoping to be off Izta in a few days after a moderate acclimatization schedule. There are little vans that head up the road to the Paso, so we crammed our butts and packs on one and headed up to the saddle to begin our climb.
Eat these while you wait for the bus. Idiot.
Xalitzintla - Sort your gear here, just pray you don't have to pee
Permits to be on the mountain are obtained at the ranger/visitor center there at the Paso, which is around 12,200 feet or so. Apparently, many of the guided groups do not stop there, but travel north towards the trailhead and stay at some hut which is around 13,000 feet. We found a nice spot to camp for free right there at the Paso, so we did. They sell water bottles in liter sizes if you need more at the center, and pink toilet paper. I normally only buy toilet paper from REI, but when in Rome....
We took our sweet time the next morning, dried a couple things out and bribed one of the guys working at the center to drop us off miles up the hill at La Joyita. This is basically the starting point for the hike in. We hung around there for an hour or so, trying to slowly adjust to the gradually thinner air, ate a couple/three things, french-kissed for about 4 minutes, and then decided to head out. We had heard mixed reviews on how often we'd be able to find water on the Ayoloco Glacier route, so we carried a lot. I believe I had 11 liters, and Casey had 6. We were planning on taking our sweet time, and weren't sure if there would be enough agua to keep us comfy, so we packed a lot. It turned out we only carried a tiny bit too much.
La Joyita is where the lulz are
The path for the normal route up Izta and the Ayoloco start out the same from La Joyita, but after a 1/4 mile or so we cut down and left into the obvious valley, while the normal route would continue up and to the right. We lost a few hundred feet or so as we dropped down into the wide valley, with our ambiguous path of ascent meandering up the steep green slope on the far side of things - the cattle made their presence known the trees high above us. We passed a couple trickles here which could be filtered, but the were not far from the trailhead. Across the valley and up we went, with many different cow trails leading through the vegetation, some of them eroded away into fairly deep ditches. It seemed to be easiest to head fairly straight up this slope, and cut right almost at the top. You might cliff out a bit if you head right too early.
Off screen to the left, you head across and up, then cut right and over the weakness in the cliffs
OH. He'll get you. Trust.
Where now, Jackson?
We aimed for a slight relief in the rocky cliffs above and to our right, waiting for breaks in the fog or clouds to see where we were going. Passing some interesting plants and a lot of cow droppings, the trail takes you up a steeper slope, turning from dirt to an easy rock scramble. We crested the cliffish area, topping out at a nice place to camp with a few flat spots between the rounded rocky surroundings. We were still below the snow line (just over 14,500) - there wasn't a water source close that we could see, so the decision to bring up the agua looked wise. If you were moving faster and continuing on, you'd pass another stream on the way to the Ayoloco hut, maybe a mile from this camp. We were taking our time - one night at 14,500, another at the hut, then summit and out. Tent went up immediately, and no sooner did the last stake go in, the wind and sleet arrived. We'd wake up the next morning to a light snow covering, but it would melt off in the sun shortly after.
Tiny bit of weather whilst we slept
Next morning was another lazy one - we didn't have terribly far to go or climb to get to our next stop - the hut near the base of the Ayoloco glacier. The views were killer all around, with Popo smoking off to the south of us, and a nice cloud layer down below. We packed up the gear and headed north, dropping down to a slightly lower elevation as we went before climbing back up - realizing later that we didn't have to do that. Yeah wasted energy! The scree slope we were looking for showed up on time, and as we started up it we could hear voices in the distance - an AAI guided group that we had chatted with the day before was making their way up way behind us, having come in all the way from the hut around 13,000ft...and planning to camp at the Ayoloco hut like we were around 15,200 or so. I think they had just flown into Mexico city the day before, but I'm not sure. Yikes.
Most would melt off shortly
Eat em up, throw em up
That's good, I was tired of being able to see where the path was.
We continued our trudge up and over several ridges, and eventually the Ayoloco came into view...but where was the hut? A quick scan and a couple ripped-$100-bills later, we saw that we climbed a little high, so we headed over and down a bit to the hut. I'm told this hut is in much better shape than the one on the main route. The bunks appeared to hold 6 comfortably, 8 in a tight fit, and there was a small cooking area on either side just inside the doorway. We arrived in camp first, so naturally we claimed the hut for Spain. As the guided group arrived, we realized that we may have a situation. We knew we wanted to get some sleep. We also knew that huts were where the snoring happens. Long story short, Mike and Oso (the guides) shared the hut with us, and of course, snores were snored. Incidentally, not far from this hut is some lightly running water, so worry not.
Plant life was good to go
True Love? Or just a summer fling?
While the rest of the group set their tents up, we exchanged pleasantries and I again realized that I'm not ever cut out to be in a guided group. Guides must have infinite patience. Well....most of them. Mike and Oso were great guys, and listening to them herd the cats was interesting. Some of these guys and gals were having altitude issues. Casey and I were not, which I attribute to our more relaxed ascent over a longer period of time, and also that I'm just awesome beyond description in general. Snack on that. Everyone ate, drank, and headed to bed. We'd all rise in the very early morning to tackle the Ayoloco.
Summit about 2,000 ft above us - Ayoloco Glacier in the center
Casey and I ended up ready before the big group by design. As we headed up the talus and moderate rock towards the glacier, we noticed the glow of the lava in the crater of Popo way down south - humming orange under a clear dark sky. Unreal - never seen nothin' like that before. I wadded up a hundred and tried to sink it like a free throw, but I'm pretty sure I missed. We continued up in the dark, skirting a nice drop-off on the left side. We noticed the line of headlamps way down behind us, and at one point we realized they were cutting over left towards the base of the glacier. Uh-oh? The way Casey and I were going was still going, and I recall Oso mentioning a high route...well, we were going to find that high route. Mike from AAI wisely yelled up to us to not knock anything down and kill them - turns out we were over a huge ice cliff with boulders perched right on the edge. I flashed a couple gang signs and yelled back that we'd behave. We continued up and over to the glacier, entering it much higher than the team below us. Glorious crampon steppin' ensued.
As we climbed, the wind picked up and the temps dropped. I knew we needed to find the main route as it ran along the ridge that made up the top of the Ayoloco glacier. We headed up pretty much perpendicular, but we could have cut more towards the summit and cut off some distance. The roped up teams below us were moving more slowly, and we lost sight of their headlamps as we headed north again along the ridge that heads toward the summit. Wind increased, and visibility went to almost nothing. When we hit the summit, we weren't sure we were even in the right spot - there was no cross or anything. Turns out, the old true summit was in a slightly different spot, but snow/ice receding forced a new summit - the one we were on. Mike confirmed later that we were in the right spot. At that moment, we just called it good, and headed back towards the hut. Down the ridge we went, visibility improving as the sun came up and warmed the mountain.
Smug as shet on the summit
The weather improved as we retreated
Popo in the distance - views were a treat
Less steep, more direct path to the glacier from the summit
We passed the teams coming up and then their packs - dumped on the saddle just above the slope of the glacier heading down. I flashed a couple more gang signs, and we made our lazy way back down the glacier. The going was easy, and we hurried under that big ice cliff I mentioned before - I would have hated to walk slowly under that bad boy on the way up. Camp was packed up, and we headed out not long after the guides and gang made their way back. Alllllllllllll the way back to La Joyita we walked, and after sweet-talking a guy into schlepping us back to the Paso, we waited around for hours until one of those combis swung by that was heading back down to Xalitzintla. Success!
Bag retrieved from the store owner, it was a matter of a couple combi rides to Puebla and a bus to the old Centro of Puebla to find our unofficial base-hotel of Hotel Imperial. Food and rest and showers were had and had. I flushed a few bills down the toilet for good measure, and got my mind right for the next climb - Orizaba
1. If you want to take a canister stove, you can find gas for it. We found MSR canisters at little sporting goods store two blocks or so from our Hotel in Puebla - just happened upon it while walking around feeling superior
4 Oreinte No. 204 Col. Centro C.P. 72000, Puebla, Pue, Mex
(222) 246 3123
2. Hotel Imperial is a great modest place to stay in Puebla. I think our rooms were around 30 bucks a night, showers were hot, free internet. Nothing fancy.
5. Buses in Mexico are awesome. If you can't find a bus, they have little vans (combis?) that fill in the gaps for next to nothing.
6. People in Mexico are awesome. We found almost everyone very eager to point us in the right direction, or give advice on lodging/logistics. Know some spanish.