The StoryThis is a brief account of our January 17, 2006 summit of El Pico de Orizaba. An extremely detailed account, including photos, video, notes, planning resource, waypoints, etc., is posted on our El Pico de Orizaba web page(see links on the Orizaba page, or type http://www.14erquest.com/garydidnotsummitorizaba/Orizaba_Index.html into your browser, or CLICK HERE).
This trip was set to be an adventure right from the go. I spoke very little Spanish, and my partner Rob spoke some, but was rusty. We had done what detailed planning we could, but found things like bus logistics and some lodging was difficult to set up remotely. Fortunately, it seemed that every person we encountered on the trip was eager to assist us. I truly can't say enough about the people that we met on this trip.
To the details: January 14th at 4:30pm we said goodbye to the wives and took off bound for Mexico city. The flight was pretty easy, and we landed only six minutes later than expected. By 10:30pm, we were on a bus(leaving from the airport USD 15) to Puebla's 4-Points stations. Arriving around 12:30am now January 15th, we claimed our bags and jumped a taxi(USD 4.00) to CAPO, where we expected to be until the next available bus to Tlachichuca left. At that point we entered into a negotiation with a taxi driver who then took us to Tlachichuca for USD 30.00/each and helped us to get a hotel room at 3:45am. The taxi ride was pretty scary, and took as long as the regular bus that cost USD 4.00. There were a lot of drunk drivers on the backroads at night.
Our taxi driver was helpful in finding a hotel at 4am, and for USD 10.00/each, we got two beds and a clean room at Hotel Citalepetl. After some power sleep for about 5 hours, we each took a turn this the shower/sink/toilet combo attached to our room. If coordinated enough, you could address all your bathroom needs at the same time.
By 10am we were at Sr. Reyes compound, courtesy of some very nice locals who walked us there. At that point we met up with 4 other people from Colorado who were also bound for Piedra Grande that day. We had an excellent home cooked breakfast at Sr. Reyes place and loaded our gear. We were also able to store the things that we did not need for the mountain; knowing that they would be secure. Sr. Reyes charged us USD 100.00 for four meals, one night lodging(on the return) and transportation to Piedra Grande.
Some of the items that we brought, but did not need due to the lack of snow were: avy beacons, shovels, probes. There would proved to be now sign of fresh snow during our climb, and Sr. Reyes said there had been no significant snow in 6 months.
Some bumps, some dust and a few laughs later, we found ourselves at 11,897' in a lanscape that resembles Flagstaff, Arizona. The drive to this point was 45-60 minutes. The temperature had dropped probably into the 60's. After some stretching, potty breaks and a couple of tourist shots of the mountain, we were back to breathing dust and bouncing off the bench seats in the back of the truck.
Sometime after 3pm, on January 15th, we rolled into the parking area near Piedra Grand. After some discussion as to how we could have flashed that road in our Jeeps, we got down to the business of packing for high camp. Piedra Grand, at 13,936 per my GPS, was a wake up call to the mountain enviorment. There was a cold stiff wind blowing, and the temperature was probably in the mid 40's. We applied a couple of layers, and opened the pit zips to try not to sweat.
Shouldering the packs did not feel great at all. Mine was about 59lbs. Heavier than I had intended. This was where we would find out how the 30,000 vertical hiked in the preceding 4 weeks would pay off. The funny thing was I had done that with a 60lb pack thinking that would be heavier than my actual pack. By 3:39pm we were on trail. I was being very careful to keep my ascent rate at 10-15 feet/min. This was hard to do because of how steep the ascent was.
Moving as slowly as we could up the aquaduct, and onto the trail proper, the hut began to quickly disappear. We rested at 14,610' and then at a flat area at 14,805'. Feeling very strong we pushed on and in about 25 minutes I reached the first campsite at 15,147'. Knowing the vertical, but not the required time to the next camp, I left my pack in this ring and explored higher. This seemed like a good call since I was starting to feel the weight of my pack big time. On my scouting trip, I found 2 more campsites; one at 15,323'(8 minutes up trail) and 15,415'(11 minutes up trail). My prefrence was the 15,415 campsite and I radioed to Rob. Knowing he was tiring, and had spent 4 of the last 5 days at sea level, I told him to drop his pack with mine, and bring only the tent.
I then descended the 300' to Campsite 1, to shuttle the first pack. This was easy, and I was still feeling good. After reaching high camp again, I set up the tent and then headed back for the last pack. On the return, Rob met me halfway and took some of the load. Back in camp by 8pm, we ate some food and nodded off. This made 2100' of climbing that day: 1500' to camp then 2 300' gear runs. This would prove to be over excertion. By 10:30pm, I was sick. No real headache, but nausea and vomit made for some fun. By 2:30, the headache was starting due to dehydration. Knowing that water was my life blood at this point, I kept drinking. Finally at 3am, I drank some water and fell asleep till 8am, now January 16th. A couple of periodic breathing episodes freaked us both out, but those went away as we acclimatized.
Headache and cotton mouth were not the best things to wake to. I was wondering at this point if this climb was going to work. I contemplated going back to Piedra Grande to recover further. The motivating factor was Rob. He seemed fine and was ready to go for a water hike. Having kept down water since 3 am, at 9am I decided I would go with Rob to get water.
Emerging from the tent I felt pretty good. I walked over to our latrine, and was instantly visited by nausea again. Strangely I still felt fine. I brushed my teeth, took a couple of swigs of water and headed out. We reached 15,705' that morning and spent about an hour melting snow and treating the water. Upon return to camp, I inhaled two Mountain House meals and a litre and a half of water. At that point I noticed that my resting heartrate was 55 BPM and I was breathing as if at home. That concluded the painful part of acclimatization and taught some valuble lessons. The most important: quit when your body tells you to. The final gear shuttle was too much.
From this point in time to the trip's end, eveything went without a hitch. That afternoon we climbed as high as 16,235'. With clear, perfect weather, we actually considered going for the summit. Thinking the wiser, we hung out at 16,000' and above till just about dark. We expored the labyrinth, the campsite at 4900 meters and located a small water fall(too dirty to filter) We also mapped our route to the glacier, which would assist with climbing in the dark. After filling Rob's pack with more ice for melting, we returned to camp just before the windstorm started.
The moment we hit the tent, the wind kicked up. The 4-Season Siera Designs was flexing, but would not yield to the wind. Questioning if this would thwart our summit desires, we retired with plans to check the weather at 1 am on what would be January 17th. When the alarm went off at 1am, the wind was howling. I had been sleeping like a baby, but Rob was not so lucky. He reset his alarm to 2am and I was asleep solid till 2. It seemed like 5 minutes later his 2am alarm went off. That's how hard I slept. At 2am, I dressed in my 15 degree bag.
We had a quick discussion as to how we would proceed, and the decision was that we would go as high as we could. Rob was dragging, probably from lack of sleep, but we finally got out of the tent at 3:15 and headed out. With a strong cold headwind opposing us, I gave us a 1 in 10 chance of getting the 3100' to the summit done. Rob was not feeling well, again probably tired, and this wind was not helping.
Just up the trail at 15,705 where we cut ice the day before, the wind was interupted by the terrain. This may have been the break we needed. We flashed the labyrinth, probably due to our advanced route recon the day before. Dreading the wind we anticipated on the glacier, we headed up. By 16,500' we were hitting our stride. We passed a couple of wands, and then aimed for a point in the glacier where the pitch apparently changed. The plan was to hit this point, and then switch back up the steep section to the rim. In reality, this took us a bit further to the west than we needed to go, but it worked.
At about 17,000' I stopped to look back for Rob, but he wasn't there. He was actually right next to me. Any weakness from sleep deprivation was not phasing him anymore. Rob was a at game speed. At this point, I re-visted my previous asessment of us reaching the summit and concluded that the only thing that would stop us was an eruption of Orizaba. That not likely; it was on. The route from 17,000' to the rim was relentless. With a steady wind from the west, I did not mind heading into the wind, but going with it was irritating. The pitch kept increasing and the icy patches became more frequent. I was getting real good plants with my crampons, and never felt like breaking out the rope from the pack. We never encountered surface conditions where an arrest would not be possible. At what I felt was the steepest section, my slope meter read 44 degrees when using my ice axe on the angled surface. There may have been steeper spots, but my patience for measuring was exhausted.
Just before the rim, the snow turned to bullet ice. This required some good step kicking, and the occasional step cut with the axe. At long last I topped out on the rim. Rob was close behind. Surveying the remaining route, the actual summit was farther still than I thought it would be. The normal route would have been an even longer rim traverse. Stopping once on the rim during a big wind blast, and using any excuse I could to take breath, I snapped a picture. About 3 minutes later I was face to face with the pile of twisted metal crosses you find in the photos on the internet. I hunkered down on the warm rocky party of the summit behind a snow lip blocking the wind. When Rob arrived, he informed me that it was 0F, and with the estimated 20 mph wind that meant a wind chill of -20F. Not warm.
I later deduced from GPS data that I was on the summit just over 22 minutes. My video camera would not power up even with a warm battery from my innermost pocket. The digital cameras would have to do double duty and grab video as well. Our hands would go numb so quickly I could barely work the cameras. By this point I was grouchy and wanted out of the wind. A bit anxious about descending the bullet ice, we headed down.
Rob straightlined the bullet ice, I went more cautiously. The rest of the glacier descent was uneventful. Reaching camp, we made some food and headed out seperately. I went about 15 minutes ahead of Rob. It got colder as I descended and then a nasty upslope wind began slinging particles at me. I slipped and fell twice on the steep loose descent from camp to Piedra Grande. I arrived about 10 minutes before Reyes' driver did. About 40 minutes later, Rob strolled in with my ballcap he retrieved from the trail. At last we logged it as a successful summit and congratulated eachother on a successful, safe ascent.
It was good to be the guys coming down, and talk to the people that were about to venture up. We met some people preparing for 5 days on the mountain at Reyes place that night. We also went on a quest for authentic Mexican cuisine, but kept coming up with hot dogs and hamburgers.
The next morning we returned to Mexico City and checked into the Camino Real Aeropuerto. We had a hassle with my online booking, but got in ok. After a few expensive beers, we both retired stoked about the accomplishement, and ready to see our wives(oh, and the kids too...)
Back in Denver we got home just in time for the snow on Jan 19th. By Sunday we were back in the mountains hunting Mary Jane powder snow.
Preperation & Details
Our gear list was fairly standard, and included exactly what you would expect to take on a high glaciated peak. Our complete, actual gear list, inclusive of commentary as to what we used and what we did not can be found on my Orizaba Gear List Page(CLICK HERE). To save space in this page I have not copied the entire list into this TR.
When considering what gear to bring, a couple of key points come to mind:
1. Boots: I climbed in double leather Asolo boots that contained a fiberglass shank. These proved warm enough even during the coldest parts of the climb(0 degrees F at the summit).
2. We did not use any of the glacier gear, ice screws, ropes or harnesses that we brought. We felt comfortable with our ability to arrest on the glacier. This may not be the case for everyone.
3. Jet Boils run off of Mexican butane canisters and the work well as 16,250' for melting glacier ice.
4. Avy gear was not needed. There was no fresh snow of any kind, and had not been for sometime. That said, I would probably take it and leave at hotel depending on route reports.
I collected waypoints from our actual ascent of Orizaba. They are posted on my GPS Waypoints Page(CLICK HERE). Use at your own risk! These are only as accurate as a Garmin eTrex Legend with January 2006 firmware loaded to it.
Research and Plan vs. Results
A completed summary of the resources used to put our trip together can be found at my Planning & Pesearch page(CLICK HERE). It covers our complete plan, list of references and how our actual trip compared to the plan.
Travel & Expense(Acutal) SummaryHere is our actual spend and schedule:
Jan 14, 2006: Flight to Mexico City(USD 380.00 round trip) & bus ride to Puebla(USD 15)
Jan 15, 2006: Taxi to Tlachichuca(USD 30/each) & Tlachichuca hotel room(USD 10/each)
Jan 16, 2006: Sr. Reyes, meals, transport and lodging on our return(USD 120/each)
Jan 18, 2006: Bus to Puebla(USD 4.00/each), 1st class back to Mexico City(USD 15.00/each), Camino Real Aeuropuerto(USD 90/each)
Total Cost: USD 655/each including airfare
And if you have read through the whole story and want more detail, you can find all of our pictures, gear list, GPS data and research information at: http://www.14erquest.com/garydidnotsummitorizaba/index.html