| 1) Introduction |
I had been interested in climbing Citlaltépetl (aka El Pico de Orizaba) ever since Josh told me about his travels to that peak back in 1998. I finally got my chance in late 2002 over Thanksgiving break. On Friday, November 22, I flew down to Mexico City where I would meet Bob Evans and Vesna Damljanovic. I had first met Bob on a Sierra Club PCS hike to Mount Harrington in 2001 and remembered that he had a Mexico Volcanoes trip planned for January 2002 that had fallen through. I knew Vesna through SummitPost and would meet her for the first time at the Mexico City airport. By 8:00pm, we had all met and picked up our compact rental car at National Car Rental, a Seat Ibiza that would be our transportation for the next 10 days. Previous to this trip, Bob's highest summit was Aconcagua, mine was Kilimanjaro, and Vesna's was Mount Hood. We were all eager to see what Mexico had to offer from her volcanoes, to her culture, to her people. We would not be disappointed.
The plan was to meet in the evening and then drive up to Teotihuacán for an acclimatization hike the next day, however, driving at night in Mexico City on a Friday night proved to be too much adventure for us on the first night. Doing our duty as tourists from the US, we ended up getting swindled by the police right out of the gate (see section on Driving below). After going around in what seemed like several circles, we finally stopped at a grocery store where we bought, among other things, a Mexico city map book which proved indispensible for the rest of the trip. At a coffee shop across the street we also met a kind couple who gave us directions and recommended we spend the evening in town. We ended up spending the first night at the Hotel Milan. The next morning on November 23, we drove to Teotihuacán where we hiked up the Temple of the Sun and the Moon for some enjoyable sight seeing before driving to Xinantécatl (aka Nevado de Toluca) in the evening. We got lost just south of Toluca and lost our chance for a good dinner while finding our way back. Once we got on the main road out of Toluca, we ended up eating dinner at a PEMEX station en route to Xinantécatl which would come back to haunt us. I just had a Coke Light and some chips while Vesna picked up a microwaved pizza.
2) Volcán Xinantécatl (aka Nevado de Toluca)
|2.1) Xinantécatl - Arrival - November 24, 2002|
We finally pulled into the Xinantécatl gatehouse parking lot (~13,030') at around 10:00pm (very rough estimate). Bob and I slept under the stars in our sleeping bags while Vesna set up her tent. Around 2:30am, Vesna came over and told us she was sick and cold. Her gas station pizza wasn't agreeing. By 3:00am we were preparing to head down and started the actual driving at around 3:30am. We gave Vesna some Cipro and somewhere along the line she threw up and then started to feel better. There's a reason why I never buy those pre-packaged sandwiches or pizzas at gas stations - in any country.
|2.2) Xinantécatl - The Crater Rim & West Ridge - November 24-25, 2002|
We were up around 7:00am and I was eager to start the ascent. While the Pyramid of the Sun was nice, I was eager to try my hand at 15,000+ feet. Vesna was feeling much better in the morning. We ended up having a leisurely breakfast and we arrived back at the gatehouse around 11:15am.
My new way of adding adventure to my trips is to not read any significacnt route beta beforehand. Bob had printed out some route information from the now defunct XPMexico.org site which showed 5 summit routes (FYI: XPMexico.org morphed into XPMexico.com and lost some information along the way). Four of the routes started at the gatehouse (or essentially inside the crater) while the easiest route, the YDS Class 2 West Ridge, started outside. Based on some discussions the previous day we had all decided that we'd try our hand at the easiest route, the West Ridge, to see how we were doing with our acclimatization. The funny thing was that we were leaving from the gatehouse which is where all the routes except the West Ridge start. We saw some local Mexican Explorer Scouts heading up so I didn't think too much of it so Vesna and I headed up behind them while Bob stayed behind to take some more photos.
Soon enough Vesna and I reached the crater overlook (~13,560') passing the Explorer Scouts along the way. There were some people just resting here so I looked for the route. I wasn't thinking about which route at this point, just 'the' route and I immediately found the crater rim hike up to El Pico de la Aguila (15,157') while missing the two trails heading down into the crater.. About 60% of the way from the overlook to Aguila, I started thinking that we were on the wrong route (yes, I'm slow). One hiker followed us up the trail and chatted with us. He confirmed that we were on the YDS Class 3 rim traverse before heading up to the summit. Looking at the situation, Vesna and I decided we could either continue up or take a YDS class 2 scree descent into the crater and then climb another scree chute closer to El Pico del Fraile in order to avoid the class 3. Of course pressing forward won. At this time I also started to wonder where Bob was as we didn't see any sign of him, or of any other people behind us. In any event, we pressed forward and soon we were in the first parts of class 3. I was moving pretty good at this point but Vesna started to move a bit slower now that she had to use her hands a bit more. Just above the first cross we ran into, around 2:00pm, Vesna made the decision to turn around. I told her that I thought I'd just continue forward for a bit more before turning back as well. Still no sign of Bob.
Once I got on to the rim proper, however, the class 3 scrambling was just too much fun to stop and soon I found myself closer to the summit than the trailhead so I had to press forward. Around 4:00pm I saw someone coming down from El Pico del Fraile which turned out to be Bob. He had come up the YDS Class 4 crater rim route to the south. We met just north of the class 2 chute leading down to Laguna del Sol. Bob said that I could take his approach trail out which left from the south side of the lake, behind a hill, and rejoined the saddle that I entered on. It looked good to me so we parted ways, Bob heading north to El Pico de la Aguila and me south towards El Pico del Fraile. After I tagged the summit, I was eager to head back so I took the class 2 descent instead of the class 4 descent back to the crater floor.
While heading down the chute I passed a group of 3 Mexicans on the slope. They had come in a VW Beatle which was the last car in the parking lot. I thought about waiting at their car to ask for a ride but thought to myself, the hike out looks straight-forward enough: even in the dark it should be no problem. Famous last words. I followed the road around the south side of the mound between Laguna del Sol and Laguna del la Luna (which I didn't know existed at this time). A trail branches off the road and heads up the side of the hill after which it joins what looked like a 4WD drive road. I followed the road and it got smaller and smaller until it looked like it was used by dirt bikes. At this point the sun went down but since I still saw foot prints so I wasn't worried. Then the trail dropped into rocks beside Laguna de la Luna. I saw garbage so I knew this was a popular spot but I wasn't sure if people just came up here with bikes and left or if there was a real trail out. After hiking around in the rocks in the dark, I decided that this must be the wrong trail so I headed back (mistake #1). I hiked back to the lake and then traversed around the east side. Eventually I found a trail going up what seemed to be a small canyon-like formation, I turned around here because I didn't remember anything like this and didn't want to get too lost in the night (mistake #2). Then almost to the northern end of the lake I looked up and thought the saddle could have been in one of two places, neither of which looked very attractive to get to. I clicked off my BD Gemini headlamp and lay down on the ground for some rest. Although I hadn't found my way out, the night inside the crater was gorgous. Stars were everywhere and looking into Laguna del Sol I could see the crater ridge between Fraile and Aguila reflected in the lake with half the lake dark and the other half filled with stars. As gorgeous as the crater lake was, it was a bit too cold for comfort in just my clothes so I started hiking again. I hiked back to the beach at the south end of the lake and laid down on the beach for a while wondering if I should go behind the mound again before hiking all the way around the far side of the lake thinking that I'd take the YDS class 2 hike up to just below the class 3 on Aguila however once I got there I found a trail and continued up to the saddle finally. On the way to the class 2 route, I passed 2 tents which would turn out to house 3 hikers. The sun came up as I made my way up to the saddle but by that time I knew I was home free given the prominent hill behind the saddle that I remembered. At the saddle, I looked down and saw Laguna de la Luna and noticed the that I could have come up from the lake or the mini-valley to the north of the mound. In any event I was happy to get out of the crater finally and made it back down to the car at around 6:30am where Bob and Vesna were already up and waiting for me. I was happy that they didn't have to go looking for me and I was also happy to get out in under 24 hours to make this technically a day hike.
After resting a bit, we drove down to the trailhead for the West Ridge. Bob had seen the route from the summit the day before. Since Vesna had turned around the day before, Bob and Vesna decided to head up this route for their acclimatization. Initially I was ready to head up again with no sleep but then reconsidered as I could not find it within me to get excited about a YDS class 2 scree slog. While I rested, Bob and Vesna headed up to tag the summit via the West Ridge. I hung out and drove up to the gatehouse where I saw the 3 hikers who were camping in the crater the night before. When they came down we drove into Toluca, parked our car, and checked into the Hotel Saint Nicolas Bravo. Then we showered and went out for dinner at the Taqueria Boccata which was excellent. Bob and I ordered mystery dinners off the menu (we blindly chose the most expensive carne dish which wasn't very expensive at all) while Vesna ordered the Tacos al Pastor. Then we went to pick up some pastries before turning in. Unfortunately, after dinner, the two Internet cafes I had seen while we were looking for dinner had closed so I would have to wait to sign my summit log.
3) Volcán Iztaccíhuatl
|3.1) Iztaccíhuatl - Arrival - November 26, 2002|
We spent the day driving from Toluca to La Joya stopping in Amecameca for lunch where we also got a car wash. On the the way to Paso de Cortés we had to pass a Mexican army check point which took down our drivers license information. The road up to La Joya is gated at the El Parque Nacional Izta-Popo visitor center (where there's a gate to the road to La Joya) so we had to stop in where a Mexican army officer in charge allow people up to La Joya told us that we needed a permit that could only be obtained in Amecameca (that we not only didn't have but didn't know about). He showed us the permits that other people have provided and we were like "you have got to be kidding." Going back to get the permit would mean losing a day because the office in Amecameca was for sure closed. With some smooth talking, Vesna finally got the guy to agree to let us up provided we had the necessary gear. At our car, we showed the officer crampons, ice axe, down jacket, etc. after which he was satisfied. When we arrived at La Joya, one party of three from Colorado was just coming down. The sun was just going down and it must have been around 6-7pm. They had stashed a bunch of their gear part way up the trail and had camped just before the third saddle on the way to the knees. In the morning they had started hiking around 5:00am(?) and had just returned. They reported that crampons were completely unnecessary, however, an axe might be useful. They told us that they stashed their gear because there were 10-20 people out here partying the last night and any gear left in the car was sure to be stolen. They also replaced the car rental license plate frame which they removed from their car after they were swindled once by the police. After bidding them good night, we started unpacking for dinner and sleep. There is one lean-to and one "roof on posts" so we decided to sleep in the lean-to. While Bob was unpacking at the lean-to I headed up to the car to get some things. Vesna was still getting ready and getting into her shell pants. When I got to the car, there was a large black bull (male cow) trotting up to the car stopping about 5 feet away from us. Vesna thought I was joking when I matter a factly told her there was a cow behind her. When she turned around and shined her headlamp in it's face, it began snorting. That's when I promptly entered the car and closed the door. Since Vesna was only half-in her shell pants it took a bit of effort but she managed to get in the car as well. In a little bit the bull left and we hopped out ready to make our dinner and go to sleep. There was a group camping below us and a bicycle with a Czech Republic license plate.
|3.2) Iztaccíhuatl - Acclimatization Hike - November 27, 2002|
We decided to do an acclimatization hike the first day and then a day hike the second day starting in the wee hours of the morning. After a relaxing breakfast we stashed our gear and then hit the trail. I was interested in getting up to the hut on the first day to make sure we didn't get off route at night. On the way up I counted 5 saddles on the way to the El Grupo de Los Cien hut. The Republica de Chile hut shown on page 68 of the 3rd edition of Secor no longer exists (destroyed by wind) and the El Grupo de Los Cien hut now has cables tying it to the ground. On the way up just before third saddle we ran into Peter, the owner of the Czech bike. He had previously worked in the US and quit his job to bicycle down to Equador, stopping off to climb the Mexican volcanoes along the way. He had stayed up in the hut with a sleeping bag and closed-cell foam pad. His entire trip is to last for 16 months! That's a Göran-sized adventure I thought to myself! When I arrived at the hut, I found it well stocked with Cup-of-Noodle-type instant ramen, cans of sardines, etc. There were some old pans and utensils but it's recommended to bring your own ;-) The hut has 3 levels inside and can probably sleep 22 in reasonable comfort. On the way down we took some photos of Popocatépetl before making dinner and heading in for an earlier night's rest.
4) Volcán Citlaltépetl (aka El Pico de Orizaba)
|3.3) Iztaccíhuatl - La Arista del Sol Summit Hike - November 28, 2002|
We started our night ascent around 2:40am. Right out of the gate, I wasn't doing well mentally. Truth be told, I wasn't having a great time on the trip and just wanted to go back to California. Basically I just wanted to have a vacation that was actually fun. As to why this trip wasn't fun, that's a story to be told over a few drinks. When we got to the first saddle, I told Bob and Vesna that I was thinking about turning around and heading down. I hadn't decided yet but just wanted to let them know while before I succumbed. To my surprise, Vesna took the initiative and headed back down first. Then Bob and I countined on the hike. I mention this because I have every confidence that Vesna could have made the Izta summit if she chose to continue, however, if she did, I would have chose to turn back myself. While we both wanted to tag the summit, she had told Bob and myself that she doesn't place all that much importance on tagging summits while she knew that I did. For her to volunteer to turn around was very gracious under the difficult circumstances. At the time, I was just depressed.
Bob and I talked a bit on the way up to the hut eventually reaching it in the dark around 6:20am. We entered, drank some water and had some snacks before taking a short rest. Then the sun came out and at 6:40am we continued up to the summit reaching it around 11:00am. Above the hut you can head right and climb up the YDS class 3 ridge or follow a YDS class 2 scree trail up. We didn't quite see where the class 2 trail headed so we took the class 3 route up for some great sunrise views. This short class 3 from the hut up to Las Rodillas (aka the knees) was the only place where some route-finding was necessary for us. Once we got to Las Rodillas, a very evident trail led to the summit. The only place we used our axe was glissading down on to the Ayoloco Glacier. We took a number of photos at the far end of the Ayoloco Glacier before heading up La Arista Del Sol, the ridge extending from the glacier to the summit. After resting a bit at the summit we headed back down reaching the hut at around 1:00pm. We were back to La Joya around 2:20pm.
After washing up at the WC at the park visitor center, we found a car camping spot in El Parque Nacional Izta-Popo to spend the night. Bob and I slept under the stars while Vesna slept in her tent. I was in the middle of 5 trees which formed a nice pentagon in the sky with a circle of stars which provided wonderful views while I rested and slept.
|4.1) Citlaltépetl - Arrival - November 29, 2002|
Up until now, Bob had been driving and on the morning of the 29th was my turn to take over driving in Mexico which I would do for the rest of the trip. To save some time we had decided to drive down from Paso de Cortés to Cholula and had to pass another Mexcian army check point on the way out. When we entered Cholula, we parked the car and got another car wash. Cholula is a beautiful and probably my favorite Mexican town. We got some tamales from a street vendor, ate them in the town park, and then headed up the stairs to the gorgeous Nuestra Señora de los Remedios church. After a lot of photos we headed down, stopped at an Internet store to sign some SummitPost.com summit logs and then it was off for a quick visit to the Capilla Real (aka Royal Chapel) before heading out on to the road again. It was a bit of a challenge getting through Puebla onto highway 150-D but once we did it was smooth driving all the way to Tlachichuca where we drove to Joaquín Canchola Limón's place. We would be using his 4WD drive services for the drive up to Piedra Granda and back. At the Canchola's place, we had dinner with two people who had just come off the mountain, two guys from Texas and New Mexico. The Texas guy was doing great while his friend from New Mexico was still suffering the ill effects of altitude. He was a little out of it during dinner. Later in the evening a group of 10+ Canadians came off the mountain. They had started around 1:00am and come off around 5:00pm. They looked completely beat and I saw one guy coiling a rope so I guess some of them at least had roped up. Talking to them, I found out that the conditions weren't good for skiing and that they were part of a large adventure-class of some sort that was on an extended trip doing mountaineering, kayaking, and other activities.
|4.2) Citlaltépetl - Acclimatization Hike - November 30, 2002|
After a nice breakfast at the Cancholas, we got in their 4WD extended cab truck and headed up to Piedra Grande. When we got to the hut there were 3 other tents set up (a TNF VE-25, a TNF Nimbus, and some other tent). We got our stuff out and started setting. Bob and I used his TNF VE-25 tent while Vesna used her Eureka! TimberLite XT tent. Lying down in the VE-25 I thought, this must be what it's like to be at high altitude hanging out in a nice 4 season tent in nice weather. I wouldn't have minded sleeping for the rest of the day but soon we were off on our acclimatization hike. Vesna and I headed up first while Bob stayed behind to take some photos. Eventually we got up to about 14,470' before Vesna decided we had hiked long enough and should head down. On the way down we ran into Bob who was still headed up. Vesna was pretty confident going down so I turned around and continued to head up with Bob. We ended up making the campsite at ~15,000' where I got to see several tents including a TNF Cumulus and SD Clip Flashlight CD. I was pretty amazed to see the Clip Flashlight up there but impressed. We chatted with Brian, a guy from Colorado that we met at Izta after our acclimatization hike, who had just come down and was breaking camp with his group. Then we continued farther up to a small crest before turning back. When we got back to camp, Vesna told us she had met a guy JW (James Wilson) who was interested in joining our group. He was now alone after his parter got altitude sickness and headed back down to their car parked at Hidalgo. He was from Kansas City and they had driven here from the US. We said no problem and that we'd be delighted to have him with us though we did tell him that we were unroped. Vesna had also found some route beta on ascending the glacier and told us that in the previous week two Americans had sat down on the glacier with their crampons kicked in. They ended up falling and sliding down the glacier and, unable to self-arrest, they smashed into some rocks. One ended up with a broken hip while the other had a "smashed skull."
5) Mexico City
|4.3) Citlaltépetl - Jamapa Glacier Summit Hike - December 1, 2002|
So this is it. Citlaltépetl is what this trip was all about for Bob and myself and now here we were, ready to take our shot at the 3rd highest mountain in North America. Vesna also really wanted to summit this mountain but I got the feeling that she's not as single-minded as we both were in our desire to reach the top. In any event, on Sunday morning, December 1, 2002, the three of us were joined by JW (James Wilson) in our bid for the summit. As discussed prior to this trip, we would all be climbing unroped to save weight. On this day, there would be a total of 7 people climbing the mountain, only 3 others besides our group.
We were originally going to start around 2:30am I believe but we ended up leaving later around 3:00am. Bob headed up first (~2:30am?) while JW, Vesna, and myself headed up around 3:00am. As we made our way up through the camp and up to the rocks, JW was hiking really strong. Around 6:00am we put on our crampons in the rocks as there were some icy snow sections. When we got out of the rocks we could see Bob making his way on to the glacier while we rested. Bob had lost some time getting off route in the rocks and had to do a traverse to get on to the glacier.
Once we started heading up again out in the open, JW started to hike slower and Vesna took the lead with Bob way out ahead. Initially I thought we could stay in formation, however, now that we were in the open I was eager to start moving up a bit faster so I passed Vesna and eventually the four of us would be evenly spaced Bob, myself, Vesna, and JW. Eventually, I'd catch up to Bob. At first I wanted to keep a bit of distance between us but then he started chopping steps (really just improving them) which took some time so I came up behind him and so we could talk again. At one point Bob's crampon pouch(?) fell off and started sliding down the slope. Vesna and I called out to JW who was able to catch it on the way down. As we got near the rim, three climbers came down separately and we had to cut steps for us to stand aside while letting them pass. By the time we reached around 17,800' JW was far behind. Vesna was still coming up though she was sitting down to rest a number of times. At one time Vesna yelled up to me that she needed some inspiration to continue and I yelled back that we were on the "Stairway to Heaven." Then Bob and I made the rim and sat down for a bit before heading up the final stretch. It was pretty amazing to have the summit all to ourselves after seeing many summit photos on SummitPost with other people in the background. I kept thinking we'd turn around to see Vesna heading up to the summit at any time but she never came. In the end we decided to descend and we found Vesna at the bottom of the rim where the Jamapa Glacier route joins it. She wasn't feeling great at this point however was still interested in reaching the top. Bob was going down no matter what but I told Vesna I'd head up to the summit with her. On the way up just below the rim I had started to get a minor headache from the strong sun as I wasn't wearing a hat but it went away soon enough. Vesna was still suffering from the sunlight and using her shell hood to shield herself. As Bob turned to descend he asked me what he should do if we didn't make it down. I told him that we'd try to get down off the mountain but as clouds were starting to roll in over the glacier, I didn't want him to be worried if we were stuck in a white-out and had to sit it out. I told him not to start looking for us until 12:00pm the next day. At this point, I had no worries about bivying with no gear at 18,000+ feet but Vesna didn't like any part of the two words "unplanned bivy." I was still ready to head up but then Vesna changed her mind and said that she didn't need to tag the summit and this was high enough for her. In the back of my mind I thought that she probably didn't like the bivy idea and while I thought the probability of staying on the mountain was fairly low, I still didn't like the clouds coming in. But still, we were at 18,000+ feet and to have come all the way to Mexico, get this close, and turn around.... Well, I wouldn't turn around it it was me so I asked her twice more if she wanted to tag the summit, but her mind was made up so we snapped a few photos and then started to head down.
As we headed down the clouds came in with a vengeance. About 17,000' visibility dropped to 30-60' but luckily there was little wind and it was still warm. I told Vesna to take all the time she needed and just go one step at a time. She was a bit exhaused at this point but I feeling pretty good. My brother once told me that dating etiquette said that the guy should always descend stairs before a girl and ascend after. This way if the girl fell, the guy could stop her. Somehow, at 17,000+' on a hard snow/ice glacier, I don't think that fraternity rule held ;-) I didn't think having two people go sliding down the mountain was exactly a great idea. Luckily the descent happened without incident and we also ended up saving two near frozen butterflies. They had landed on the glacier above 17,000' and were so cold that they couldn't move I picked them up and we stored them in Vesna's shell pants pocket for release down at Piedra Grande. Near the bottom of the glacier, the clouds let up and then we rested in the rocks before heading down. We ended up getting back to Piedra Grande at around 5:00pm and learned that Bob had arrived about an hour before us. Then it was back to the Cancholas for dinner, a shower, and visiting the party in the Tlachichuca town square. Unfortunately by the time I had dinner and showered, the Internet cafe was closed so I wouldn't sign my summit log until I had returned to the States.
|5.1) Mexico City - Departure - December 2-3, 2002|
On the morning of the 2nd, we had breakfast and then bid farewell to the Cancholas. While we had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality it was time to go. I had suggested that we could have left the night before to climb Volcán Matlalcuéyetl (aka La Malinche) this day but it was voted down. Once we drove through El Seco and Acatzingo and got back on the 150-D it was smooth driving back to Mexico City. I had no problems crusing along the highway at 140 kph (< 90 mph) following the flow of traffic, however, eventually I was convinced to drive the speed limit at which time we were literally passed by every car on the road. When we made it to Mexico City, Vesna's navigation got us to the airport and then the Marriott hotel in relative ease (at least compared to our attempts to leave the city on our first night here). Bob and I had decided to stay at the Marriott since it would be more convenient to leave for the airport from the hotel and we could return the car a day early. The subway to the city was a bonus. After we returned the car to National Car Rental, we freshened up and the three of us headed down to the Zocalo. There was quite the celebration down there for Christmas. There were street vendors everywhere for all kinds of goods. Vesna and I picked up some grilled corn, tacos, blue corn with cilantro and other herbs, etc. At night, all these Christmas decorations came on at once which was just gorgeous. It was all uncommercial, unlike NYC and London, which made it even better. Bob had headed back early for some rest. Vesna and I then found an off-the-square coffee shop which took some doing but we had time before heading back to the square to look for some postcards. The postcard vendors had closed shop but we found a group of dancers doing native Aztec dancing. We got to see about 4-5 dances which was amazing and one of the highlights of the trip. By 10:00pm, we had made about 4 rounds of the square and things were winding down so we decided to head back. Vesna had planned on spending the night at the airport since she had an early flight out the next morning. We ended up talking until about 2:00am before I helped bring her bags over to the airport. Then I went to sleep.
In the morning, Bob and I headed into Mexico City to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Initially we got off at the wrong subway stop which cost us 2 pesos but our mistake led us to another tamale breakfast. Eventually we found the National Museum of Archeology which we enjoyed, however, we were not able to find the "Toltec Heads" which was Bob's primary reason for wanting to visit. We were slightly disappointed, but not overly so as the museum was filled with a host of other artifacts. Then we headed back to the hotel as we both had afternoon flights.
After I had checked in for my flight, I went to get a taco lunch at which time I ran into Vesna! I couldn't believe she was still at the airport. As it turned out, some guy in Chicago made a mistake with her visa and she wasn't allowed back into the US. We had lunch together and then went to American Airlines. By this time, most of it was already taken care of and I was just there for moral support. Eventually we did all get back, however, I'd have to say that getting stuck in a country isn't my idea of a fun time and it certainly wasn't fun back then.
Overall, as a walking tourist, we found Mexico City to be extremely safe, even carrying our tourist TNF, Lowe Alpine, and Black Diamond daypacks through crowded metro stations and the Zocalo.
I've been asked about gear we brought up Citlaltépetl a few times so I thought I'd list some of the gear that we brought and didn't bring. When we were there the conditions on the glacier were very good for hiking. Basically this meant: (1) no crevasses, and (2) a very stable and hard snowpack. There were some icy spots but they were manageable and there were usually a bit of snow to the sides for easier crampon travel.
The day we went up, there were 4 in our group and 3 others. All of us were unroped. Basically if you didn't fall, hiking to the summit is high snow walk. In some areas you had to walk over ice and in others there were reasonable steps cut into the snow from the previous hikers already. The snow was hard enough that I think it would have been difficult and time consuming to place pickets. If pickets were used, I'd recommend the kind with a sharp point that you can pound in. An example is the SMC or even the Yates pickets (though I haven't seen these at any stores to date). There were a few spots where screws could have been used but that would have been awkward given the very low angle of the ice we encountered. If you roped up and didn't use protection, I think it would just be asking for trouble as it would be reasonably hard to arrest a ropemate quickly on that slope. If you did try, the slope is low enough that you might just have to "throw" the pick into the snow and hope it stays. I'm not sure you'd have time to turn your feet, etc. and then you might get pulled off as well. We all had crampons and a mountaineering axe but no rope, harness, etc. Before the trip we all agreed that we'd go unroped and travel lighter to Mexico without rope, harnesses, or pro. Additionally, none of us brought, used, or missed helmets, which was our judgement call.
For roping up, my basic assessment was that if the group has reasonable experience with snow hiking, crampons, ice axe use, self-arrest, etc., I would highly recommend going unroped. As mentioned we did not encounter any crevasses and the route was fairly evident. If one or more members of the group group aren't that experienced, roping up and bringing pro is advisable. If one does fall on the glacier, I consider self-arrest to be mandatory to not getting injured as it's hard to say there's a safe run out. If you fall and don't arrest ... well, there are a lot of crosses on the mountain for a reason.
If you're curious, this is the gear I brought on summit day (starting from the bottom up):
As you can probably tell, this is "day-hiking" snow gear. When the sun came up, I stripped off my shell and fleece so I climbed in only the t-shirt and windshirt which was fine. It was warm enough that I pushed up the sleeves on my windshirt. I also removed my glove shells and windstopper hat. I left all my leg layers and unzipped the side-zips. I did wish I had some sort of nylon baseball cap or Sahara cap to block the sun while on the glaicer though. Conditions on the mountain have been much worse than I encountered and also much better (for skiing anyway) so always check the conditions for the gear that you're condisidering bringing up.
- Mountaineering boots: stiff soled leather boots
- GoreTex gaiters
- Synthetic long johns
- Nylon pants
- GoreTex shell pants with full side zips
- Synthetic t-shirt
- Marmot DriClime windshirt
- 300-weight fleece
- GoreTex shell jacket
- Ice axe: 70 cm
- Windstopper fleece gloves
- GoreTex glove shells
- Windstopper fleece hat
- ~3000 cubic inch pack (generally too large)
- Water (4.35 L - too much, used < 1.35 L)
Bob and I were on Diamox for most of the trip. Vesna chose not to use any. We had some discussions regarding whether using Diamox was "cheating." Bob mentioned that it's unclear that Diamox actually helps one's performance so I started calling it a placebo in jest. In any event, I used Diamox on Kili without problems and decided to use it on this trip to avoid disappointment since I don't get too many chances to go on international trips like this one. I used 125mg per day in the morning. I've told myself that if I ever visit a high mountain for the second time, I'll try it without the Diamox. Vesna said she suffered no ill effects from altitude but that she was affected by the food she had on the trip which began on the second night at Toluca. On Orizaba, some food issues resurfaced.
8) Driving in Mexico
The most challenging thing about driving in Mexico is to not get swindled by the police. It seems like getting conned out of money is common and happens to more than 70% of reported visits to Mexico for climbing the volcanoes (admitedly small sample study based on reading trip reports and talking to climbers). The first night in Mexico city we were stopped for allegedly running a red light when 30 other cars in a 4 lane turn were doing the same thing. We didn't try to bargain and were conned out of 500 pesos (US $50). When we were driving from Toluca to La Joya we passed through Mixquic where we were stopped for having too many bags and not being able to see through the rear view mirror. The cop charged us 800 pesos (US $80). This time we tried to bargain but he would have none of it. He told us that he'd take us down to the station and it would be 1000 pesos there. When we asked him for his name and badge number he came back and brandished his gun. Just great. In Mexico City, we talked to two people who were also conned but they said 200 pesos was the going rate. The Colorado guys we ran into at La Joya also paid 200 pesos. Overall, I think we got the short end of the stick but hey, it's hard to argue with someone with a gun.
It's essential to have a good street map in Mexico City. We bought one of those 200 page books which was indispensible.
The highways are relatively good which allowed for easy 140 kph driving while in small towns you have to be careful and drive slow as there are many one lane roads. Policia durmiendo (sleeping policemen), aka speed bumps and topes, are everywhere on the local roads in Mexico and many of them are unsigned but after running into countless speed bumps we eventually figured out that they exist at just about every road junction. The road over Paso de Cortés is unpaved but pretty decent. It's not nearly as bad as say the road up to White Mountain Peak.