Pico de Orizaba 24DEC12-1Jan13VIDEO: Raw footage of my acclimatization climb two days before summit day in the scree and labyrinth.
This trip started out interesting with having my credit card info stolen a day before flying to MX, but luckily this whole trip totaled less than $700 USD! Then I learned at the ticket counter that American Airlines has an embargo (through February I think) that only allows one checked bag per customer, no exceptions or option to pay extra for another bag. Luckily I had family in the airport with a carry-on size bag that left me needing to leave my ice axe and sleeping pad behind and using a grocery bag as a second carry-on. Flights from DFW to Puebla are efficient and cut out an extra bus leg between there and Mexico city, however the cab from the airport to the CAPU bus station is farther than you would think and equivalent to about $25 USD. CAPU bus station is also orderly. Tickets to Tlachichuca can be purchased at the "AU" counter near the main entrance to the station for less than $10 USD. The bus trip lasts about two hours with periodic stops for pickups, drop-offs, and occasional food vendors entering the bus to sell snacks and drinks.
Hotel Puebla Plaza is relatively cheap (less than $45 USD/night) and had everything a traveler needs. They give you two bottled waters per room and are very clean. The hot water does work, but takes quite a while to produce. The area is perfect for walking around, near the city square, and surrounded by great places to find local cuisine. Speaking of getting around, you really need to get a translation book or app for your phone if you expect to thrive this far into MX since very few people speak english (if you don't already habla the espanol).
Upon arriving to the hotel (which can be reserved at SummitOrizaba.com), the Cancholas family makes you feel right at home. Maribel speaks fair english, but you earn brownie points for trying to stick to spanish. She runs most of the show there and is extremely helpful and sweet. Breakfast is usually served between 8-10am and dinner sometime around 7pm. Lunch is on your own and can be found anywhere in Tlachichuca by walking less than a few minutes in any direction. We liked Casa Blanca on a corner in the city square and random vendors for fish tacos and fresh fruit. The rooms at the hotel might be chilly at times, but the blankets are more than thick enough to make up for it. There are three bathrooms with showers on the first level which are kept pretty clean. The hotel staff can also supply you with fuel and water, which I actually preferred to buy from the corner store a few hundred feet away. A note for security at the hotel… Although there are no locks on the doors, the main entrance to the hotel is always locked and all room entrances are clearly visible from the courtyard. Gear and personal safety are solid. And like other posts have mentioned, the roof is a great place to lay out gear and get views of the mountain.
There's also a great place for a light hike on the edge of town. The ridge line is the closest one to town and you can't go wrong if you walk to the closer end of it and start heading up. The stairs end at a shrine, but the trail picks up to the side of it and continues up the ridge. Wear long pants or risk serious scratches from the brush! Take your camera everywhere here!
If you're sitting in Tlachichuca and trying to figure out where the "Normal Route" is, stop straining your eyes b/c it's over and around the left edge of the mountain as you face it. I started taking Diamox the day before going up. Joaquin drove us in a huge red 4x4 for the 1.5-2 hr bumpy/dusty ride to the Pierre Grande hut at 13,900 ft on 27DEC12. Dasha & Lilia (the Belarus bombshells) summited on the 27th. It's clear that the quick ascent affects perceived effort from the start, so take it easy the first day. And although the altitude can be felt right away, prepare for a headache to creep on you as the night nears if you're not already acclimated before hand. I didn't sleep a wink that night until I took Z-Quil at 0600 the next morning and got about 2 hrs. On the 28th, I went for a training climb up through the scree and to the top of the labyrinth. As warned, the labyrinth is named so for a reason. As if that weren't enough, the snow that should have been there was replaced by rock solid ice. Also worth mentioning is that the advertised inclines of the route are a bit misleading. Although the average pitch might me ~ 45 degrees, you might find short stretches of up to 65 degrees depending on which line you take (there are ENDLESS options). Although most people were sticking to the boulder lines through the labyrinth, the ice provided a speedy ascent through the maze of boulders. Ice axes (standard mountaineering) were useless here as they could gain no purchase and the pitch wasn't steep enough to warrant it, so trekking poles did the trick for balancing while front pointing, flat-footing the descent, or traversing to alternate lines. Nobody summited on the 28th… That night I moved to the small yellow quonset hut about 200 ft up from the Pierre Grande hut with Ally, Shelly, and Dave. It fits four people and tons of gear comfortably but could potentially sleep up to eight. You'll want to bring ear plugs to avoid being woken by others and by the sound of mice crawling around you. Secure your food as they'll chew through almost anything if they can smell the food.
Duane & Lisa summited on the 29th and did great. By this point, it seemed like everyone's summit day was averaging ~ 13 hrs from Pierre Grande and back. I reserved the 29th for rest so that I could go to bed early and wake up at midnight and be on the mountain by 0100. With no sleep aid left, sleep evaded everyone but Dave that night. In addition to taking Diamox, I would suggest bringing lots of Tylenol since Aspirin can interact negatively with the Diamox. Dave, Shelly, and Ally got a head start at 0100 and I shuffled off at 0120 after finalizing some gear alterations. Of note, keep your camera batteries in your sleeping bag if you expect them to work. The cold eventually zapped my GoPro batteries and rendered it useless on summit day. Climbing here with a full moon was great although a good headlamp is recommended until you get to the glacier. I reached the top of the labyrinth in three hours after scrambling through the scree and sticking to the ice again. Rock solid crampons will save you through the labyrinth! Beware though, as the wind usually picks up right after leaving the labyrinth for the relatively obstacle free glacier. After that, the glacier is straight forward. I didn't follow any of the flags or the trenched route, opting instead to attack directly with a few switchbacks. Some crampon spike tracks could be spotted in the hardpack in the lower portion that was interspersed with occasional patches of hard crust/ice. Farther up the snow softened in some areas and was frustratingly soft in others, making the stepping exhausting. In hindsight, the trenched track to the right would have been the better option here as I found nicely kicked steps on my return from the summit. If you go directly up the face of the glacier, be prepared to be fooled by false summits as they appear as higher points of the crater rim as each successive one is crested. You'll know it's the finish line when you see the crosses. I summited first and alone at 0830 and opted not to linger as the winds were ~ 30 mph and made inactivity chilly. Plus I was hungry and not about to stop for anything until returning to the base of the glacier and finding cover. In all, 6:50 up to the summit and 3:20 down to Pierre Grande by 1150, in time to recover a little before Joaquin arrived to drive us back to town. After three nights of less than five hours of sleep total, I fell asleep three times on the ride to Tlachichuca regardless of the rollercoaster road.
Joaquin and I celebrated with swigs of tequila from a bottle that he brought up to camp for me from town the day before I climbed and we all showered up. Once again, the family made is feel right at home and invited us to another Christmas party for hot drinks, soup, and snacks while the kids had fun with firecrackers. Ok, I lit a sparkler too…
My biggest take away here was wondering why this mountain is not treated like most others its size as it applies to acclimatization routines. Most people that turned back did so either after only one night at Pierre Grande or upon experiencing the icy conditions in the labyrinth. I would definitely either recommend doing the other classic acclimatization climbs in the region prior to arriving here or spending more time in Tlachichuca (8,200 ft) and at Pierre Grande (13,900 ft) if you're coming from sea level. I live in TX at 2,000 ft. I spent three days at 8,200 ft and another three days at 13,900 ft plus an acclimatization climb to almost 16k and still felt the altitude. Slow and steady wins the race!
WEATHER CONDITIONS: Spot on at "Mountain Forecast" for the differing elevations of Pico de Orizaba: http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Pico-de-Orizaba/forecasts/4000
Itinerary & Cost:
24DEC12 - Flew from DFW to Puebla Airport
- Taxi from Puebla Airport to Hotel Puebla Plaza downtown Puebla ($260 pesos)
- Night at Hotel Puebla Plaza ($450 pesos)
25DEC12 - Taxi from Hotel Puebla Plaza to CAPU bus station ($60 pesos)
- Bus from CAPU station to Tlachichuca ($60 pesos)
- Night at SummitOrizaba Hotel
26DEC12 - Relaxation at Hotel Puebla Plaza
- Training hike in Tlachichuca
27DEC12 - Porter to Pierre Grande hut
- Night at Pierre Grande
28DEC12 - Acclimatization climb to the top of the labyrinth
- Night at Pierre Grande hut
29DEC12 - Rest at Pierre Grande hut
30DEC12 - SUMMIT PUSH!
31DEC12 - Bus from Tlachichuca to CAPU station ($80 pesos)
- Taxi from CAPU station to Hotel Puebla Plaza ($70 pesos)
- Night at Hotel Puebla Plaza ($450 pesos)
01JAN13 - Taxi from Hotel Puebla Plaza to Puebla Airport ($80 pesos)
- Flight from Puebla Airport to DFW
*** Hotel stay in Tlachichuca with SummitOrizaba plus daily breakfast/lunch, sleeping pad/ice axe rental, and porter service = $2800 pesos***
***Flights prices not included due to variability***
If I didn't get your contact info from the trip, hit me up so I can share pictures with you and maybe we can climb in the future.