Dec 2016 Pico de Orizaba, Mexico TOO MANY "ALMOST" TRAGEDIES on Summit Day. Glad we used Orizaba Mountain Guides OMG
My family of 3 (husband, 15-year-old son, and I, a 54-year-old) summitted Orizaba in perfect weather on Dec 29, 2016 (so nice that we could sit and eat our lunch on the summit). We debated about hiring a guiding service, but were so glad we did based on what we saw happen to other people. While going down the glacier an experienced climber tumbled at least 100 feet and even flipped in the air. She would have slid off the mountain and been killed if her husband had not been able to run and tackle her to stop her. There was also an experienced Mexican climber, who had summitted Orizaba many times in the past, who had to be rescued because he could not get down. In addition to the many day hikers we saw going up the mountain without proper clothing or water, there was a group of young male Americans (with much better gear than ours and 1/2 our age) who followed our team on summit morning, then later followed another team, because they were not sure of the trail or even how to approach the mountain. They eventually turned around. This is why we HIGHLY recommend using a local, experienced guide to climb Orizaba, even if you yourself are experienced. We used Orizaba Mountain Guides OMG firstname.lastname@example.org
and were extremely happy with how knowledgeable, safe, professional, and organized everything was. We had considered using only their logistics to save money, but were glad we did the package, which included our fantastic, strong guides: Gibran Segura and Alfredo Perea. Hibran and Alfredo know the mountain like the backs of their hands and were able to guide us up and down in the safest manner possible, plus, they roped us to them (my son was with Alfredo, my husband and I to Hibran) all the way up and down the glacier. This was a tougher climb than we expected--extremely steep throughout, very lose dirt, scree, rocks, and ice at the beginning which you are negotiating in the dark; then a very steep glacier that took us 3 hours to climb to the summit. (We climbed Elbrus and felt that the Orizaba glacier was much steeper). The extra money to hire a guiding service is well worth it. With OMG we received 2 nights at their comfortable lodge before and after the climb, transportation to and from the public refuge, all meals and purified water, a really nice man who watched our gear while we were climbing, rental of crampons, ice axe, harness, helmet, ropes, and HIGHLY PROFESSIONAL, strong guides for an acclimitization hike and summit.
As for the refuge at the trail head (around 13,000 feet), it is awful--dirty and very loud with some climbers being courteous, while others are not. The wooden "bunks" are stacked 3 high and can hold over 36 sleepers (more if you squeeze together), and rock tables for cooking. In the 2 nights we were there we could not sleep. If we did it again, I would prefer a tent outside, although there were probably at least 15 set up when we left on Dec 29. The refuge has no water, so you have to bring your own
As for getting there, we rented a car from Mexico City (google maps said it would take 3 1/2 hours, but it took us 6 to get to San Miguel Zoapan, where OMG lodge is located). In the future we would take a bus (you can buy tickets in the Mexico City airport at terminal 1--round trip to Puebla is around $35 USD--then you can rent a car from there, hire a taxi, or arrange for Roberto Flores, OMG owner, to pick you up). We also looked into climbing with Summit Orizaba, who was very responsive and helpful; and Serivimont, who never returned an email.
Finally, if you have things you don't need after your climb, please give them to any of the workers, town people in San Miguel Zoapan or nearby towns. The people there are extremely poor and are very grateful for clothing, shoes, bookbags, almost anything that you can part with in almost any condition.
Elevation: 18,491 feet, the highest peak in Mexico. We recommend you do a couple of acclimitization hikes before you attempt a summit. It is the safe way to climb, plus it will be more enjoyable. We met many people who were flying from sea level and attempting a summit the following day. The were not successful, plus it is dangerous!
Here was our schedule:
Day 1 We live at 6000 feet, and flew to Mexico City which is around 7000 feet. We drove directly to San Miguel Zoapan the same day where we spent the night at 10,000 feet.
Day 2 Transport to the refuge at the base of the mountain (around 13,000 feet), hiked up and down for about 2 hours
Day 3 Hiked up to around 16,000 feet, including crampon use, around 4 hours total
Day 4 Woke at 1 am, ate, left at 2:15 am, arrived at summit at 9:30 am. Our son probably could have gotten all the way down in 2 hours but I am slow, so it took us was over 4 hours to get down, including a very bad fall I took near the end.