Pico de OrizabaPico de Orizaba is the third highest mountain in North America, behind Denali in Alaska and Mount Logan in Canada. It rises 5,636 meters (18,490 feet) above sea level. It is located approximately 5 hours (by bus, with one transfer) of Mexico City.
During the dry season from October-March, one can usually drive to the Piedra Grande base camp at 4000m (~14000ft) in a decent 2wd truck/SUV or 4wd vehicle. We saw a old VW Bug have no problems on the way up, a 2wd SUV get stuck in the sand, but we were in a old, slow army transport truck that had no problems.
Many people contract out the transportation to the Piedra Grande area. The main launching point is Tlachichuca, but there are other less popular options available that won't be detailed here. We went went with Servimont run by the Reyes family. In addition to transportation, they provided 2 nights of lodging, 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, and advice on the climb and our final days in Mexico City. All stellar.
Because we (BostonPete and I) were going from sea level (Me from Michigan and Peter from Boston) to ~4000m, we were taking Diamox to help with the acclimatization. We had wildly differing prescriptions: his was 250mg before bed, mine was 250mg every eight hours. I think one was for prevention, while one was for treatment.
Getting ThereWe arrived on the afternoon of the 26th at Terminal 2 of the Mexico City Airport. From there we hit up the ATM, transferred on the AeroTren to Terminal 1, and caught the bus to Puebla. This was a first class bus where they showed an English movie with Spanish subtitles (Another Stakeout.
Only when we arrived in Puebla did we realized that we should gotten a bus to CAPU, in Puebla. We had a 10 minute taxi ride from the Puebla station to CAPU, where we connected on a bus to Tlachichuca. Minor, but annoying.
From there we took an Au bus to Tlachichuca, departing from the #8 door. The Tlachichuca writing in black below the #8 had warn off, leading to some confusion, which leads into a very important point about speaking the native language of the people of a country. If you ask a question in Spanish, be prepare to understand the response in Spanish. After 7 years of not studying or using my highschool Spanish training, I had a hard time understand the responses, so we probably would have been better off just finding the English speakers.
We arrived at the Reyes compound at about 9pm, had dinner and went off to bed after a long day of travel.
Base CampOn the 27th we took a old army truck with room for 10 in the back with their gear on the roof rack to the Piedra Grande hut.
At the Piedra Grande camp, there is a supply of water, but we decided it would be easier and safer to buy a 20L office water cooler sized jug in town. This turned out to be slightly less than enough (we had to get some from someone who was leaving) for two people for 4 days, so I would recommend supplementing it with a 5L bottle or two or even another 20L one.
We didn't do anything that day except setup the tent and fall asleep. Before hand we decided to go with the tent because of stories we heard about how loud the large hut could be. When we were there, the smaller 6/9 person hut was in disrepair with a hole in the roof, but could still be slept in with good weather and set of earplugs.
Tonight was the only day of major headaches for Peter, and I had a minor headache. Also began the nearly hourly need to pee. The views at night are very nice with clear skies and bright stars and moon.
On the 28th, we took a short hike down ~500ft and came back up, followed by a short hike up about 500ft. As we were returning, the descending climbers and others were spreading the word that a woman had fallen and hit her head pretty bad. Stories ranged from "she's walking down" to "she fell 150 meters and is being carried down". Around 4pm a group of about 15 walked by our tent carrying her down in an improvised litter of a sleeping bag and rope. Scary stuff. We believe she was part of the group that seemed to be trying on their crampons for the first time the night before. We hit the hay early again tonight because we had nothing to do without light. Remember your playing cards or a new book to read.
On the 29th, we went up about 1.5 hours until we reached the campsites above the first section of climbing. I'm not really sure what the altitude of these were because my altimeter was screwy and I doubt they were the campsites at 4900m(16000ft) on the map in the guidebook.
We got back to camp, boiled water and relaxed. Food wise we had brought dehydrated meals to eat, but found that Nick (a fellow climber who stayed with us in Tlachichuca and came up with us in the truck) had bought quite a few delicious sandwiches in town. In exchange for some hot water later that night (he had no stove), we had some delicious sandwiches to eat. I recommend going that way, because the dehydrated meals are only taste palatable for one or two meals.
Summit Day!We awoke at 12 midnight and got started at 1am after eating some instant oatmeal, being the first out of the base camp. We don't think anyone else started until at least 2am.
I had 2 1L nalgenes in insulating parkas along with a 50oz "winter" camelbak bladder with a neoprene sleeve around the hose. Even after blowing back into the bladder after sipping, it still froze after about 2 hours. Peter had two uninsulated 1L nalgenes and a ~2L plastic bottle you might buy in a store.
At times we were able to climb by the moonlight. It did lead to some minor "why did we go this way?" moments, but I think it was worth it. I won't detail the route here because of how many different ways there are to go, but as long as you follow a beaten path (worn stone/dirt or crampon points) and don't get in over your head and mostly head "up", you'll be fine.
When discussing the route with Senor Reyes, he mentioned that climbers should stay to the far right on the final long glacier climb. A combination of the darkness and the false summit to the left, we ended up on the left side of the top of the glacier. This is a great place to be if it weren't for the two demoralizing false summits that you run into on the way to the true summit. :)
We made it to the summit at about 9am and only stayed there a few minutes because Peter had a gnarly cough going on (not HAPE). My knees hurt quite a bit on the descent (glissading would have been asking for trouble), so we took that slow and got back to camp at about 2pm. Senor Reyes picked us up and took us back to Tlachichuca to clean up, eat, and sleep.
The next day our adventure continued to Mexico City, but nothing really exciting happened, though the Best Western Hotel Majestic had great views of the Zocolo. It wasn't really the highest quality hotel though.
Wrapup and notes and gearWhat I would do differently:
- Take longer to acclimatize by hiking up gradually instead of taking a truck to 14000ft. Senor Reyes' people would probably be able to drop off some water at Piedra Grande so you don't have to lug it all the way there. Some guys from Texas did just that. They arrived at Tlachichuca on the same day we did and some of them were able to summit on the same day we did after going up slowly.
- Bring more water to base camp
- Bring better food (sandwiches!) to base camp
- Boil water the morning of the summit, not the night before. Maybe making a high camp/bivy would make this easier.
- Start later (or climb slower) so there is more glacier climbing when you can see better.
What I wore on summit day:
- polyester short sleeve base layer
- smartwool longsleeve shirt
- softshell jacket (MH Alchemy)
- Hardshell jacket in various states of unzipped (North Face Alpine)
- Down jacket with hood at rests and last part of glacier (MH SubZero)
- Soft shell pants (Patagucci Guide pants)
- 200w Fleece, full zips pants, in various states of unzipped (REI Muir Woods)
- Windproof, full zip pants, last part of glacier (Marmot Oracle)
- Liner + smartwool socks
- Leather mountaineering boots (La Sportiva Makalus)
I wasn't cold (except as mentioned below)
- Peter wore trail runners to ~15500 ft, then changed over to Koflach Arctis Expes when we reach the part that required crampons.
- My crampons are semi-automatic BD Sabretooth Clips (heal lever, but just a strap for the toe). I think this compressed the toebox on my boots a little too much because my toes got pretty cold, but that relented when I loosened them a little on the summit.
- Pictures can be found here:http://picasaweb.google.com/wrigleyd/Mexico20071226thru200811