Pico de Orizaba in 3 days
A group of friends from Colorado decided to climb Pico de Orizaba (18,491'), the highest volcano in Mexico, at the end of March 2017. I got recommended a local company (Nómada) who can set us up with logistics and I have to admit we lucked out - they took care of everything and made the trip a huge success.
We left Denver on Friday afternoon (took only 1/2 day off), got to Mexico Intl' Airport at 11:30 PM. Nómada set us up with a van and drove us to Tlachichuca. We stayed at Canchola House and after breakfast, took jeeps (already waiting for us) to drive up the 4x4 road to Piedra Grande Hut Base Camp that is located at
an elevation of 4,270 m (14,010 ft).
It takes about 2 hours to get to the hut. There are usually a lot of people (especially during weekends) so you can imagine how loud it gets. We decided to pitch tents just outside of the hut for a better sleep since we wanted to summit the next day. We were ready to go on an acclimatization hike around noon. We walked up the trail to ~15,500 ft and returned back. Nómada had a dinner ready for us when we came back so it was quick to eat and go sleep early (between 6-7 PM).
We woke up at midnight, ate breakfast and started hiking at 1 AM. There were a couple of local people Nómada set up for us to watch our stuff (there has been a lot of stuff stolen previously so be careful about your stuff if you do this on your own) so nothing was lost when we got back. The first section is an easy walk up with a few rock steps. At about 15,500' you get to the labyrinth. There are a few ways to get up but also many wrong ways that lead you to a cliff so be careful - wand it out the day before or go with a local guide (as we did) who will pick the best way up based on conditions (there can be snow, ice or just bare rock). After you successfully navigate through the labyrinth, you finally get to the glacier. Time to put crampons and pull out ice ax. We got to the glacier just before dawn.
The glacier part is straight forward - there is usually a boot pack (or several of them) so just pick your way up. We went slightly to the right (less steep) because above 17,000' each step is so difficult :) We took it slowly to give the body a chance to get used to the altitude. Some other climbers around us walked much faster and later had to turn around due to acute altitude sickness. We reached the summit around 8:30 AM. The very summit was bare with no snow (wind blown) but the snow coverage was great the whole climb. The weather was perfect so hang out on the summit for an hour, watched Popocatepetl erupt in the distance (see photo) and ate our lunch.
The descend was pretty easy (trekking poles were useful to unload the impact from the knees). Our guide picked a shortcut through the labyrinth so we saved some time and got back to the hut at 12:30 PM (with a warm lunch waiting for us). After packing up our tents and loading up the jeeps, we drove back to Tlachichuca, reloaded stuff to our van and drove back to Mexico City. After a nice shower, we went out to celebrate with our guides - they took us to some amazing local places to eat (I can't even describe how delicious and authentic the food was and cost next to nothing) and have a few drinks. If some locals take you, you get to eat and drink for the actual prices (not the adjusted ones for tourists) so we didn't spend much and ate and drank like kings & queens.
We took the 5:30 AM flight back to Denver and still got it 1/2 day of work in on Monday. It was a great long weekend and I highly recommend everyone to climb this peak! It is not really that technical (you just need to know how to walk in crampons and how to use an ice ax). If you fell on the glacier, I doubt you would slide far.
If you are a beginner, I highly recommend to use a local company (they walk you through everything and make sure you get down safe). If you want to self-guide it, it's fairly straight forward (use a GPX through the labyrinth or follow another group) but I recommend setting up logistics prior to your arrival (as we did). There is a bus going to Tlachichuca and you can pay for the 4x4 jeep ride up to the hut but after doing the math, it was cheaper for us to use a local company and get picked up from the airport, set up with all the logistics and get dropped off at the airport at the end (they also have better prices than if you try to set it up from US).
Other mountains to climb in the area
If you have an extra day, definitely add Iztaccíhuatl to your trip. This is the 3rd highest volcano (17,159') in Mexico and you can tag it on the way to Mexico City. It is one of the most scenic mountains I have ever climbed and you get to see a volcano erupt only a few miles away (Popocatepetl is on the same ridge).
Another very scenic mountain is Nevado de Toluca (15,354') that is located ~ 2 hours SW of Mexico City. Very easy and beautiful volcano to climb!
Local company we used:
Nómada (Mexican Travel and Adventure)
+52 55-4582- 2543
+52 55-4493- 6432