I flew out if Minnesota on November 9th, a Wednesday, towards Mexico City. The flight was all right and I had my friend Otto with me. Otto had climbed Orizaba in 1998 or 99, and was along for the ride, but not particularly focused on summiting.
At the Mexico City airport we were picked up by Javier a driver that was previously arranged with Roberto “Oso”, by another friend Christopher. Christopher had been in Mexico for about 4 days and was staying in Puebla to acclimatize and had taken a hike to about 13000’ on La Melinche. We would meet him in Puebla and then go to Tlachichuca.
We arrived in Puebla around 8Pm and met with Christopher and picked him up. The drive from Puebla to Tlachichuca was a long one due to some traffic problems out of Puebla. Our transportation, however was a minivan and was very comfortable. We had space for our gear and leg room.
Javier took us to Tlachichuca, where we stayed at the Senor Joaquin (can’t remember his last name) hotel. Very nice place with a “home” atmosphere and very nice people, mainly Maribel , Sr. Joaquin’s daughter and apparent manager of the hotel. Very simple accommodations, but very good, warm shower. The restaurant is right there and they serve food and snacks, beer, and all that you may need, they had water for us and we bought some more water from a store next door.
Tlachichuca is a nice little village with nice people and from the Sr. Joaquin’s hotel we had an awesome view of El Pico de Orizaba.
There were more climbers in the hotel, a group from Canada, that was leaving the next day, and a group from California that had arrived and would head up to the hut on Thursday as well. We sat on the tables talked and ate some bread and drank tea. I was tired and decided to go to bed, we all did.
Next day, we needed some cash, and since in Tlachichuca there are no ATM machines, we took a cab to the neighboring Ciudad Serdan, where we got the cash and went back to town.
Thursday 10th , 2005
A nice thing about t his hotel is that we had transportation to and from the hut all organized by the Oso Expediciones, Oso himself was extremely helpful and really tried to accommodate everyone’s needs and requirements. Even though we had not hired them as guides (we did not have a guide for this climb) they were very helpful in arranging the transport and hotel for our group of three.
After coming back form Serdan we sat in the dining area, had breakfast with the California group and talked about the climb they did on Ixta to acclimatize for Orizaba. They said that the climb was not technically demanding, however it took them approximately 13 hours to complete it.
I told them that I had no acclimatization period whatsoever and had come directly from the “mountainous” Minnesota to Tlachichuca, which is at approximately 7000’, the day before. They seemed a little skeptic in my chances of pulling a summit on Orizaba, but didn’t say anything. We were very enthusiastic and cheerful with the views of the mountain and the atmosphere that we were in.
The first sight I had of Orizaba was on Wednesday night, and I “talked” to her to let go and play safely on her shoulders…she was kind.
At approximately 1130 ~ 1145 we took the transportation on four wheel drive vehicles to the hut. There were four of us on the truck, plus Sr. Joaquin, who was very interested in the fact that I am Brazilian and could potentially get him some videos of Brazilian girls dancing and samba music stuff, that was cool.
Along with us for the ride was a very cool couple from Texas, Amy and Gary, who had climbed Ixta and were going to attempt Orizaba.
The ride takes about 2 hours to get to the hut from the hotel and it is a rough ride. The roads are not in very good shape, but we were ok in the truck with our gear stored in the back where three other climbers from Mexico were sitting in the benches they had in the back of the truck.
We arrived at the hut at around 1400 and I went ahead and found a place to sleep, since we knew that there were plenty more climbers coming up that day from the city. The number of climbers at the hut that night was about 25 to 30. It was OK and the hut could accommodate everyone. The hut was better than I had imagined and the conditions were better than what I had seen described some other places. There are no toilets or water, there is well somewhere there, however it was safer and easier to bring water from the city. We took way too much water.
That afternoon we decided to climb up to the snow line and try to see the glacier. We walked up the trail that lead us to approximately where the snow line was, and there was a AAI group camped over there. It was approximately 445PM and we talked to the other climbers and acquired some beta on the route to follow to the summit.
There had been some changes on the route since they had snow a day before in the mountain and it was possible to bypass the labyrinth area and climb inside a gully that had a opening (approx 50 degree angle) to finally gain the glacier.
On our way there and back we saw some climbers coming down from their summit bids and one local guide told us that the snow conditions on the summit cone were somewhat deep , approximately 30 to 35 cm. in depth and that it was slushy in the sun. I talked to Christopher and Otto, that we should take advantage of the good weather and climb that night, on the morning of Friday 11th . I though it would be a good idea to start the climb early so that we could get better snow conditions, we agreed that an alpine start at 130 am would be OK for everyone. On the way to the snow line, Christopher had taken waypoints in the GPS because navigating in the boulder field that we had to climb and cross was confusing, since there were a number of trails that lead nowhere or lead to some bad terrain. Since we were going to do that at night, it was a good idea to take the points so that we could climb more efficiently.
We went back to the hut and cooked dinner, I made my mashed potatoes, I do not like to eat solid stuff before a climb, however I did eat some of Otto’s crackers. Christopher and Otto were trying more elaborate meals. We had tea and went to bed. We were feeling ok, Christopher had told me that the headache and lightheadedness that he had experienced earlier in the climb to the snow line were gone. I told him and Otto that I had diamox if they needed it. I was feeling OK, I took 2 aleve just in case and went to bed.
At around 1200am Christopher wakes me up, there some movement in the hut already, and told me he was not OK….
He said that he had a headache and he threw-up a lot, I thought to myself, sure signs of AMS, and gave him the diamox , he took one and threw-up and took another. He and Otto went outside of the hut where there was more air to breathe. Christopher said he would not climb, and Otto would then join him and stay behind.
I was there and decided I would solo the mountain and got ready…
At approximately 115 am a group from International Mountain Guides, and Oso (co-guiding) took of to their summit bid. I made some tea, squeezed a large bag of GU and got ready. It was not very cold and the night was amazingly clear, beautiful skies and stars.
I started to climb at 1:43 approximately, and headed up the boulder field, I could see the group that had started the climb, but soon lost view of them. After a while, after taking the wrong and steeper trail I saw the group just slightly below me..I thought ..”well I am moving fast..” Oso shouted that I was on a steep side and that I should veer to my left and find a trail, I did and pushed on. I did not have Christopher’s GPS coordinates or anything to guide me…
I climbed alone for the rest of the way with the IMG group behind me. I arrived at the AAI camp at the snow line almost after 1 hr and 45 min. of climbing, I had gained over 1000 feet per hour, I though I was doing ok for time. There the AAI group was getting ready for their climb and strapping crampons and harnesses. I did the same. After a few minutes the IMG group arrived and got ready too. I was on my way to the gully and the glacier. The groups stayed behind and I had the mountain to myself, since there was no one in front of me.
I took on the gully veering SW from the camp and pressed on , not really knowing where I was going but I could see that I had to go south some more and then exit the gully at an opening in the rock. I could see the “sarcofago” rock to my right, getting below me..
I gained the glacier, and remember that I had looked at a map on the hut’ wall, and I knew I had to go right and up. I turned my headlamp off and let my eyes get used to the darkness so that I could maybe see the shadow of the mountain and take a point and head to it.
I ended up going to the right SW too much and then went up. After I came back down to the hut later, I was told I was on a steeper side, but it worked well for me.
I aimed at a point in the darkness and pressed on, I was self-belaying since the angles were between 45 to 65 degrees and the snow was great, some icy sections but all right for the majority of the way.
I was feeling very strong and calm, I was feeling warm even though I was wearing only a soft shell bib, MW long underwear (top and bottom) and a soft shell jacket, light gloves, headwear. I was moving along fine, and I was surprised on how my body was taking the altitude change, since I did not have time to acclim, only hours of sleep in Tlachichuca. I acclimatize really fast and haven’t had trouble with AMS ever, but I was feeling really surprisingly well…
I decided that I was not going to stop and just kept on going. I remembered that my friend Isaac told me that I had to actually use my video camera and tape something, since I am known for not stopping and taping or taking photos…I decided I was going to stop at around 17000’ for that. But I got to 17K and it was still dark and the area was not good to stop, too steep, so I continued to about 17.5 or so. I stopped saw that the groups were way below me, and realized I was climbing really fast. I thought I would have sunlight at this altitude and point in the climb. I taped some words, changed gloves for mitts since my fingers were hurting with cold. Squeezed another GU packet and pressed on…
Next thing I know I was almost at the summit ridge, I stopped for a while waited for some more sunlight and taped some more, at this point I was very emotional for almost completing the climb and feeling very well. I taped my final approach on the rim and ridge to the summit and saw the sunrise from the 18.700’ of the summit.
The groups were a good 2.5 or 3 hours below me and I was standing by myself on the summit, it was an amazing experience…I thanked the mountain for letting me climb safely and took pictures….I started to head back, passed the groups on my way down..they were all roped up and moving slowly but surely to the summit.
I was back at the hut at around 845am approximately a little over 7 hours after starting the climb.
I met my group and they were feeling better and resting. I ate and rested after the climb.
It was a good time, I was told and for being my first solo climb I was extremely happy.
We went back to town that afternoon and then headed to Puebla. Next day on Saturday we climbed La Melinche a 14.600’ mountain and it was very good, but for the scree field to gain the ridge that leads to the summit. Otto deiced to stay lower and read. I was very happy that Christopher was able to get to the summit of Melinche , since I felt that he was disappointed with his performance on Orizaba…
I can definitely recommend Oso and Sr.Joaquin for climbing there and transportation, they were nice people and solid, honest climbers.
We left the rest of our gear on the hotel with Maribel and there was no problem. At the hut Oso had an assistant guy that took care of the gear I left behind.
Orizaba is a technically easy mountain to climb with sustained high angles but very small crevasses and moderate exposure, It was a very amicable mountain and I would recommend the climb to anyone. Besides the Mexican food is great !!!
Good work, and trip report! I'm flying down to climb Orizaba with Bill562 in a few weeks... great to have some recent pix to get a sense of the mountain... Feel free to let me know if you ever want to come climbing here in Colorado!
Good thorough report. We may have seen you on the mountain - we arrived at the hut about mid day on 11th, and summitted the day after. Then went on to La Malinche...almost an exact copy of your trip, just one day later
Great report, Rubens! I'll have mine up sometime soon for a different perspective of the same trip. Getting AMS really sucked, but the trip overall was a fantastic experience! And I just gotta say, for the record... you are an animal!