In 2003, we turned back around 17,700 feet on Orizaba due to high winds so I had this peak penciled in for 2004. Mike and Rod were equally up to the challenge (Mike was with me last year when we had to turn around).
I work for Alaska Airlines so to take advantage of the flight benefits, we decided to fly into Guadalajara. Unfortunately, Alaska does not fly into Mexico City.
Day 1 (2/16/04)
We arrived in Guadalajara (elevation around 5000 ft) at 5pm. We were taking an overnight bus to Mexico City so we had some time to kill. We wanted to go ahead and buy our bus tickets so we headed to La Nueva Central Camionera (the new bus station) via taxi. This taxi ride cost us 150 pesos.
At the bus station, we chose the Lujo (luxury) bus line ETN for 11 pm. For 530 pesos, you get to travel in luxury with seat backs that almost lays horizontal, foot rests that drops down from the seat in front of you, a movie (usually american), and some snacks. The trip takes 7 hours to Mexico City and all ETN luxury buses have only a single seats on left side and 2 seats on the right side. Considering we will be sleeping in huts or slum hotels during most of our trip, I had no problem dishing out the pesos for this last little luxury!! This is the way to travel through Mexico. Muy bien!!
We still had several hours before our departure so we hopped into a taxi and headed for El Centro, Tlaquepaque. What's nice about all the major bus stations in Mexico is that there's always a place to store your "equipaje" or luggage for a small cost.
Tlaquepaque is a nice little suburb of Guadalajara. After hanging out for few hours visiting the El Centro and visiting the local eatery, we headed back to the bus station.
We boarded the bus and soon thereafter, I fell asleep. I slept ok considering the roads in Mexico are horrible (lots of bumps) and the constant stopping (either to pay tolls, change drivers, etc). But regardless, we were in Terminal del Norte bus station in Mexico City at 6 am.
Day 2 (2/17/04)
From Norte, we had to transfer to TAPO bus station to catch our bus to Amecameca. We headed for Metro with our big backpacks and duffel bags. We were a sight to see!
Throughout my research, I've read that you will not be allowed on the METRO carrying big bags. I even saw a sign at the METRO station showing the size limit of bags. This was a cause for concern before the trip. I sure didn't want to pay 100-200 pesos for a taxi when you can pay 2 pesos for METRO!!Well, either they don't reinforce this requirement or the lady at the coin booth (as well as police) don't care, because no one questioned us.
We promptly got to TAPO and purchased our bus ticket to the town of Amecameca (we used the bus line "Volcanes").
We arrived in Amecameca (elevation around 8000 ft) around 10 am and checked into Hotel San Carlos. It seemed like most westerners stay at this hotel, if staying in town (??). We purchased the permit (permit office is sandwiched between the hotel building and the town church) and we were ready to go!
The hotel arranged for us our driver, Jaime. He seems to work exclusively with this hotel and and we were able to negotiate a fair price (or maybe not!). For 300 pesos, he was to take us up to Paso de Cortez (around 12,000 ft), wait 2 hours while we run around for active acclimitization, and drive us back to the hotel. We talked to other taxi drivers (how can you not? They are everywhere, anxious to take you up the mountain!) but the going rate seemed to be 350 - 450 pesos for a group of 3 so I think we did ok. Our trip to Paso de Cortez worked out well. We were able to stretch our legs and work our lungs a little bit. The mountains (Izta and Popo) looked mighty impressive and we left Paso de Cortez anxious for what tomorrow would bring us.
Back in town, we made final preparations like buying water, food (pan is my favorite), and white gas (at the paint store across from the town bus station). We ate dinner and turned in early as we were meeting Jaime at 8am for ride up to La Joya.
Oh I forgot to mention that Hotel San Carlos is a dump with no hot water but it had two beds and cost only 190 pesos for 3 people. Its adequate.
Day 3 (2/18/04)
We left our extra gear at Hotel San Carlos, met Jaime promptly at 8am, and he took us up to La Joya. We gave him 300 pesos for the ride up and we agreed on him picking us up at 2:30 pm on the following day.
On the way up, Jaime mentioned that rather than coming back to Amecameca and taking multiple buses to Puebla (where we had planned to stay one night after our climb on Izta), he can just drop over the other side of the pass and drop us off at San Nicolas where we can take a collectivo bus to Cholula and on to Puebla. This idea sounded good and would actually save us few hours of bus travelling so we agreed to it (not knowing this would actually cost us a little more money).
On Izta, we planned on the Ayoloco Glacier route.
Read my "Additional Post" on Izta - Glacier de Ayoloco - Approach.
We carried all of our water for one night stay at the hut. My friend Rod was carrying something like 10 liters of water. I was carrying 8. Needless to say, our packs were very heavy. Regardless, the approach was fairly easy and enjoyable. Thoughts about being away from work, strolling along a beautiful mountainside in a foreign country, and thoughts of tomorrow's summit day eased our pain of carrying heavy packs!
We arrived at the hut around 4pm and leisurely started our preparation for the following morning. We all felt good and strong. No affects of altitude at all. Coming from Seattle (elevation 0), we were little anxious about how we would feel sleeping at 15200 ft on only our 3rd day but I really felt like our venture up to Paso de Cortez the day before helped us tramendously. There was no one else at the hut so we spread out and turned in for the night.
Day 4 (2/19/04)
I may have slept 1 hour the entire night but I'm always amazed at what adrenaline can do. Mike did not sleep well either but Rod seemed to get few hours of zzzzzz....... We started out of camp at 3:30 am. Still feeling good and not having any problems with altitude! The day before, we scoped out the route and decided to stay to the left to avoid the overhanging ice cliffs from the glacier. After couple of hours of meandering through different gulleys, ice patches, etc we were at the top of the glacier joining the normal route. We had skirted enough to the left that we barely stepped foot on the glacier. When we did step foot on the glacier near the top, it was only for about 100 feet and we didn't even use crampons.
After a short break, we headed out towards our ultimate goal and arrived at the summit at 7:15 am. From the hut to the summit took us 3 hr 45 min.
Here I pose a question. We stopped at the first rise on the ridge on "El Pecho" where there was a cross. At the time, we thought this was the true summit but looking back, I think we were wrong. Isn't the true summit all the way across the "El Pecho" on the other side? Regardless, we hit the "El Pecho" and can consider this climb a success (but I'm still curious). We were back at the hut by 10 am. Hike back to La Joya was uneventful and very quick. We were there at 2 pm and Jaime was already waiting for us (since 1 pm he says).
As agreed the previous day, Jaime picked up our extra gear we left behind at Hotel San Carlos and we were heading towards San Nicolas (heading east over the pass). To keep things short, this trip was no fun! Tired from the climb and hungry, stuck in a small van for 2 hours on a bumpy dirt road is enough to make anyone go crazy. San Nicolas is a really small town about 15 miles from Cholula. In San Nicolas, we bid our farewell to Jaime (we negotiated on 300 pesos for his trip up to La Joya and 300 more for taking us over the pass). Then we transferred vans and headed to Cholula (100 pesos). After an eventful ride to Cholula, we caught a city bus to Puebla (I say eventful because I was for sure we were going to get in an accident the way this new driver was driving!).
In city center of Puebla we found an another dump hotel where the toilet seat was missing (but they did have hot shower this time) and the room floor was not swept up in a month. It did have couple of beds and again, it was cheap - 200 pesos.
We did enjoy a nice dinner but too tired from the climb and our travels back to civilization, we crashed early again. Did not get much opportunity to see the town except from the bus so maybe that's an excuse to go back to Mexico in 2005.
Day 5 (2/20/04)
We got up really early and made it to CAPU (Puebla's main bus station) at 6:30am. We caught a 7am bus to Tlachichuca and promptly knocked on Dr. Reyes's compound at 9am. Again, we were here last year so after exchange of greetings, we sat down for their excellent breakfast!
We headed out for Piedra Grande at 11am in their Dodge Power Jeep. Last year, this drive was fun because it was something new and exciting. This year, the novelty had worn off and I couldn't wait to get off the jeep! After couple of hours, we were at Piedra Grande. We were told that a group of 13 local mexicans with 3 guides were staying at the hut and had occupied one side of the hut. So we chose the other. Soon thereafter, a group of 5 (4 germans and 1 mexican guide) showed up. Needless to say, we had a packed house. Everyone was nice and some spoke enough english that we were able to communicate pretty well. It was a good night amongst good company. We had planned to leave at 2 am the following day so we turned in early to catch some sleep..... so I thought.... when around 9:30, several local climbers stumbled in making all kids of noise. We were forced to resituate as they squeezed in next to me with their sleepin bag and pad. I could not get back to sleep at all after that. This ticked me off a little...but what can you do?
Day 6 (2/21/04) Summit Day!
We left at 2am and the weather was clear and calm. We made good progress through the lower sections and through the rocks and we were on the glacier by 5:30am. The sun had not come up when we put our crampons on and we headed onto the glacier. Again, all of us were feeling good about our chances. Still no strong wind that turned us around last year. I could just smell the summit! The snow condition on the glacier was good, thanks to the big storm of couple of weeks ago. We chose not to rope up since there is hardly any crevasse danger. It gets fairly steep at the top but we all felt pretty comfortable unroped. We eventually reached the crater rim at 8am and the true summit at 8:48am.
We finally did it! I was finally standing next to that big metal junk that I saw so many times on summitpost ! A quick call to Dr. Reyes on his radio to notifiy that we had reached the summit (and equally as important, to pick us up today so we wouldn't have to spend an another night in the hut !). We took a little rest just off the summit at a protected site (the wind at the summit was strong enough that it was bothersome) and snacked a little. We carefully started our descent and was back at the hut around 1:30 pm.
Our driver helped load our gear in the truck and we were off to Tlachichuca for good food, hot shower, and muchas cervezas para mi amigos!! After dinner, we hit the town for a little celebration.
Day 7 (2/22/04)
Since we finished our climb a day earlier (originally, we had set aside one more day for extra summit attempt), we had decided to get to Mexico City and do some sight seeing. This time, we were able to get a direct bus from Puebla (CAPU) to Autobuses del Norte. From Norte, we left our heavy packs at the storage and boarded a bus to Teotihuacan (Mike and I had been there before but Rod hadn't, and we didn't mind at all). For dinner, we went to the Mariachi square at the Garibaldi district where good mariachi music, food, cigar, beer, and taquila flowed freely.
Before Mike and Rod got too hammered, we headed back to Norte for our midnight luxury bus back to Guadalajara, again very good.
Day 8 (2/23/04)
We arrived in Guadalajara at 6am and we hired a taxi to our hotel (Presidente Intercontinental). While Mike and Rod were off to sight see in and around Guadalajara (El Centro, Lake Chapala, etc), I was just happy to take a nap and lay by the pool. Several of my co-workers were staying there for some R&R so I joined them for my much needed R&R.
Day 9 (2/24/04)
Well, unfortunately, we all have to go home sometime. My family (wife and 2 kids) and job was waiting for me back home. Mike and Rod were equally anxious to get back to their lives (though if we didn't have family or work commitments, we would have stayed for couple of months!).
Overall, this trip was a complete success. All of the planning done in the states worked to near perfection. It certainly helped that we could speak little Spanish to communicate or ask directions. This helped to add to the overall "Mexico experience".
Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm already starting to put together our next international trip....Ecuador! If anyone has helpful info on non-guided trip to Ecuador's volcanoes, please contact me.