I bought a 38 peso bus ticket to Tlachichuca with AU, the only company that goes there. It was a 2 hour ride, and pretty packed. I got to the town around 4pm and went immediately to Sr. Reyes' hostel. I didn't have a reservation, and I hadn't contacted him at this point. I was hoping that someone in town would put me up for the night and would drive me to the base of the mountain the next day.
I met Sr. Reyes and he was a bit thrown off by his new surprise visitor. Climbing season was pretty much over by that point and he wasn't expecting any more visitors. I got a room for the night as well as round-trip ride to base camp for 1,400 pesos.
We left the following morning at 11am for base camp in Sr. Reyes' signature pickup truck. Since it was only me going up, I was able to sit shotgun. The road was in great condition and I never had to get out to push. About 2 hours later we got to the climbers hut.
Base of the mountainSince I was soloing, Sr. Reyes was especially concerned that I had enough gear and experience. My packed bag was 23L. He thought I was carrying way too little gear. I was planning on going fast and light and had some trouble expressing this to him. We talked strategy, and it turned out that we were on the same page: Day 1 acclimatize. Day 2 climb to high camp. 2am go to summit. Day 3 meet driver and descend to Tlachichuca.
He may have been a little concerned because I was the only one at the climbers hut, and the only one on the mountain. Finally, he left and wished me luck on the climb.
I went for a small hike to a ridge nearby and came back to drink some water and eat some food. About an hour after I returned to the hut, I heard a car pull up. It turned out that the Puebla State Police were doing some high altitude training that day. Well as soon as they saw me, it turned into high altitude picture taking and hanging out and asking questions about my "gringata gear" that was brightly colored and maybe a little too feminine for their tastes.
They hung out for a bit, wished me luck and took off.
Day 2 on the mountain
Around 2pm, it started to snow. I am from Wisconsin and I am used to hail, and I am especially used to snow. This was totally new to me. It was granular snow that was the size of hail but the density of snow. It was like lilliputian snowballs were pelting me. I tucked myself into the bivy sack and waited the storm out.
After a few hours I listened to the snow stop and poked my head out of the bag. Everything was covered in a fluffy coating of tiny granules of snow. The path that I was following was obscured, and there looked like there were now 100 different options to go up. I was treated to a fantastic sunset, as ate an energy bar and went to sleep.
Push for the summitAt 1:30 I woke up and started heating water. I had been abstaining from caffeine prior to the climb (especially difficult was coffee) so my adenosine receptors would be cleared out and ready to get jolted and respond to the flood of caffeine I was about to unleash. Well, having very little appetite combined with the muddy taste of instant coffee isn't a mix you want. I choked down the sludge and started upward with a slight buzz and more than a slight regret that I didn't bring tea instead.
Since my path through the labyrinth had been covered with snow, I was now free to follow whatever way I wanted. I knew I was going up, so it wasn't too hard to find my way.
There were a few sections of glacier/frozen stream that I came upon. A winter spent ice climbing frozen Wisconsin waterfalls had me prepped to go up these frozen sections instead of around them. Climbing 65-70 degree ice with a single mountaineering ax is a bit different than climbing with recurve ice tools, but its way more exciting!
Soon I found my way to the base of the glacier. I started going up the base of the steep summit cone and was greeted by several sections of gravelly rock where the snow had melted or blown away. It was more or less frozen together, so climbing it was still possible. I saw some rock out croppings above me and decided to stop and sit on the largest one and brew some more coffee and watch the sun rise.
I got to the rocks and sat down, ready to brew. I brought some matches in case the piezo starter failed on me. At that point, the matches failed on me too. I was unable to get the stove lit. That was just about the biggest emotionally crushing blow I have ever received. I just sat there, dehydrated and frustrated for half and hour debating whether or not to descend at that point. My water was a frozen slush and I could not make fire.
I did some serious reflection and decided to continue up. The last 1000' was climbing using sheer will power as fuel. My head was pounding and my mouth was pasty. I was way outside my comfort zone at that point. I came upon a crevasse and climbed over it.
By 8:30 I was on the summit ridge and continued it to the summit. I took some pictures and video and came down. The view was great, and I was surprised to see the band of grayish-purple pollution that dominated the lower part of the sky. The mountain was gorgeous in the sunlight. As I descended, I crossed paths with a group of Germans being guided by 2 Mexican guides. We exchanged hellos and I continued on my way. At that point it hit me that I was alone on the mountain until they arrived.
Shocking!I got off the glacier and to the labyrinth just as the clouds started rolling in. I kept my crampons on and sped through the rock sections as fast as possible. I did some down climbing in crampons that was both risky and exciting. I would recommend that everyone practice climbing rock with boots and crampons at some point. Its a great skill to have.
As I was walking along a ridge, my metal framed glacier glasses zapped me in the face and a second later I heard the report from a crack of thunder and then I smelled the distinct smell of ozone. I had my ax strapped to my back acting as a perfect lighting rod and my crampons were the perfect ground. I don't think that I could have been a better target if I had tried. I needed to stay near the ridge so I could get me bivy sac and sleeping bag, but I also wanted to live, so I down climbed into the gully next to me. Every time I got a zap in the face I dropped down and hugged the ground. This continued about 20 times until I found my bivy gear and I haphazardly rolled it up and strapped it to my back. I got down as quick as I could until I go to the aqueduct that I had followed up during my ascent to high camp. I made my way back to the climbers hut to see the truck waiting for me.
We made our way back down to Tlachichuca and I took a hot shower at Sr. Reyes' compound before getting on a bus to Puebla.
Lessons Learned-Soloing is lonely business. I don't think I will do it again. The mental stress is just too great
-If I do this mountain again, I am going to bring loads of friends: its more fun to share the experience, as well as the expense
-I will bring a feast to the climbers hut and we can pig out and get some calories before AMS sets in
-I will take more time to acclimatize. 2.5 days is just too short for me. I think a crew of 8 people at high camp could be fun and we could hang out for an extra day there
-I am going to bring a liquid fuel stove next time
-I will call Sr. Reyes in advance so he knows to expect me
-I will bring more cash so I can spend more time in Tlachichuca and buy goods at the market