For anyone who has done a basic mountaineering school in the Alps or the Cascades (or not!) and is looking for something that is the next level up but different than what they have already done, then come to Mexico and climb the 3 summits of Pico De Orizaba, Iztaccihuatl and La Malinche. At 5,600 meters, Orizaba is higher than anything in the Alps. It is the 3rd highest mountain in America - the other two (Denali and Mt Logan) are going to require an expensive expedition and advanced mountaineering skills and some serious conditioning.
Reasons to undertake this:
TEST YOUR HAND AT ALTITUDE. You have climbed in the Alps or Cascades in the ~4,000 meter range, but want to test your hand at altitude. Maybe you want to try Aconcagua or even something in the Himilayas one day. At 5,600 meters, this is the logical next step to prove yourself at altitude before taking the plunge on something higher.
SOMETHING TO TRAIN FOR. Need a reason to get to the gym every day for 2 months? The whole experience and preparation of this trip will leave you in the best shape of your life.
UNDERTAKE SOMETHING HARD. This is no waltz up the mountain. Prepare to feel the kind of push written about in Jon Krakauer books.
QUICK. For North Americans, there is no jet lag or time change. You land on Day 1 and are summiting the 1st of the 3 mountains on Day 2. When you eventually summit the last mountain (Orizaba), you are back in Mexico City that night and on a flight the next morning. You of course can chose to take more time if you want, but for those of us (Americans...) with only 2 weeks of PTO per year, it is great to be efficient with trips.
CHEAP. Flights to Mexico for Americans/Canadians are cheap and plentiful (you fly into Mexico City). Mexican flights, Mexican hotels, Mexican guides, Mexican food. This trip is THOUSANDS of dollars less expensive than the same kind adventure in the Washington State or the Alps, where things just cost more.
ADD-ONS/PLUSES. Lots of side trips to see ruins and other cultural landmarks. Food is authentic and amazing. We personally tagged on a 2-day decompress/relax/reward day in Cancun afterward.
Which tour group to go with?
Dont mess around with this, your safety and your experience are in the hands of your guide. I went with and recommend www.3summitsadventure.com.
There are others as well, but this was the best in my experience.
Peruse the website for packages. Send them. The founder will call you with in a day, and will talk (not email) anytime you need. His English is perfect (he is a Spaniard who has climbed his whole life but now runs this business in Mexico). HE, not some junior guide, will be your personal guide up and down the mountain. He will 100% customize the trip to you if you need something special, like an extra day inserted or removed. He doesnt just lead you up and down mountains - he takes you to street markets and locals restaurants and gives you a 24-hour climbing + mexico experience.
A little bit about the trip
I will let the www.3summitsadventure.com
and the rest of the internet give you the full run-down, but here is a summary of what you do, and what it feels like:
You will climb 3 Mexican Volcanos. The first two are GREAT climbs in their own right, but serve as acclimatization hikes for the Big Daddy - Orizaba. You have a really fun day of rest in between each of these, where you stay in the CUTEST boutique hotel in Puebla each time, where you spend your off day drinking beer in the park while eating as many calories of tacos, burritos and other street food as you can.
I had done 2 weeks of basic mountaineering school (not necessary for this but helpful), and this was 100% the next level I was looking for. It was these same skills (glacier travel, crampon work, ropes and harnesses, ice axe usage, etc), but now on a much longer, harder and higher climb than anything I had done before. Let me explain each of these:
Longer: You start both Orizaba and Izta at 1am in the morning. This is a REAL alpine start, like what is done in big Himalayan climbs. Was so cool to have to do it this way.
Harder: Volcanos... are shaped like volcanos. Which mean they go UP the whole way. No flats or down or breaks until you reach the summit. This is a new level of strenuous.
Higher: Your body responds very differently at 5,600 meters than it does at 4,000 or even 5,000 meters. Air is thin. You get cold. Your muscles behave differently. It is harder to sleep. These are all things you need to experience and learn if you are thinking that high-altitude mountaineering is for you. Try it here before you commit yourself to something bigger.
Dress for COLD. I know it is Mexico, but 5,600 meters is 5,600 meters. Storm shells, layers, top notch gloves, etc. Dont get caught off-guard on this.
This has wet my appetite for some of the big climbs around the world, but even if that is not your goal, you WILL come back from this changed for life. Things like getting up at 5am to workout or running half marathon on the weekend will no longer be hard or painful. Having to pull an all-nighter at work or get off a red-eye and be productive will be a measure easier. This is the kind of trip that leaves you tougher mentally and psychologically for the rest of what life throws at you.
I know this post is short - contact me ANYTIME if you have questions - daniel.m.davidson AT gmail.
This site is a little wonky, but if you want to check out pictures, click on the ALBUM on the left (also this link: http://www.summitpost.org/mexican-volancos-orizaba-izta-malinche/1009652