Getting HAPE on Orizaba

Getting HAPE on Orizaba

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 24, 2009
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Winter

Getting There

The first day of the trip was spent on various aircraft for about six hours, and eventually meeting up with Roberto Flores (Oso) at the Mexico City Airport. Wow Mexico City is huge! Another four hours in the car and we reached the town of Tlachichuca. Driving through the gorgeous Mexican country side on the way towards Puebla, Izta and Popo can be seen. These were, at the time, the two largest mountains I had ever seen in my life, and they made a big impression on me. The sunset over these two peaks reminded me why I was there in the first place, the beauty of it all.

Impressions of Tlachichuca

Our first night in Tlachichuca was spent unloading our duffel bags into our rooms, and eating a delicious supper made by Maribel and Lupita. They are both amazing cooks, and I thoroughly enjoyed their meals while we were there. The rooms were very nice, and it was a luxury, compared to the hut, to have a hot shower and a real bed to sleep in after the climb.
Sunset in Tlachichuca

Day Two

My second day in Mexico started by sleeping in nice and late which seems to be the norm down there. At around noon Rut came over to the Canchola Limon’s to check my gear. When everything was in order, we hopped into an old pickup and headed up towards Piedra Grande. There were six of us in the group at this time; Alfredo, Javier, Rut, Gabe, Philip, and myself. After about two hours of winding up a dusty road, we arrived at Piedra Grande. The Refugio is like nothing I have ever been in before while climbing.
Piedra Grande

It was very basic, wood platforms for your bedroll and sleeping bag, and two large tables for cooking. We unloaded all of our stoves, food, and gear and lounged around the rest of the day. There was a family of locals who were up there for the day having lunch, who were very nice and gave us their leftover tortillas.
 Bedroom  at Piedra Grande

Day Three

Today, we took a very short hike up the aqueduct, and the rest of the day was spent lounging around. The other half of our group is going for the summit today. They ended up making it all the way to the crater rim, and then headed on down back to base camp.
Snowman on Orizaba

Day Four

Today is when things started to go south. I woke up after a good nights sleep, and felt well. Ate a hearty breakfast and packed up the gear to go for an acclimation hike. The plan was to wait until Oso arrived that afternoon to decide if we were going to just make the hike, or set up high camp at the upper camp that night. Oso was late, so we took the hike with the plan of leaving some gear up there, and possibly heading back up that evening when Oso arrived.
Pico de Orizaba

Rut, Gabe and myself took off from base camp in the early afternoon, and headed up the aqueduct. There was lots of snow on the mountain for my trip, so we had crampons and our ice axes with us just in case we wanted to pull them out. We were at about the first camp spot, and after taking a break we continued on upwards. Quite a while later, I began to slow down, and eventually was a ways behind Rut and Gabe.

This is when I began to start coughing, and not a few minutes later, began coughing blood. I could not see or hear Rut and have never felt so alone. I have no idea what to do; do I go down without telling her? Do I continue up in hopes of finding them, even though I have signs of HAPE? I had no idea what to do, so I took a few more steps until I was up on a slight highpoint and shouted for Rut. About 15 minutes later, I finally got her attention, and she came running down to see what was wrong. After explaining the situation, we immediately descended.
Sunset from Piedra Grande

After a very long descent, and now feeling terrible, we made it back to base camp. At this point the cough was still there, I had a headache and have completely lost my appetite. Rut forces me to drink some vitamin mixture she has concocted. I try to sleep, to no avail, and Rut is desperately trying to get cell service to find out where Oso is. By this point we were pretty positive I had HAPE, and knew that I had to be taken down to Tlachichuca as soon as possible. Rut ended up hiking up to the first aqueduct and following it on its switchback over that ridge to the right of base camp to get cell service. She reached Oso and he brought up his jeep and took me down. We got back to Tlachichuca at about 2:45 am.

Day Five

I woke up and no longer had a headache, but still had a slight cough. My pulse, which had been over 120 at base camp the night before, was down to 87. (It’s usually 62 when resting). Oso arrived at about 10:30 and we had breakfast. The medicine he had brought with him ended up being something I couldn’t take due to fear of being allergic. Gabe and Alfredo arrived today with news that they had been unsuccessful in reaching the summit.
Town Center, Tlachichuca

Day Six

Today, our whole group hopped in the jeep and headed to Mexico City. Popo was erupting as usual, and offered some really cool views. After not being able to see the pyramids, I had an un-eventful flight home.
Popo Erupting

Final Thoughts

Overall my trip to Mexico will be one that I remember forever. I met some of the most amazing people in the world, I got to spend time in a gorgeous part of Mexico that I had never seen, and most of all I had a blast spending a week in a foreign country!! People ask me after I tell them what HAPE is, “Oh my god, are you giving up climbing forever?” I simply tell them that I have never been sicker in my entire life, but the weird thing is, I have also never been happier.
View from Piedra Grande


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 23

EastKing - Feb 1, 2009 3:35 am - Voted 10/10


Good thing you made it back! Great TR! Hopefully you get back there to conquer the beast!

splattski - Feb 1, 2009 9:09 am - Voted 10/10


That must have been scary.
Thanks for sharing, and letting us all share in learning an important lesson.
Glad you got down okay, and it sounds like your attitude about the whole trip is really super.
If you don't mind, I linked your report to mine to remind people that these peaks are high and deserve respect.


Athos791 - Feb 1, 2009 11:03 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Altitude

East King, thank you for the comments! I already have plans to go back next season.

splattski, thanks for the comments, and I don't mind at all that you linked it. Orizaba is definitely a peak that demands respect..


shanrickv - Feb 1, 2009 11:11 am - Voted 10/10

Good Decision

It was just over a year ago that I was on Orizaba. I spent a day in Tlachichuca and then headed to the hut. It was my first night there that I was hit with AMS. I spent the night outside sitting on a rock dry heaving with a headache of a lifetime. I never knew my head could hurt like that. An Australian overdosed me on Diamox and I felt even worse. A day later I went up to high camp at 15K and could go no higher. I was spent.
What happened to you can hit anyone at anytime. I live at 6700 and work at 8700 and felt like I was in great shape, but still got hit after a day at 14K.
You made all the right decisions in a difficult situation ... and you will still keep going back to the mountains because you love them. Well done!
Climb On!
Phil 4:13


Athos791 - Feb 1, 2009 11:20 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Decision

Shanrickv, thank you for sharing your story. As I said in the TR, I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful place to get sick haha.


susanjoypaul - Feb 1, 2009 12:58 pm - Voted 10/10

Classic Line

You know the mountains are in your blood when you can end a trip like that, with a comment like that: "People ask me after I tell them what HAPE is, “Oh my god, are you giving up climbing forever?” I simply tell them that I have never been sicker in my entire life, but the weird thing is, I have also never been happier."

Your lungs may have faltered, but your attitude never waivered a bit. Thank for sharing your story, Luke - best of luck to you on future climbs.


Athos791 - Feb 1, 2009 1:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Classic Line

Thanks for the comment Susan, glad you enjoyed the report!


bajaandy - Nov 9, 2009 2:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Classic Line

I couldn't agree more. There is an intoxicating feeling of working so hard for something that it makes you physically sick. I had a similar feeling on my first attempt at Orizaba in 2000. Made it to the foot of the glacier and bonked. I was so spent when I got down that I puked what little food I had in my stomach and promptly colapsed into my tent. But the feeling was so intense that I knew I would be back. I'm glad that you listened to your body and made the right decision to descend. Best of luck on your next attempt!


JB99 - Feb 1, 2009 3:48 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Report!

Well written report. Thanks for sharing. Definitely a good reminder for all of us heading into the bigger hills.


Athos791 - Feb 1, 2009 4:25 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice Report!

Thanks for the comments JB!


Curtissimo - Feb 1, 2009 5:10 pm - Voted 10/10

great report!

thanks for sharing your story with everbody.

i don't know who took you up there (quien es el oso?), but it seems pretty clear they took you up there irresponsibly. you were barely in the country 30 hours and were already at base camp for Citlaltepetl (>14k'). you never know how altitude is going to affect you on a given day (I've been astonished to see Indians whom have never seen sea level get bad headaches at 4000M) but that is still crazy to take you up there so fast. I would always demand a leg/lung stretcher on Malinche or Xinantecatl (Nevada de Toluca) or at maybe Cerro Negro before heading straight there from the airport.

It's a good thing you guys did the right thing and got down. I didin't make it my first time either, then waited 8 years to go back. The mountian will still be there and you learn a lot from the experience!


Athos791 - Feb 1, 2009 6:00 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: great report!

el oso is Roberto Flores Rodriguez, owner of Orizaba Mountain Guides. I wouldn't say irresponsible, but I do agree that we should have acclimated better. As I said in the report however, I felt great at base camp. It was when we moved towards the glacier that I began to get sick.
Thanks for the comments, by the way!!


Haliku - Feb 1, 2009 10:41 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: great report!

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree with Quetzalcoatl...going from New Hampshire to the hut the next day was way too fast. Even when I take clients from Colorado we don't end up at the hut until weds after arriving in country on Sat. From sea level or so its usually harder to adjust. Glad you recovered so quickly. Cheers!


ferdinandverboom - Feb 3, 2009 11:09 am - Hasn't voted

Re: great report!

I think it's your own responsibility if you think you can climb a 5700m mountain without acclimatization. I've climbed Oriziba with Oso (after two weeks accl. in the Rockies). Oso is the best guide I ever met, very carefully, responsible and nice.


Athos791 - Feb 3, 2009 7:12 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: great report!

I agree completely! Oso was a very nice guy, and obviously a very experienced guide.


MountainHikerCO - Feb 1, 2009 6:12 pm - Voted 10/10


Sobering trip report. I’m glad you made it down okay and still have the desire to climb. I agree with the suggestion to do an acclimation hike on La Malinche or Toluca if you go back for another try.


Athos791 - Feb 1, 2009 6:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Sobering

Thanks for the comment MountainHiker. I have plans to do Malinche and Izta before going to Orizaba next season!


Athos791 - Feb 2, 2009 2:55 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Attitude.

Definitely learned a lot! Thanks for the comments.

Alan Arnette

Alan Arnette - Feb 2, 2009 6:45 pm - Voted 10/10

Good Call

Not much to add to what others have said but I do admire your good judgment and not pushing a dangerous situation. Also, I agree that the acclimatization schedule was a bit rushed to put it mildly.

Put this experience in your bones, learn from and keep enjoying the big Hills. Sounds to me like you have a great future in mountaineering with this experience behind you!

Climb On!



Athos791 - Feb 2, 2009 7:35 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Call

Thanks for the comment Alan! Means a lot coming from an accomplished mountaineer like yourself! Ya, our acclimation schedule was very rushed as we later found out... I have definitely learned from this experience.

Viewing: 1-20 of 23