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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.