Date: 11 February 2007
Partner: My brother Fernado
As usual in my trips to the mountains, I decided to go the White Woman (Iztaccíhuatl) in a week after the snow fell all over the mountain, and for our good luck, in Saturday, a storm hit again twice that week. So on Sunday, we were prepared for a long hiking through the forest and through the snow that doesn’t cover the surrounding area very often.
Due to the present risk with the Popocatépetl volcano and the red tape, we chose the longest route of this mountain -and for my personal point of view, one of the most exciting routs in México - which is also one of the most challenging and most beautiful.
This route has no particular name, but we know that route as “San Rafael” (Saint Raphael). Such name comes from the fact that the ascent begins at the town with the same name, at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,200 ft). The main attractive of this town is the view of the mountain and the impenetrable forest that covers the lower part of this mountain.
Many people go to this place to walk over the forest and go to the artificial lakes (like Olympic swimming pools) and enjoy the magnificent view of the mountain reflected at the water surface. Of curse, we didn’t go so far just to walk in that weekend trip; we wanted to climb as high as we could.
So at 7:30am we were at the town after an hour driving from my house in Mexico City. We began to walk through the forest, and after two hours, we reached the lakes (Los Estanques) and stayed just for a few minutes enjoying the view. Then, we decided to continue on our journey which, after this part, the path follows a waterway which collects the water that flows down stream from the mountain.
The long hiking
Finally, at 10am, we began the must exhaustive walk, because is the ascent from 3,300 meters to 4,000 meters. The name of this trek is “long hill” (Loma Larga). The only way you know that you have finished with this long hill is when there are no more trees and the mountain is just ahead of you. It seems the mountain can be reached with your hands… but it is still too far.
At 12pm we reached the end of this extremely long hill and the snow began to slightly cover the grass and trees. After having a lunch and a brief rest, my brother, who was the only one who came with me, decided to stay while I continued alone to the volcano.
As the Iztaccíhuatl has a shape of a sleeping woman, the part that is just in front of us is “The Head” (La Cabeza) and “The Breast” (El Pecho). Between those two places, there is another one known as “Chalchoapan” at an altitude of 4,400 meters (14,435t). It is like a desert, with sand and rocks in gray colors, but this time, the snow covered everything and had half a meter (2 ft) depth. It wasn’t too soft or too solid, so there was no problem waking over the snow fields.
The view was spectacular and the sun made the snow very shining. Fortunately, the clouds began to cover the mountain and made it easier for my journey. Around 1pm, I reached “Chalchoapan” and decided to continue because I felt strong enough to keep on climbing. The weather was almost perfect: just a few clouds, no wind, and 0º Celsius (32 ºF), so I decided to climb “The Head” of the White Woman because I did twice that route when I was 15 and 16 years old, and never had the opportunity to do it again.
I felt like it was my last opportunity for climb it (I'm young and I know I will have more opportunities) because once there used to be a hut (dating from 1930) that was destroyed and now it only remains as a house made of stones with a damaged roof, so there is no place to overnight unless you carry on with your own tent. The problem is that with no weight it takes about 5 hours, and with full equipment, it is an adventure of 8 to 9 hours, so you would need two days, resulting in a much more demanding journey in time. As we all know, time is one of the things that almost every one lacks. That’s the reason why I always prefer to do a one day hiking.
After having a break and a second lunch, I began to climb through the rocks. The name of the route is “Las Agujas” (The Needles); it received its name because the rocks have a shape like dozens of sharpened stings.
I have to say that it is one of the most extreme and complicated routes in Mexico because only the experts take the challenge, and also it is required special equipment for rock climbing. Knowing that, I decided to climb it alone with no special equipment (free climbing). As the time was chasing me and had just two hours to continue I had to consider to initiate the descent at 3pm wherever I were, because there was not going to be time enough to descend with daylight.
I felt confident on myself because I didn’t necessarily have to reach the top: just climb as high as I could, and that’s what I did. I climbed until I had no more strength and sat down on a rock and rested at the cliffs, watching one of the must spectacular views of one of the most fantastic mountains of México - or maybe, the most beautiful of all. The altitude was 4,800 meters (15,750 ft). This particular place that I chose for a brake is the last point to return, because if you decide to go to the top of “The Head” either you complete it or there’s no way back.
The long way back
At this point, there was no defined way to descend, so I decided to conceive my own path and I chose a slope of snow. After half an hour, the snow was left behind at the heights, and the grass and forest began to cover the landscape.
It was a tremendous effort because in one day I walked from 8,200 ft to 15,750, and in the same day I had to descend with daylight to avoid the night and its complications. I hike twice a year this route always reaching “Chalchoapan”, but this occasion I decided to make an additional effort and I paid for it beginning to feel the fatigue of this long hike and climb.
The descending route is very easy, but too long. Therefore it’s better to run, so one hour and fifteen minutes later, I was again at the lakes (Los Estanques) and met my brother who decided to go down to a warmer place (where he ate some delicious “quesadillas”). Together walked through the kind of elfish forest and by 6:30pm, we reached the car at the town. We were very tired, but pleased of having accomplished this challenging route in one single day.
This particular route has to be done in two days if you want to go to the summit of Iztaccíhuatl volcano, but what I did was like if I had reached the top of the mountain. I’m sure that in the future, I will climb again “The Head” of the White Woman, either in a single day or in two days, but first I have to rest one week because my feet are injured with blisters whereas I write this trip report.
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