Mexico and its Volcanoes
What started back in April of 2002 with a simple question of what are you doing for New Years, culminated in a trip to Mexico to climb the 3rd and 7th highest peaks in North America.
Saturday, December 28th (Day 1)
Awoke at 5:30 for a 7:00 am flight (flying out of Boise has it benefits) talk to some buddies of mine from college for a little while (they were still partying). Arrived a short 7 hours later in Mexico City, population 29 million (not including the stray dogs). After clearing customs with an old climbing buddy Travis Bushman (no relation to President Bush, even though, our customs officer thought there was) and a new climbing buddy Dave Fritsch. We searched the airport for the map place, only to find it and discover that they seem to carry none of the “key” maps for climbing in Mexico. Hopped a cab with no-teeth Miguel for Amecameca. (For the record, take the time to hail the bus, it will save you money, need to go to the TAPO then hail the Los Volcanoes bus) Soon after arriving we settled in at the B.Y.O.T.S. (Bring your own toilet seat) Hotel. The Hotel San Carlos was located on the main plaza and for $23 dollars a night we were provided with bells from the neighboring church, 3 beds, and 2 coat racks (that is all our room had) (The benefit of staying here is that there is a storage area under the stairs where you can store your extra gear for the climb) We Went to Fredy’s pizza where $6 provided me with 2 beers and four slices of pizza. After dinner we cruised the market for a little while, buying dried mangos, bread, and caramelized pecans (all of which cost us about $4) Gotta love Mexico!
Sunday, December 29th (Day 2)
Well today we tried to buy the store out of all the water they had. 25+ pounds each of water, which we had to pack into our already full packs and hike 5 miles into the main trailhead, because our cabby wouldn’t drive all the way. (Make sure to find a cab that will drive you all the way to La Joya, and bring tons of water because there is no water anywhere) We arrived at Paso De Cortes and were greeted with a long dusty road hike to the trailhead camp area. Along the way we were rewarded with a view of the erupting active Popo. Settled into a camping spot off the road a little and after a Mountain House dinner, we crashed out early.
Monday December 30th (Day 3)
Today, we decided to do an acclimization hike on Itza to stretch our legs and get an idea of the terrain we would encounter. We hiked up to 15,200 where we had a pleasant lunch, and gazed at the additional climbing that was going to be required from us. We passed some Mexicans that were out climbing in jeans and tennis shoes, (goes to show that the mountains can be explored with only the essentials)(you don’t have to be gear laden like me and my comrades). Returning to camp, we found cows mulling around, scared them away and then realized that they had eaten my food for the next days summit attempt. How it is possible for cows to eat energy gels, tea bags in their wrappers, Power Bars, and empty Mountain House is beyond me. So after this we met Tom and Steve from Colorado, who we ended up seeing a-lot before the trip ended, and a group of Canadians who were on a driving trip through out Canada, the US, and Mexico (must be tough to complete on the Canadian dollar) We all felt strong on the climb and we were looking forward to the climb the following. So after dinner I took and sleeping pill and turned in early in preparation for a 2 am departure.
Tuesday, December 31st (Day 4)-Summit Day!
We set out with one simple goal, summit the 7th highest peak in North America Iztaccihuatl (elevation 17,342 feet). The sleeping pill worked magically and awoke well rested and ready to attack the mountain (even at 2 am). In what is becoming my climbing trademark, I began with too many clothes and had to stop several times to strip clothes. After about 500 vertical feet Dave was struggling (lack of quality sleep, and not feeling too well) so he turned back. That left Travis and I for the duration of the climb. We hiked along in the dark, and soon after passing the Grupo Des Los Cien hut at 15,400 we got a little off track in the scree field. After that we were greeted with a scramble over and around rocks to the first of 4 false summits. The false summits sucked (500 vertical foot ascents, followed by 500 vertical foot descents)(Do not be deceived by these, it was the toughest part of the climb, without a doubt). Travis and I were at about 16,200 when he slowed considerably and soon after called it good. I pushed on for the summit. Typical of the weather of the entire trip, it was gorgeous, with views of Popocatepetl and the surrounding area. About a hour and half after leaving Travis and crossing the glacier I made the summit and was rewarded with the satisfaction of a 17,342 foot summit on the final day of 2002. I had the summit to my self when I spied two guys; my hopes that it was Travis and Dave were soon crushed when I saw the duo running the downhill’s. Turned out to be two ultra marathoners from Salt Lake City who had done the ascent in 4 hours.
I crossed the upper glacier to the other portion of the breast (Izta is known as the sleeping lady) to make sure I had tagged the true summit. (Ice ax or crampons were unnecessary, but a climbing helmet was nice to have) The descent was long and tiresome (I ran out of water on the summit)(drank over 3 quarts), reconnected with Travis at 15,000 were he informed me of the loss of his helmet, and we descended the rest together. At La Joya we met Manuel and with some talking convinced him to give us a ride out. Picture 4 guys and their gear packed into a Geo Metro and you get the idea. Although I enjoyed the summit I wished it could have been with Dave and Travis. We returned to Fredy’s for pizza and then turned out the lights well before the New Year began.
Wednesday, January 1st (Day 5)-Travel Day
Well today was a designated travel day to Tlachichua by bus. Which involved returning to Mexico City by bus (get off at one of the first major stops to avoid the long trip back into the TAPO), a bus to Puebla, and another bus to Tlachcihua . The bus station in Puebla was the size of most airports. The bus ride from Puebla to Tlachichua turned out to be quite entertaining. This where we met Alan and his family, Alan was an 11 year old who had knowledge about everything out there. My Spanish skills are questionable at best, so conversation was slow going at times, it never fazed him. Through the course of the ride he went into how cactus (nopales) is harvested, why El Pico De Orizaba is beneficial to the people of Tlachichua, to using lots of sueters (jackets for the climb), and the topper was him talking about how to prepare shrimp (complete with hand motions, spices, and the temperature) which had not only me rolling with laughter but the Mexicans surrounding us also. We were invited over for Cokes the following day and I was sad to see my source of entertainment depart.
We arrived at the Reyes compound a little after 6 (unexpected since they had not received my check yet). This Reyes place www.servimont.com. is a 150 year old soap factory converted into a climbers paradise, complete with pictures and postcards from all over the world, wooden and rebar ice axes, handmade crampons, and home cooked meals. Included in the price of admission was transportation to and from the trailhead, 4 meals, and 2 nights lodging, and white gas for $130. After a home cooked meal of spaghetti and apple salad, we turned our focus towards the summit log from the previous people. This contained great stories and reasons for climbing Orizaba.(You can save about $20 by going through a different organization, but the atmosphere and history behind the Reyes compound is incredible)
Thursday January 2nd (Day 6)
Freaking dogs, and stupid roosters. It was New Years night, so what should I expect, right? Dogs barking all night and roosters that started cock’a doodle doing at 2 am.(Earplugs would be highly recommended) We took the final shower for a few days, secured some Mexican sleeping pills, 10 gallons of water (The hut is right where you pull up, so bring big jugs of water, and whatever you want for food), repacked our bags (again) and we were loaded up and on our way. It wasn’t the 1962 Dodge power wagon, but it was plenty comfy. We were joined for the ride up by a family of 5 from one of the Indian villages. The kids stared at us for the first 20 minutes unsure what to make of the huge, hairy, white people they were riding with. One of the kids had the first Aztec Mullet I have ever seen (check http://www.mulletjunky.com/ for mullet explanations if needed) We arrived at the hut to meet a group of 4 from California, who had summated earlier that day, a group of 2 from Durango who were planning to spend 7 days on the mountain, and a group of 6 from Mexico City who had done there climbing earlier that day and now were drinking tequila at 14,000 ft (by the bottles). Turned in somewhat early, out of boredom more than anything else.(Any extra climbing magazines you might be able to bring along could be used to stave off boredom)
Friday, January 3rd (Day 7)
Well we will be climbing in less than 8 hours. The tension is pretty high, right now you can sense how much we want to make the summit of El Pico De Orizaba (18,401 ft) Last night turned into quite the adventure, the group of five instead of passing out stayed up drinking, singing, clapping, and once the finally slept they snored unlike any of us had ever heard. In addition to them a group of 9 came up and they were equally as inconsiderate. The Mexican people are very nice, but comparable to two year olds in the aspect they show no respect to each other or for their surroundings (trash and graffiti on their mountains). The Colorado group arrived when we were in our bags, (they had made watched the sunset from Izta, before descending) We worked out a baggage watching scheme to protect our investments and keep our piece of mind. We took a light hike up to 15,600, which provided us with a view of the intended route and some oxygen for our lungs. Some nuns arrived in the afternoon with Pedro and they fed us lunch (ham, beans, and cheese) and then we got some pictures with them wearing our helmets and holding our axes (too funny). Another group from Mexico City arrived but they looked more serious about climbing, so a quality night of sleep looks very possible.
Saturday, January 4th (Day 8)
The moment we have been waiting for. SUMMIT DAY! I awoke at 10:45 pm and knew immediately that I wouldn’t be falling back asleep. Laid in bed till about 1 am and then we decided it was time to get up and go after the mountain. What a night! The night was so clear you could see the lights of Veracruz and the glow of Mexico City, and more shooting stars than I have ever seen before. I awoke with an upset stomach and had to make two stops on the trip up, but my energy levels were high so I pressed on a little Immodium and a few Tums later, I felt almost normal. Today consisted of a musical jukebox in my head, throughout the course of the day I had “Were not gonna take it” (Iron Eagle) to “Jenny from the Block”(J-LO), to “You’re the Best Around” (Karate Kid) and about every song in between. About 2 hours into the climb we stopped to put on our crampons and dig out our ice axes.
My toes were cold when we stepped on the glacier for our 2,000 vertical foot ascent, but other than that I was okay. At about 6:15 we started to see the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico. Seeing the sun rise while on the side of a mountain, is always a beautiful thing, it wasn’t till this point in time where I realized just how much above the surrounding area we were. This was about the time where breathing took on some difficulty and my camelbak froze (even with the insulator). It has been said before that the best way to train for altitude is to run with a plastic bag over your head. The effects of the altitude were noticeable but not that severe, I was limited to about 20 steps before I would have to stop and pant for a little while before continuing. The snow was great, felt kind of like walking on Velcro due to the fact your crampons stuck to the snow and you could sink your ice axe to provide you with added security on the ascent and descent. (We hiked up the right side of the glacier to avoid the very icy left side) At about 7:15 I hit the crater rim, and was rewarded with seeing the summit, the coast, and the humongous crater that remained from the last time Orizaba erupted.
Dave and I met up and decided to wait for Travis below the summit, so we could all hit the summit together. We sat in the sun below the summit out of the wind and life could not have been much better. Travis joined us a little before 8:30 and we pushed on . . . . .
Before long we were a-top the 3rd highest point in North America and chances are we were the highest people in North America (The chances of someone being a-top McKinley or Logan at this time of year are pretty slim) Summating Orizaba did not disappoint us the view towards the coast was incredible coupled with the shadow the mountain throws on the plains below. The descent down proved to be a challenge at first, due to the angle and a change in your method of walking. Dave adjusted well and was on his way down the hill, while Travis struggled and drifted a little towards the icy side of the glacier. We brought him back towards us and then discovered that he had minor case of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), he was feeling sick, had a bad headache and his balance was a little off also. The good news about AMS is the cure is to descend, which is exactly what we did. The descent was slow going till we got off the snow and Travis started feeling better. We met up with the Colorado group again (who had put 3 of 4 on the summit) and that made for pleasant company for the rest of the descent (and the trip). The trip down was filled with laughs and stories. Cold beer and a hot shower was waiting at the Reyes compound and that was close to heaven
Sunday January 5th (Day 9)
Well, is it time for alarm yet? Still lacking feeling in a few toes. (We think it was because we had our crampons so tight for so long, because it was nerve damage not cold damage) Had no problem sleeping through the dogs and roosters last night. We have decided to stay traveling with the Coloradoans for the duration of the trip. Today involves a return trip to Mexico City. We were able to relax in the courtyard at the Reyes place while we begrudgingly repacked our bags for the return voyage. (Brian, Travis, and Steve climbed on the climbing wall) Once in Mexico City we settled into the Hotel Jena (a 4 star hotel for $60 a night) and then set out on a quest for tacos and beers. Mission accomplished Tacoooos, served up plate after plate of tacos (the best was Chorizo, Bacon, Cheese, and Poblano peppers)(Hey, I just climbed 2 17,000+ mountains back off)
Monday January 6th (Day 10)
Final day in Mexico L this trip has been far too awesome, to go home now. Today we set out to see the Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun, north of Mexico City. They are the 3rd and 4th largest pyramids in the world behind the pyramids of Egypt. They were really cool, (they let you climb on them and stuff) It was kinda fun to play tourist a get all the classic lines like “I make you deal”, “So cheap it is almost free”, or “Buy for your second wife” Going to a “tourist trap” and seeing the “ugly American”(You know with the white socks pulled up to his knees, with the huge beer belly, making no effort to learn or speak the language) makes you appreciate those who don’t personify this image. We ended the trip at the Zona Rosa eating Italian and having transvestites talk to us.
Tuesday January 7th (Day 11)
Back home (BOO!) Sick! (Bigger BOO!) Unsure if it was Mexico or the US, but I had the frequent toilet breaks followed by the chills and then a raging fever. The good news was it lasted only about 12 hours and I only had to miss one day of work. To sum it up the trip was awesome! It was the perfect combination of people (Mexicans, and Americans), weather, mountains (both were awesome climbs), and environment (Mexico is a great place) To my friends new and old . . . . I look forward to the next adventure!
See you around.