At 4,691 m (15,390 ft), Nevado de Toluca is Mexico's fourth highest mountain and offers some of the best moderate alpine climbing in Mexico. The Complete Rim Traverse
(PD+ or AD-) is an outstanding alpine-style ridge climb which rivals similar routes in the alps. However, since the mountain lies to the west of Mexico City, in the opposite direction from the other high volcanoes, it is neglected by many climbers who visit Mexico.
In addition to the solitude of its ridges, the mountain provides a stunning setting for climbing, since its crater contains two large lakes (Laguna de la Luna and Laguna del Sol). These lakes are extremely cold, yet according to Secor, scuba diving is still practiced by some very brave divers. There are some nice hiking options around these lakes which may appeal to non-climbers.
Access to the volcano is easy, since a rough road (passable by 2-wheel drive cars) leads all the way into the crater. There are a number of lodging options along this road, including a state-run hut at 4,050 m (excellent for acclimatizing). A trail leads from this hut directly into the crater in about 1-2 miles.
The western-most portion of the crater rim is a 3-4 mile jagged ridge in which a number of rocky peaks are encountered. The highest peaks are known as Pico de Fraile (4,691 m; 15,390 ft) and Pico de Aguila (4,620 m; 15,157 ft). Pico de Fraile lies approximately 500 m above the crater floor and can be approached from either direction along the crater rim, or by a trail which ascends from outside of the crater (the easiest route, see topo map
caption). The approach via the crater rim from the south involves some 4th and potentially 5th class climbing and in my opinion is a true classic.
By Car from Mexico City (from Secor):
Follow Highway 15 west from Mexico City towards the city of Toluca. Before the city, take a bypass (Paseo Tollocan) which leads south around the city. At the southern edge of Toluca, turn left on Highway 134 and be aware that the road turns right in 1.2 mi (2 km). Continue on Highway 134 for 11.2 mi (18 km) to reach Highway 3, which branches off to the left toward Sultepec. There is also a sign here which indicates the Park and Volcan de Nevado de Toluca. Follow Highway 3 for 5 mi (8 km) to the gravel road which leads up to the peak (also signposted for the park and the volcano). The gravel road winds around the mountain for 15 mi (22 km) to reach the crater. A number of lodging sites are passed along the way.
By Bus from Mexico City:
Flecha Roja (Red Arrow) offers shockingly frequent bus service to Toluca from Mexico City's Observatorio bus station. The trip takes a little over one hour and costs around $4. Taxis can then be taken from the station to any of several hotels in the center of town. Hotel Rex and Hotel San Francisco are both around $20/night and are close to restaurants and stores for purchasing supplies. A taxi can be hired in town to take you all the way to the crater (or to the hut at 4,050 m) for around $20. Make sure the driver understands that you need to go almost completely to the end of the gravel road. You can arrange for the driver to pick you up again after your climb. It is also possible to travel by bus all the way to the aforementioned gravel road (take a bus from Toluca towards Sultepec and get off at Raices). The problem then, however, is to get to the crater which will require some hitch-hiking.
A small fee ($.50) is required to enter the Park and can be payed at Los Venados where the family lodge is located. On weekends, the park receives far more visitors than it can handle and the road becomes jammed with cars facing in all directions. Go late in the evening to one of the lodges to avoid the traffic and be ready to sit for a long time when trying to leave after your climb.
When To Climb
The mountain can be climbed year-round, but like the other volcanos, is best climbed during Mexico's dry season (November - March). Since most routes are along the peak's rocky ridges, the difficulty can vary greatly depending on whether snow is present.
In addition, strong winds are quite common on the mountain during the night, but usually subside by 7AM. Thus, while an early start is recommended, it is probably best to wait until 6 or 7AM to leave the hut.
There are essentially three options for camping/lodging on the mountain:
1) Family Lodge at Los Venados -- This lodge is about 3 km up the gravel road and offers 14 rooms for $3-4. It is open on weekends only and no reservation is necessary. The entrance fee is payed here and camping is also permitted. I believe bottled water is available but I am not certain.
2) Albergue Alpino -- Another lodge 2 km further up the gravel road with 64 beds for $2-3. Bring sleeping bags and food. Also only open on weekends. Camping is permitted but there is often no guard.
From Scott Patterson: In 1992-1993, the cost of the Albergue posted on the wall was actually $12 a night, and this was the official rate for a bunk. Camping was free. During the Christmas/year end holidays the Albergue was open every day, but I'm not sure of the rest of the year.
3) National Park Hut at the Crater Gate (4,050 m) -- This primitive hut is located about 15 km up the gravel road (6 km from the crater) and has room for about 7 guests. The cost is $1.50 and there is no reservation system. On weekends, snacks, tacos, soda, and bottled water can be purchased from local vendors. The park guards occupy an adjacent building and were willing to watch our equipment while we climbed.
The website www.xpmexico.com
has excellent information on many aspects of the mountain including route descriptions, photos, and lodging.