Pico de Orizaba - December 12-18, 2018

Pico de Orizaba - December 12-18, 2018

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 19.03024°N / 97.26814°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Dec 14, 2018
Seasons Season: Winter

Orizaba in 2 days

Pico de Orizaba - highest point in Mexico
Pico de Orizaba - highest point in Mexico

December 12: Flew into Mexico City. We stayed at the hotel Marriot in the airport, which was not quite as adventurous, but definitely convenient. If you are coming from Terminal One, all you have to do after exiting international arrivals is go to the second level near Puerta (door) 7, cross the street on a sky bridge, walk past the bus station, then take a left into the hotel lobby. Never even need to go outside.

If you’re coming from Terminal Two, you can either take a train to terminal one (I believe that you’ll need your boarding pass to use it) or the Marriot also has a shuttle that you can take.

Don’t change money until you’ve gone through customs; there are tons of little shops on the ground floor where you can exchange (at least, there are in terminal one). Also, remember to notify your bank that you’ll be traveling in Mexico so that you can use your card at ATMs.

December 13: Woke up around 8 or 9, ate breakfast at the airport food court (wanted to avoid Montezuma’s revenge before the hike) then bought bus tickets to Puebla CAPU (CAPU is the name of the station, Puebla is the name of the town).

We bought our bus tickets in the airport, right next to where the airport connects to the Marriot. You can check your bags in the bottom of the bus. We took a first class bus which had restrooms (very nice when trying to make sure you’re hydrated for the hike) and snacks. The bus ride takes about 2 hours, maybe a bit more depending on Mexico City traffic.

 Once at Puebla CAPU, we took the footbridge over the parking lot from arrivals to departures, went down the ramp, took a left, then walked almost all the way to the end of the terminal to catch a bus to Tlachichuca. If you need to use restrooms at the bus station, there are free ones way at the end, or ones that you can pay for elsewhere in the bus station that claim to be cleaner (it’s somewhere between 3 and 10 pesos if I remember correctly; we just used the free ones).

The bus from Puebla CAPU to Tlachichuca does not have restrooms, and is also about 2 hours or more, so probably stop overhydrating before you board it. Here you can also just throw your bags underneath the bus. We did not know how exactly to get to our hostel, but if you ask the bus driver to drop you off, he should know exactly where to go.

We stayed at the hostel Casa Cancholas (http://www.summitorizaba.com/about-us/) and had a splendid time. We could not recommend this place enough; a great rooftop view of the mountain, excellent meals, and very friendly staff.

December 14: Woke up, had a wonderful breakfast, then Joaquim drove us up to base camp, leaving at 10 and arriving about noon. We sat around Piedra Grande for about hour eating and hydrating, then started up the mountain. We set up a high camp a bit below the base of the labyrinth, the sites are obvious and have small rock walls set up around them. Went to be around 6 or 7 pm, woke up at 2 am, and were hiking by around 3:30 am. At night the temperature was very comfortable, probably low 30s, and we had yet to encounter any snow on the ground.

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At high camp

December 15: 3:30 am started hiking, hiked for about 20 or 30 minutes before reaching the base of the labyrinth, where we put on our crampons and chatted with some other climbers. The labyrinth was great fun; route finding was not awful, and the ice quality was fairly good. At times felt very steep and a bit sketchy, but that made it fun. After going through the labyrinth we took a 20 or 30 minute break waiting for the sunrise huddled up behind a rock. Once the sun was out, we continued up the glacier.

Just after sunrise
Just after sunrise

We met several people coming down the glacier that said they didn’t like the ice quality and thought it was best to turn around, which made us a bit anxious. We found the ice to be a bit hard, but not entirely that nerve-wracking; I don’t think we ever lost footing and felt very secure with good kick steps. There was a trail of switchbacks from others that had gone before us that day and previous days, which we were very thankful for and proved to be quite useful. Without this path, the summit could have been much more dangerous to achieve.

Early Glacier Travel
Early Glacier Travel
More glacier (the not-as-steep part)
More glacier (the not-as-steep part)

After zigzagging up the glacier which seemed to take an eternity, we reached the crater rim. After a short break, we continued the final 200-400 yards to the summit. Success! This was around 10:30 or 11 am.

The highest feet ever in Mexico? (I'm 2.05 meters tall)
The highest feet ever in Mexico? (I'm 2.05 meters tall)

Going down I felt pretty crappy; even though I did almost 20 Colorado 14ers the previous summer (including the Pikes Peak Marathon), it was difficult to ever feel like I caught my breath. Others in our party fared a little better, so maybe it’s just the luck of the draw with how you feel at high altitude?

Because I was incredibly tired, I took a long time to go down, very worried about making a dumb mistake which could have injured me, but we finally made it down the glacier.

Descending the labyrinth was similarly exhausting, but the sun had warmed much of the snow/ice so that we could gain good purchase with our crampons. The trek at this point was a bit of an annoyance because of route-finding and some backtracking. If I was feeling fresh the descent here would have even seemed really fun, but because of the great exhaustion it was a bit stressful and generally onerous.

We finally arrived at our high camp, arduously packed everything up (still exhausted, rolling up a sleeping bag took an incredible amount of effort), then headed down to Piedra Grande. Our driver from Casa Canchola was waiting for us there, and we started driving at 5 pm and arrived back down the hostel around 7. Being at the lower altitudes after being above 14,000 for the past 29 hours felt great. We had an excellent dinner, then one of the best nights of sleep in recorded history.

December 16: Woke up late, drank a beer to celebrate and signed a poster of Orizaba together, caught the bus around 11 back to Puebla CAPU, then another bus back to Mexico City. IMPORTANT: if you get to CAPU in the afternoon, they may not have buses running to the airport in Mexico City. We had to instead get a bus to a different bus station in Mexico City, then took an Uber back to our hotel.

December 17: Tourist day; went and saw the Teotihucan Pyramids (took an Uber there and back) then spent some time in the market in the Coyoacán neighborhood (our Uber told us the neighborhood is a good place to walk around and visit markets, and safer than other areas of the city).

December 18: Most of the group left early for the airport, I had a couple hours to kill so I went to Zocalo, which is a big square that serves as the city center. It’s a great place to walk around and see modern shops, ancient ruins, the largest cathedral in the western hemisphere, and a bunch of important looking government buildings. I took a Marriot sponsored taxi, which was guaranteed to be safe and the driver was very kind, but it cost me 30 dollars round trip which in my opinion was wayyy too much, but that’s what I get for asking the concierge for a taxi.

 

Final thoughts: many people hike up the mountain in single day push, but often after staying at Piedra Grande for a night. After having to pack up our stuff after an exhausting hike down, this sounds like a good option instead of camping, but our group is still a bit split on this issue. The positives of establishing a high camp is that you can sleep in a bit and maybe acclimate more, but the downsides are that it sucks to pack up your stuff when your so tired, and that you also have to carry heavy stuff for a 1/3 of the hike up and a third of the hike down.

 



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