On March 9th 2008 our group which consisted of my girlfriend Alicia, her friend Suzi, and myself left for Mexico to climb Pico De Orizaba the countries tallest peak. Things were tense as much preparation had gone into it with not only physical training but equipment purchases for the group. On our way their it seemed that the only thing that weighed into my decision of climbing the mountain was my investment in it, loosing all focus on the original goal of having fun and experiencing high altitude climbing for the first time. This is not a new trend for me as Alicia has been whiteness in the past to me over exerting myself to the near point of delirium.
On March 10th after a restful night at the climbing hostel Servimont located in Tlachichuca (8,000ft) we took a truck to Piedra Grande which would be our base camp for the next few days. Upon arrival I sent the girls out for a acclimatization hike while I waited with the gear. Much to my surprise the next three days our hut would be shared only by Americans, eliminating any foreign feelings. If having known this prior we would have taken allot more gear to leave at the hut as their was no risk of it being stolen. After the girls returned, to my further amazement was that they reported seeing water flowing out of a pipe down the hill. This being the dry season I was thrilled to have a running source of water off the glacier.
On March 11th we woke up at 12:30am conditions were clear outside with little wind, still ambitious our group decided to see how far we could get that morning and pack the gear to leave at low camp (15,200ft). Leaving just after 1:00am we reached low camp at just after 3:00am stashed our gear and after a quick check on everyone’s conditions, determined that we would not summit that day but that we would go the middle camp (15,600ft) to expose ourselves to a little more altitude. About a hour later we found ourselves at middle camp with the girls not feeling well. I instructed them to drink some water and see how they felt in five or ten minutes. Still not feeling well, we descended to low camp to set up the tent and stash our gear for our stay the next day. I soon found myself setting up the tent alone, tired and hungry. I went inside the tent to see if I could stir some help and finally got the girls to come out. I only had a few more lines to fasten when as Suzi was coming out she fell nauseous and began throwing up. Knowing that was to early for medical problems I told the two of the to start heading down while I fastened a few more lines. Expediting the process I ended up being only a few minutes behind and upon catching up the girls were already feeling better descending. Upon arriving at Piedra Grande everyone eat a little drank and the napped for a few hours.
On March 12th we woke up at about 4:00am with the weather nice and clear once again. Not leaving until just after 5:00am we arrived at low camp around 7:00am. The plan was to take a hour nap and then head up to scout out the rout through the labryth. With the weather detereating we didn’t leave camp unit 11:30am when we saw a break. Arriving at the labryth we didn’t scout to far ahead, only a couple hundred feet or so, but the one great find was running water on the labryth’s ice chutes. Able to refill water we arrived at low camp with an extra 12 liters of water, very cool. Once we got back we starting preparing dinner, around the same time we started hearing the distant sporadic rumbles of a thunderstorm. Being the paranoid person I am about thunderstorms, I had the group eat under boulder about 50 meters away. After about 20 minutes and the rumbles more delayed and fainter we went back to camp where we tried to eat what food we had. In the end though, not bringing enough food to be filling or to increase variety would ultimately doom us as we all went to bed that night hungry.
March 13th we got up at 12:30am with little to no sleep that night and began to head out. At a little before 2:00am we reached the beginning of the labryth which during the predawn light looks far more intimidating than it really is. So needless to say that morning we were happy to be roping up. At a little before 5:00am we reached the snout of the glacier, up to that point we were moving pretty quickly but as soon as we hit the glacier our speed reduced by probably 2/3. While it didn’t feel like it we were making excellent time with our altitude at 17,200ft at sunrise. At about 18,000ft though, the lack of food in my system had caught up to me and my energy level was decreased, limiting my advance to painfully long switchbacks. With such a drastic reduction to the rate of assent I had to make a judgment call and swallow my pride. I turned to the group and declared that I had reached my summit, to which they responded “really? How much farther is it?” after some negotiation I settled for traversing left to the crater rim. Upon reaching the rim it became obvious that none of us brought enough food to keep our energy levels up. Hence I still stand by my decision for us to stop their as it’s clear that our inability to reach the summit was due to nutrition and not our physical abilities, and my continuation of the assent would only be reckless and dangerous for the group. Upon stopping however I was faced with one of the most momentous occasions of my life, as I struggled to get Alicia on her feet one more time for a photo I had Suzi take, I crouched down and proposed to her. At first her expression was that of bewilderment because little to my knowledge the ring had fallen out of the box to my feet. Either way I picked up the ring and continued my proposal. To which her reaction because of the altitude and exhaustion was something to the effect of “oh….ok.”
On this trip or at least on the mountain I think we all found something out about ourselves, one of my greatest personal achievements was my ability to know my own limits, as Alicia can attest. On the most important day for both Alicia and I, I had reached my limit, I had given my all, not for the mountain but for Alicia.
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