Nevado de Toluca, Iztaccihuatl, El Pico de Orizaba, and Malinche

14 Oct 2000 - by Rj Secor

The SCMA (Southern California Mountaineers' Association) trip to Mexico's volcanoes started when Ron Hudson appeared in the village of Raices on Saturday night, October 14, 2000. He had taken a taxi from the Toluca bus terminal after flying to Mexico City from LAX and a bus to the city of Toluca. My father and I had driven from Pasadena over the past four days via Laredo. We camped that night in the village soccer field, and between rain showers, the village's dogs barked and barked at the strange tent and a tarp erected next to the Aerostar van. Ron wasn't feeling his normal self the next morning. Aside from the poor night's sleep, Ron had shot from sea level to an 11,500 foot sleeping altitude plus he had a cold. We drove up the long road leading to Nevado de Toluca's crater and met Rodolfo Araujo (by prior arrangement) near the ruined hut. He produces the web site, required reading for those intent on bagging Mexico's volcanoes. Conditions on Nevado de Toluca weren't the best. There was a slight dusting of snow on the peak, it was foggy, cloudy, with a few showers, and Rodolfo wisely left after a couple of hours of chatting with us. Nevertheless, Ron and I started up. He was very slow and we finally turned back about halfway up Pico de Fraile. Our retreat was marked by a couple of rain and snow showers. We spent the night at the Albergue Nevado de Toluca at 12,400 feet. This building is being remodeled, and while it didn't have any electricity, we spent a dry and comfortable night there.

We drove to Paso de Cortes the next day and spent that night in the new visitor's center atop the pass at 12,080 feet. We drove to the La Joya trailhead on Iztaccmhuatl in the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 17 and approached the Ayoloco Glacier. Ron had recovered from his cold over the past two days, but now I had it and lagged way behind him. Dawn's early light revealed Popocatipetl covered with volcanic ash, not a trace of snow or ice being visible. And then we encountered a smoking fumarole at UTM 365178. We continued to the new Ayoloco Hut and then Ron strongly led up the Ayoloco Glacier while I slowly rest stepped up behind him in the near perfect snow. We had a consistent weather pattern on this trip: clear mornings and cloudy afternoons. On more than one occasion it was clear at 11:50 a.m. but cloudy by 12:05 p.m. We arrived at Iztaccmhuatl's belly just in time to take a compass bearing on the Knees before being socked in by the clouds that appeared at noon. We forsook the true summit and descended the Knees back to La Joya.

We left Paso de Cortes the next day by driving down the dirt road to the city of Cholula, and then on the toll road to Tlachichuca to meet the Reyes family, operators of the Servimont guide service ( After a delicious lunch, dinner, and breakfast and a night in their comfortable climber's dormitory Polo drove the four wheel drive Dodge Power Wagon taking us to the start of the approach to the west face of El Pico de Orizaba. We were guided by Ismael Carmona Lopez along the intricate trails that lead up the Barranca Alpinahua, past the Cueva del Ermitaqo, and on to the ruins of the Jose Llaca hut at 15,750 feet. Ismael returned to Tlachichuca and I melted snow for water while Ron salvaged pieces of wood from the ruins to make a platform for his tent. We spent a cold night there, with the thermometer reading +130F when we finally managed to leave the tent. Orizaba's pyramid shadow extended off toward the west with the sunrise illuminating Iztaccmhuatl and Popocatipetl. The snow was perfect and it wasn't too hot or too cold, with very little wind. We climbed the upper part of the west face and then traversed left to the Espinoza Route before climbing onto the crater rim and following it to the crosses that mark the summit. We descended back to our camp, packed up the tent, and I relied on Ron (a National Orienteering Champion) to guide me back to the Dodge Power Wagon by the most expeditious route. And we had a late supper in the Servimont dining room that night.

We then explored the southern side of El Pico de Orizaba, taking the steep but passable two-wheel drive dirt road from Texmalaquilla to Cueva del Muerto. I tried to drive to the roadhead for the Gomar Hut but managed to get my father's Aerostar stuck in some steep sand. We were rescued way after dark by Eparingo Gonzalez (10 Oriente 122, Ciudad Serdan, Puebla) who was relaying a group of climbers to this hut. My father had had it with dirt roads by this time, so I missed driving up the new dirt road to the summit of Sierra Negra and exploring the northern side of Iztaccmhuatl from Rio Frio. We instead drove to Centro Vacacional La Malintzi (cabins are now MN$390 Sunday through Thursday) and hiked up La Malinche. We then went to Tlaxcala and bought some INEGI topographic maps before taking Ron to the Puebla airport where he caught his flight to Dallas. And then my father and I started the long drive back to Pasadena.

Here are some random notes:

This seems to be a lighter than normal snow year on the volcanoes. One doesn't hit snow on La Arista del Sol until the top of the knees, for example. On the other hand, the Southern Route on El Pico de Orizaba has good coverage, but the Pulpito and summit are bare.

The price of Pemex Magna worked out to US$2.08/gallon at US$1.00/MN$9.43.

We drove Highway 57 south from Laredo to Toluca in two days, camping at a microwave tower north of Entronque El Huizaque: UTM Zone 14 349222E 2536383N.

Puebla International Airport is west of the city near Huejotzingo. Most of the flights are domestic but Delta has a daily flight from and to Dallas--Forth Worth and Continental has a daily flight from and to Houston.

Police stories: While driving south from El Huizaque but north of San Luis Potosi, the Federal Highway Police pulled me over to ask me how I liked the highway. Later, at a Federale checkpoint, the cop searched our duffel bags. We were waved through at all of the other roadblocks and checkpoints, except at one where the soldier asked if we had any guns. We told him no and then he waved us through.

Back to the USA: I usually get the third degree by US Customs after one of these road trips in Mexico. But in Laredo the officer asked if we were US citizens, ignored my passport, thought that we were spelunkers, didn't seem to care that we had been as far south as Puebla for the past two weeks, tapped the underside of the van, and then sent us on our way. Less than five minutes with no emptying of the van and no dogs! Later, the Border Patrol pulled us over, asked if we were US citizens and informed us that our left taillight wasn't working. I walked to the back of the van, whacked it with my fist, and it worked. That college education is finally starting to pay off!

Michael Gordon adds:

> We spent a cold night there, with the thermometer reading +130F
> when we finally managed to leave the tent.

RJ: I suggest cayenne pepper to improve your circulation. I personally would have found +130F a little 'balmy'.

RJ Secor replies:

It should've, I mean should have read +13 degrees F. Somehow my trip report went through some type of cypher at High Altitude!

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