Quest to summit Pico de Orizaba

28 Jan - 1 Feb 2009 - by Daniel Carling

Wednesday January 28th 2009

For several years after climbing as high as we could in the states my climbing friends and I set out for our quest to summit Orizaba. While there are several volcanoes in Mexico with lesser altitudes, our main goal was to reach the third highest peak in North America. I was delegated to find and research the best option for a guide service and after MUCH research (occupational hazard) I recommend to my 6 friends, and we went with the guide services of the Canchola family We had a window of five days to at the end of January that would fit our schedule, and they we're able to provide a schedule at a negotiated price for much less than anyone else I researched for us to do so. We were bumped from a flight, delaying us an hour and a half arriving in Mexico City but the Summit Orizaba representative was there with a Welcome Mr. Carling sign (I felt important) and assisted us with all our tickets and routes to head on our way. We headed straight for the Puebla and then onto Tlachichuca were we were taken in a taxi to the Cancholas hotel. We arrived in Tlachichuca at 8:30 PM where Meribel had dinner waiting with tortillas, soup, and rice. It was nice that they were still there and waiting despite our flight delay. The accommodations were nice with two floors. Meribel the housekeeper there showed us around including the flat roof top with an excellent view of Orizaba! The night was perfect so I asked if I could sleep up there and she said with a confused look we have a room for you I indicated that I would like to sleep under the stars and under the mountain we'd soon be challenging. She said 'yes, no problem'a common phrase we heard from Meribel throughout our time there.

Thursday January 29th 2009

I woke up at dawn from the sounds of nearby roosters; turns out the place across the street had a half a dozen roosters in a tiny coupe! While my friends were sound asleep in their rooms, I had the early alarm, but it was worth it. The night was great and it was enjoyable to start my excursion in the open air. I took a shower before anyone was awake. There are three private bathrooms/showers across the courtyard from our rooms with plenty of hot water. I met Justin, Matt, and Ericfrom Colorado and New Hampshire. They had climbed Ixta a few days before and were heading up without a guide. We had some time to walk the city before our 4x4 ride, so we went to town, and purchased a few things. After a nice breakfast, we took a 2 hour ride up to Piedra Grande hut in an old fashioned enclosed truck. The road was dry and dusty and I would recommend covering your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or bringing a painter mask. We arrived early afternoon and had the hut nearly to ourselves. Having climbed Mt Rainier and staying in the Camp Muir public shelter, this hut was enormous. It has three levels to sleep probably 30-40 people if needs be. We spent the remainder of the day hanging out in the hut, hydrating and eating. Our guide made us a delicious lunch and early dinner. He continued to encourage us to 'drink, drink' He had hot cocoa for us at anytime as well. An early night came and we all went to bed. We hung our snacks and any gear at the recommendation of our guide since he said there may be some mice in the hut. The only time I saw one was outside when we first arrived. Earplugs blocked out any noise and a good night sleep was achieved.

Friday January 30th 2009

Today was a rest day to continue our acclimatization and to take an acclimatization's hike. We set out after breakfast, trekking onto of the once used cement aqueducts. At about 14,400' I was disappointed to see that there were large rocks that had almost graffiti like writing on them for a large stretch of the path. We trekked to about 15,000' where the guys we met at the Canchola's hotel were setting up their higher camp. Our group was drinking about one liter every hour and feeling pretty good, I hope it was due to our conditioning, but to be on the safe side, we were all on Diamox as well. I drank 4 liters throughout the day to stay hydrated. And loaded with carbs. We met two guys from New York that had a guide as well. They planned on heading up in the morning, sometime after us. We all turned down pretty early. There were several other groups rolling in throughout the night, making meals and being quite loud. That, coupled with anticipation of the summit day ahead did not make for a peaceful nights rest.

Saturday January 31st SUMMIT DAY

After a light snack for breakfast, we departure at 2:00 AM. I vomited within the 45 minutes of starting because of GU and water I had taken a little too late before we set out. That's happened to me before and I should have known better. I was concerned about dehydration so I made sure to keep a slow, constant flow of Gatorade through my hydration tube until it froze midway up the Labyrinth. I'm glad we had the guide at this point since this portion of the climb there were no definable tracks or trail under pitch black skies it was nice to have someone who knew where they were going. We arrived at the Jamapa Glacier prior to sunrise and noticed several other groups headlamps bobbing not too far behind. We took a good size break there to put on our crampons and rest a bit. Our friends we met at the Canchola's arrived as well as the two guys from New York who's guide wasn't with them and they said after the Labyrinth he told them were good to go and then turned back? I still thought that was rather funny. Consequently, I'm not sure if the guide leaving had anything to do with it, but neither of those two guys made the summit.

Incessant winds began the moment we stepped on the Jamapa glacier, it was almost like a switch was flipped and the winds turned on, and never turned off until we stepped off the glacier? I wore goggles the entire time. Our guide said he hadn't seen winds this strong in a long, long time35-50 mph. It continued to beat energy and zapped any rhythm of progress I was trying to make. I think it also made our pace slower than normal. We stopped for a drink at 18,000 and my insulated water bottle had begun to crystallize. A quick drink of ice cold Gatorade lead to brain freeze; a head ache that lingered with me throughout the final push up to the summit. Crampons were biting well enough and the slow, methodical pace continued until the volcano rim and the first sight of the true summit just before 11:00 AM no speed record here, but nonetheless we were a quick 5 minutes from the rim to the summit and the first half of successful day was complete. What took nearly 4 hours to ascent the Jamapa Glacier, took only 40 minutes to decent.

We took a long, slow decent as we were in no hurry. As with other peaks I've experienced at altitude, every step away from the summit seemed to spark a bit more life into my body. We arrived back in the hut at 2:15 PM. A dusty two hour drive back, looking forward to a warm wash and a hot Mexican meal. A welcomed dinner and the only thing all of us wanted to do was crash. I had one of the most rested nights sleep of my life.

Sunday February 1st 2009

Nice breakfast and the Tlachichuca square was bustling with the weekly market so it was fun to see what seemed like the entire city out mingling and doing their weekly shopping and purchases. We returned to Mexico City with plenty of time for our 3:30 flight back to the states. A few from our group left Monday so they could visit the pyramids. What a great trip and an experience we'll never forget! Fast Facts: 5 of 7 in our group summited 6 of 13 climbers that attempted that day summited (4) 5 gallon purified water jugs was enough for the 7 of us 13 hour round trip (30 min. stop in high camp, glacier, and high camp on decent as well as time on summit) Certainly not a speed record. Acclimatization hike on other volcanoes didn't seem to prove necessary as 4 of 5 climbers we spoke with who did summit Izta a few days prior, didn't summit Orizaba. Our group was on Diamox just to be safe You don't have to worry about packing light since all our gear was transported so bring what you'd like!


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