Mexico’s Highest Point and a How to Plan Really Great Adventure!

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1975022_10103606033666509_767150530_nOver the past few years I have been traveling a lot. I have made my way to 9 countries and spent countless hours in my car crossing state lines. I love it. It’s one of those things that might not be for everyone, but I have slowly but surely figured out the way to make traveling work for me.

On my last trip to Mexico, I spent a few days in Mexico City before traveling to a volcano and climbing to the top. This trip felt perfect. I have had a lot of really great experiences going places that I have never been to. Sometimes, however, it is just off. Things don’t go the way you planned, you over planned and can’t see everything, or you don’t know what you are doing and it ends in failure.

The “failed” experiences have taught me a lot about seeing the world and planning for adventures. For example, I don’t really plan the details right away. I have a general outline of the things I want to see and do. Usually, these items are generalized to 3 points of interest: City, Nature, and something specific to the area that I would not be able to see anywhere else in the world.

These three things vary drastically depending on where you go. Iceland = Glaciers/Northern Lights/Fjords. New York City = Broadway/Montauk. The point is. Find things that interest you and make them your priority when you go somewhere. Personalize you trip because the way I travel is different from most people. I like to see things that are hard to reach and require effort… But that’s just me.

I also give myself a few days worth of unprepared activities to either do something unexpected with new people and/or relax and enjoy doing absolutely nothing. I feel like my most recent trip to Mexico City and Orizaba was planned just enough with just the right adventures.

For this trip to Mexico my three points of interest were ~ City: Colonial Architecture of Mexico City including cathedrals. I also like to find a high point in a city and get a birds eye view… Nature: Climb Pico de Orizaba (the tallest peak in Mexico and 3rd tallest peak in North America. It is also one of the 7 volcanic summits)… and Unique: Aztec ruins. I was able to see some of the largest pyramids in the world.

The first few days of the trip were spent in the city and the pyramids were only an hour bus ride. I was enjoying my time alone in the 2nd largest city in the world before my friend Brent arrived to join for the 2nd half of the trip and what the rest of this post is going to talk about: Our climb up Pico de Orizaba.

Brent arrived and we spent a day hanging out. The following morning we took the car we rented and tried to make our way out of the city toward a town call Puebla and then on to Tlachichuca, a small town at the base of the volcano. Our original plan was to rent a Jeep and drive all the way to the base camp hut dubbed Piedra de Grande.

The airport does not actually rent Jeeps and so we were left with a small car. We changed plans and were lucky enough to reserve a ride from Hotel Gerar in Tlachichuca.

We left Mexico City around 430am on Friday morning to make sure we made it to Hotel Gerar by 9am. The drive to the hut takes about 2hours and we wanted to have a solid day to acclimate.

After heading the wrong down a few one way streets we finally navigated to the highway that led us toward Puebla. Eventually, we reach Tlachichuca and Hotel Gerar around 9am. We had read that there was a bank in this small town, but there wasn’t, so we got breakfast and headed to a town 15 mins away to pick up cash for the Jeep ride up. It was about $700 pesos each, I think for a round trip ticket.

We were running a bit late, but it was now 1130am and we were on our way to the hut… Until the transmission of the Jeep dumped all over the driveway as we were backing out…

They said it might be hose that just popped lose, but Brent and I were beginning to think that this hike might not happen. We took a quick nap on one of the Hotel beds and before we knew the Jeep was up and running again. It was now almost 1pm and we were actually on our way.

The road was a bit bumpy and dusty. We were scoping to see if we could’ve driven it, but a few turns here and there would have probably led to us just getting lost for a few hours at least. We were glad that someone was there to take us.

We arrived at the hut around 3pm. It is a beautiful place at 14000ft. The landscape heading up to the hut is pine forests and I felt like I was back in Idaho. At the hut we were above the tree line. It was very volcanic, high elevation tundra. Low grass and grey rocks below Orizaba’s gnarly ridges and large glacier that pointed toward the summit.

We were up there later than we had hoped, and we wasted no time. We did a quick hike to about 15000ft and had a snack below a part of the climb called the Labyrinth.  A small waterfall fell near us as we sat and watch the afternoon thunderclouds roll above and below us. They streaked and grew along the ridges next to the hut below.

The wind picked up and the temperature dropped as the sun lowered behind the peak. We returned to the hut. We both felt pretty good about the hike and the altitude. We ate dinner and chatted with a few other climbers at the hut. There were about 14 of us. 10 would be trying to summit in the morning.

Something I remember strongly is the energy in the hut. I have never really stayed at a large base camp in such a way. It was a magical feeling to say the least. We were among people from all over the world. French, U.S., Mexican, Canadian, and Spanish climbers shared beta and talked of successful summits that morning and previous adventures from around the world.

I felt excited and anxious lying in my sleeping bag listening to the wind and the other climbers retiring. I had a hard time sleeping. I tossed and turned most of the night, and before I knew it, it was 1:15am and we were getting dressed and organized.

Soon enough, we were on our way up the trail we had crossed less that 12 hours before. It was pretty cold, but the wind had died and we were feeling good.

After about an hour we passed our snack area from the day before and made our way up through the Labyrinth and toward the saddle and glacier. We saw a few headlamps taking different routes and decided on a couloir that looked promising. I had a few issues with my crampon coming undone, but finally got it secure and we went up and across a steep wall of snow to a rock. We pulled ourselves up and the snow leveled out.

Another climber, Justin, met up with us and we all regrouped. His friend was ill and wasn’t going to make it. They had started at 1230am and had been resting every few minutes. He asked to join our party and we were happy to have him.

We walked up the saddle, through some rocks toward the edge of the glacier and the rock formation called the Sarcophagus. It was cold and we were all wishing the sun would come up. Faint light on the horizon warned us of its arrival, but it was still a good hour away.

We reached the glacier’s edge and Brent spoke up. He wasn’t feeling well. The altitude was making him dizzy and nauseous. We debated for a little while before Justin and I decided to press on. Brent would wait at the glacier’s edge for a while to see if he felt better before continuing up or returning to the hut.

We could see a few headlamps on the glacier above us. We went straight up towards them following the images of the route in my minds eye and using the headlamps above as a guide.

They seemed to be moving slowly and we gained on them until we too were slowed by the altitude. At high elevation, it only takes a few steps before you are winded and you heart is pounding out of your chest.

The sun broke the horizon and warmed us on our slow slog up. The glacier progressively steepened and a footpath switched back up the face.

I was feeling very optimistic and strong the majority of the hike. The hikers above us had disappeared, leaving Justin and I alone on the glacier.

After a while with the peak seeming to not move closer the altitude began to start taking a toll on me. I was drinking water regularly and eating here and there. We decided to take a few minutes to sit. We rested on the trail and I tried to stomach some bread. I nearly puked it back up before realizing that I felt better when I was moving.

We stood and pressed on. It was only during the few minutes between sitting and beginning hiking again that the thought of failure crossed my mind. For a split second as I placed on foot slowly in front of the other I thought I might be too sick to keep going.

A few steps. Feel dizzy. Stop. Catch your breath. Feel normal again. Repeat.

I got back in the rhythm that I had lost when we sat. The feeling of failure passed and the top of the volcano came into view. The sun lit the rim and I knew we were moments from the top.

Slope became flat and glacier became sand. The caldera opened up before us and we walked its rim to a large cross that marked the high point. We passed the french man and his guide heading back down.

1779763_10103606033152539_1699186702_nTwo other U.S. climbers (Jay and Art) and their guide stood on the summit with us. After a few minutes of celebrating, they turned and began their descent. Justin and I didn’t linger too much longer before following them down.

We joined back up with them at the base of the glacier where they sat eating lunch with Justin’s original climbing partner, Tim.

We hung out and rested, eating and laughing before we all headed down the main chute of the Labyrinth. The route Brent and I had taken was different, but still got us where we needed to be. The guided teams took about 5:30 to get to the summit from the hut. It took me about 6 hours. The time lost in the Labyrinth accounted for most of it I think.

A few hours later we entered the hut. I climbed up to my bunk and got into my sleeping bag. It wasn’t the hardest climb I’d done, but I was still pretty tired. I fell asleep for about an hour and was woken up by our Jeep driver. He was ready to take us down.

We packed and the 2 Canadians joined us on the ride back to the Hotel.

Brent and I returned to Mexico City and reach our hostel. I went to bed early and woke up late. Brent’s flight was that afternoon and he was gone before I woke.

I met a few people in the hostel and we went to a huge market filled with everything you can imagine. There were even chickens and dogs. It was a great experience. We roamed the city for the day and came back to movie night at the hostel. It was a great last day to my vacation.

A cab took me to the airport in the morning and I began my return trip home.

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