| Orizaba, Hot Dogs, Kushrocks, and School Girls
There have been quite a few Pico de Orizaba Trip Reports posted during this season. My trip followed the same route (ruta normal/Jamapa Glacier) as those and shared many of the same logistics. But alas, here is my story:
As I keep inching towards my Colorado Peak Goals, my non-Colorado List keeps growing...with a lone checkmark (Mt. Rainier). The list started off with some Cali 14ers and Rainier. Then, thanks to some great trip reports on this site, that list started to expand...Grand Teton, Kings Peak, Pico de Orizaba, Aconcagua! Then curiosity got the better of me on trip to Alaska. Honey, we have an extra day, lets drive up to Talkeetna. I went home with the Coombs/Washburn West Buttress Guidebook...and yes, another goal. Then one day I am innocently sitting at work, when sstratta decides to link to an Ecuador Trip Report...should I look..my wife has relatives there? Doh, Illiniza Norte, Coto, & Chimbo are now on the list.
Those 20K peaks are going to require quite the time and financial committment! I want to follow the blueprint so many on this site have followed, let's see how I do at altitude on Pico! As potential partners come and go, I hit my 40th b-day..."DAMMIT!" Hey more Pico Trip Reports...still no partner. I am not paying/going on some 8 day guided nonsense up this peak! I throw a feeler out on this site for partners...I get many responses, but none really fit the mold (timing, money, lack of experience, and general lethargy)!
Then finally I did something smart As I was drinking a beer with this site's unofficial social director in Golden, I brought up my Orizaba partner problem.
"You should get a hold of Kushrocks!"
"What, he just climbed it last year?"
"He was trying to put a group together."
"Isn't he supposed to be climbing Denali this Spring...where's he get the money"
"I wish I knew!"
That would be sweet to get him to go with me, I bookmarked his trip report last spring as my blueprint! Why is Ryan taking so long to respond...oh 18 hour day on Crestone, in deep snow, with his dog! Ryan is luke warm with the idea, apparently he did not win the lottery and there is a little gear to be bought for that peak in Alaska! Let's meet for a beer (so I can lay my sales pitch on him)! I'm not sure how it happened...because I did not think it was looking good, but a couple hours later we are shaking hands and picking dates! WOOHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am not particularly thrifty on trips like this, and Mexico gives me the heebee-geebees! So we'll be paying extra for some convenience. Now, can we do this in 5 days, with a full acclimation day? The plan (and costs):
Americian Airlines: Fri March 1st 5:40am-8:40 Dallas, 9:50AM-12:25 Mexico City; Return: Tues March 5th 3:30PM-6:10 Dallas, 10:30-11:30 $581 a piece
Antonio: Drive from airport (meet outside customs) to Cancholas in Tlachichuca. $150 each way (contact via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cancholas: Friday night, Monday night, 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, showers, ride up and down, 57 liters of fresh water, adoption of Ryan. $185 a piece (contact via summitorizaba.com)
Other expenses: tips, us letting Joaquin's wrench get stolen, cokes, airport meals...~$120
I made an extensive gear checklist for 1)Summit Day 2)Other time on mountain 3)Non-mountain (you can leave stuff at the Cancholas, it is safe, and they locked our room. Also, don't forget you need a non-expired passport).
Basic tips...temps were moderate (65-75) in transit from airport to mountain, mountain was warm (50, but felt like 70 during the day), and cold (wind chill dropped below zero at night!). We did not bring or need ropes or harnesses. I was happy to have
1) All days on mountain: glacier glasses, trekking poles, hat, sunscreen, sun hoody, new camera, down jacket/insulating layer
2) Summit climb: helmet, ice ax, crampons, Scarpa Mont Blanc Boots (we both wore them with mountaineering socks on summit day and my feet were a bit warm, Ryan's a bit cold), light parka for summit, soft-shell pants&jacket for summit day, moderate glove/mitten combo with mitten leashes, two nalgenes with insulators, gaitors, 45 liter pack, beanie, head-lamp (ryan had two)
3) acclimation hikes: light hiking boots (Salomen mid-gtx), light hiking pants/convertible shorts
4) camping: pot with cover (wish we had the cover), bags to keep food from mice, 0 degree bag with foam and inflatable matresses, Ryan's 4 man tent with lock, Cancholas super stove, my fave foods were ramen, pringles, oatmeal, MH lasagna. Long-johns for lounging at night (Patagonia Cap 3), book
I got out for a 13er or 14er attempt with at least 3K of gain every weekend so far this year (many, many times the temps were COLD)! I also ran 5 miles every Tuesday and Thursday, followed by an hour of light weights. Really the key for me was when I got in shape last year for Rainier I vowed to stay in shape and not let myself get fat and happy during the Holidays...just keep getting out there!
Ryan, well...he is training for Denali, and he is a personal trainer...ummm, he is ready for Denali!
Now for the trip!
Who: Shawn (Rainier_Wolfcastle), Ryan (Kushrocks)
TH: base camp Piedra Grande Hut @ 14,000 ft
Peaks: Pico de Orizaba (locally known as Citlaltépetl or "Star Mountain") 18,491 feet
Summit Day: 2:20am, Summit 7:40am, Base Camp 11:40am
Stats (estimated): 6.5 Miles & 4500 ft Elevation Gain
Route: Normal Route via the Jamapa Glacier
Got up at 2:30am, Ryan rings the doorbell...dammit, I am still in the shower! My wife drives us to the airport. Getting to the airport at 3:30...crap, American does not have anyone to take checked luggage until after 4am. I leave my Scarpa Boots at the check-in kiosk...don't realize it until I have gone through security and am about to board the tram...I need more sleep! After a bit of a panic, I go back and find boots...TSA was very helpful and gave me a pass to bypass the line!
Flights are on-time. TGI Fridays in Dallas was where we said goodbye to american food with a steak and burger, respectively. Flight to Mexico City was half empty...nice! Bring a pen to fill out your international forms on the plane! Customs in Mexico was a breeze...although a security dog wanted my blueberry muffin crumbs in my bag.
We beat Antonio by a few minutes...but here he comes with a sign with our names on it. He carries my heavy bag to his nice minivan. Antonio speaks English a little better than I speak Spanish, but most communication is Ryan and Antonio in Spanish. Antonio has a small cooler with cold cokes and water in the back. And we are off. The drive takes us through many checkpoints and tolls, but we never had to stop. It takes a hair less than 3 hours to get to the Cancholas.
Along the way I get my first peek throught the clouds of our objective (zoomed in):
Ryan is very please to be done travelling:
We pick our room, check our gear inventory, and prepare for an early dinner. Dinner was rice (with peas and carrots), assorted re-heated meats (chorizo, vienna sausage, hot dogs), black beans, and flour tortillas. Ryan has a double serving. I struggle to finish a single serving...some of the meat didn't taste right. After the early start, we are ready to call it a night at 6pm.
1 am, I have a headache and can't get the "assorted meats" taste of mouth.
1:20am, I am in the bathroom re-living dinner in reverse. Hmmm...this is not good start to the trip!
2:30am, Ryan wakes from hearing all my tossing and turning on my old squeeky bed. He asks me how I'm doing..."ummm...just a sec"...I am lucky to make it two feet outside the room before I litter the concrete with hot dog chunks. I return to the room and Ryan is stunned...and a little worried, "Hey, I ate twice as much as you!" After another 20 minutes, he gives me some great advice...why not just get it all out right now. After 15 minutes in the restroom, I am empty, and everyone in the Cancholas compound is now awake!
8am....not looking to good for us going up today, I guess the acclimation day is out the window. "Did I just spend almost a thousand bucks and 3 work vacation days to have my stomach turned inside-out?"
9:30am...let's try some breakfast, see how that goes? We convince Maribel that we don't want eggs and hot dogs for breakfast...how about some oatmeal and toast? This goes down pretty good.
10am and we go outside and less than a block away to grab somes cokes (no Annie, Ryan did not drink any soda...despite me having about 10 of them right in front of him) and some chips. Hey, that meat in the refrigerator case....that is the Vienna Sausage and Hot Dogs from our meal last night...and just like every other refrigerator case, it is not even plugged in!!!! Ryan, you have an iron stomach!!!
11am...Ryan tell Joaquin we would like to head up at noon! I'm back!
We get our gear ready and loaded in Joaquin's 1983 badass Dodge 4x4 (with, I believe, his original 1983 suspension system). Joaquin is this playful older man in his sixties. He is very trustworthy, friendly, and speaks very little English. He has like 9 different little birds, all different species, that he feeds and cleans their cages twice a day. He reminds me of my dad! He once carried a full-grown man with a broken ankle down Orizaba on his back...there is a picture of it on their wall.
Joaquin lets us borrow his stove, a pot, and gives us an old gas container specific to the stove. These made life much easier than using Ryan's JetBoil and our small pots.
The 2 hour ride up to Piedra Grande is slow! I eat Mexican Brand Ritz crackers and hydrate during the entire drive. We still can't see the peak...it rained/snowed all the previous night and the clouds are still hiding the peak.
A picture from the back seat:
It is cold and windy up there, there is one group leaving and another getting settled in the big red hut. Ryan sells me on moving into the little Yellow hut.
The yellow hut and the socked in upper mountain:
We go for quick stroll up the aqua-duct then left, following the route Ryan used last year.
Clouds above, clouds below, clear in the middle....looking back down:
Passing 14,500ft...a new personal high (Photo cred: Ryan):
I stop around 14,800. Ryan wants to jog up to 15K...and he does!
Ryan eats, and he eats, and he eats! Half bag of Chips Ahoy, a ramen, some Pringles, a Lasagna MH, all from 4-5 pm. This was just after a training hike...what are you going to eat tomorrow? He tells me about his $17 of Taco Bell after Little Bear, what? Given my stomach was shrunk and beat up, but all I had was one Ramen and some chips.
We decide we will get up early, and just head up and continue until we don't feel well.
After a few hours, I actually fell into a pretty good sleep. But I am woken by Ryan freaking out..."There are Mice in here!" Neither of us ever saw one, but we were both up most of the night hearing sounds. Also, something larger kept clawing at the outside of the structure...was it a dog? Also, it was windy and very cold, probably below zero. We lay around until maybe 7am.
Ryan promptly finds fresh mouse poo in his lone dish, right by his exposed toothbrush, and chewed on sunglasses....nice! My stuff is good, but after Ryan's mouse warning, I had bagged everything in my thick duffle. Ryan thus begins his 3 days without a toothbrush...nice breath buddy!
Ryan starts the move to his 4 man tent, in a nice spot 20 feet below the Yellow hut. This was a key move...no more animal visits, and his little lock kept the mobs from "inspecting" all of our stuff while we were gone.
A little after 8, a couple of trucks loaded with kids shows up! Great, we were just about to start our hike up to 16K.
We can finally see up top:
After leap frogging those kids and shedding pretty much all of our layers, I break another personal altitude record...now about 15K (Photo cred: Ryan):
There is a little snow above 15 K...trail is a mix of aquaduct, loose scree, dirt pack, and talus (Photo cred: Ryan)::
We make it to our stopping point, at the base of the labyrinth, just shy of 16k. Here is a guy coming down the correct gully:
As you ascend towards the labyrinth (there are mutliple ways to get there, I'll describe my recommendation in a bit), there is the prominent sub-peak ahead to your right (upper right of pic #12). There is a gully just to the left of the sub-peak's base...this gully looks like it might go, but you'll have a tough scramble when you are forced to exit. The correct labyrinth gully is the next one to the left! As you ascend it, you'll see it is really three seperate gullys that are interconnected.
As we sit at the base of the correct gully, we watch people all over the mountain. The 4 tired summiters working down the gully. The 3 crazy basterds that traversed the cliffs below that sub-peak to the upper right. At one point, all facing in, they spent a half hour to drop like 25 feet, just to try to get out of that terrain...why where they there? There is another group on the ridge West and above Piedra Grande.
Then there were the two crazy kids that arrived as we departed camp. Imagine someone dropping off 20 kids (10-14 in age) in jeans/shorts at Maroon Lake TH and saying..."hey, go as far as you want, just be back by 2pm!" Well, only three kids made it to 16k. Two, a boy & girl, decide to take on the Labyrinth. Ryan and I watch in dismay as they ascend the rib between the first and second gullies...when are they going to realize they have to climb down this? It is a sustained class 3 and class 4 climb on a mix of wet rock and snow/ice...in tennis shoes! They disappear past 16,400...will they be okay?
Of course the third kid, a 13 year-old boy starts talking to us...after Ryan and him discuss some politics(I have no idea what they were saying)...we follow the kid down a different route then we ascended. Hey, this route is way better!!!! Thanks kid! Turns out, people have essentially turned Pico into Longs! There may be cairns and social trails all over the place. But if you follow the route from the aquaduct up to the climber's right, and keep on the trail with little orange flag markings (sometimes just wrapped around a cairn, other times as little flags), this is the best way. The markings continue from like 14,500 all the way through the labyrinth and to the glacier transition at 16,600!
We get back to camp around noon. There is maybe 50-60 people wandering around. Glad we are not in the yellow hut...there are 5 people just goofing around in there right now. Then it starts...Ryan is requested to be in a picture with a little kid, he grabs his ice axe and obliges! 10 minutes pass, now two 12 year old girls want photos with Ryan. Next another girl...her father takes the photo...she blushes! Ryan is tired, he retires to the tent. I sleep right on the sand outside. There is a tap on my shoulder, some Spanish is spoken, I don't know what they are saying. Then I see a young girl, with her mom pointing at the camera....then pointing at the tent. I scream: "Ryan, more fans!" Soon Ryan emerges and grabs his axe! The girl lets out a smile and a giggle!
I think I know how he funds these expeditions now! Annie, don't let him out of your sight! The guy is the Justin Bieber of Mountain Climbing!
Finally things start to settle. We pack for summit day and throw down some big carb/calorie loads! Again, off to bed by 6pm!
After about an hour, we are both sleeping, there are people outside..."are you sleeping?" "excuse me, are you sleeping" After playing dead for 30 seconds, I crack and open the tent. A Czech guy (name like "john") and American girl from Washington (Jen) that now both live in Mexico City want some help. "Do you know the way? Are you going to the summit tomorrow? Can we follow you? What time are you starting?" Ummmm...okay...who are you again? They just hiked up to Piedra Grande, but they had summitted La Malinche (sp?) a 14er a few days ago. Ummm...sure you can follow us...good luck!
Okay, can we sleep now? NOPE! A guide service is trying to leave, but their car won't start! Maybe if I just keep turning the ignition, it will start...no? Let me try again two hunderd more times! How is their battery not dying?
Alarm goes off at 1 am. Ryan starts the stove, trying to boil water for his Nalgenes and my oatmeal! We get ready. 1:45, water still not boiling. It is cold and windy...he uses a huge rock to cover it. Finally, oatmeal!
We set off at 2:20am. Two headlamps follow close behind. Soon we are walking as four in tight single file. I am a little nervous as I woke with a headache and my espresso gu is stuck halfway down my esophagus. Is it the altitude? I am trying to keep our pace slow and doing a lot of pressure breathing.
We get to the base of the labyrinth at 4:40 for a short break and our transition to helmets, crampons, and ice axes. It is cold! Jen does not have mittens, nor a down insulating layer. Oh yeah, and her crampons don't fit. Ouch!
I actually have put on my Fitz Roy Parka and removed my soft shell...just to be a little toasty. I am feeling better...some more food and the caffeine seems to have helped...the only reason I woke feeling crappy was the crappy night's sleep!
Ryan leads the two of us up the labyrinth. John is using body warmth to try to warm Jen...they must be turning around. There is not 100% snow/ice coverage in this gully. But 90% of our steps are on nice cramponable snow/ice. For me, the transition from the first 150 ft gully to the 100 ft gully above it was the crux. A half inch of clear ice over some big round talus on a 45 -50 degree slope...but a few slow steps and I was past it. Now 35-40 degree couloir climbing for a few minutes. Then following orange flags over a field of rock to 16,600 ft and the base of the glacier.
Hey, I feel pretty good!
Now I can switch on the auto-pilot! duck step, cross-over, switchbacking...just one foot in front of the other...remember to breath! We have a nice size moon right over the summit...very peaceful!
It seems like we are not even moving. But we are! Rest-stepping, 3-5 breath breaks occasionally. Why am I getting stronger? Am I delusional?
Then around 17-17,500 the picture period broke:
Me (Credit: Ryan...hey, get me the full size of these two!):
The Pyramid Shadow:
Ryan (Is that 100 feet or 2,000 feet in front of you? From the view, you have no idea!):
Looking back. Hey, there is someone down there...must be John:
Taking rest step to whole new meaning (Photo cred: Ryan):
Wait, how did Ryan get so far ahead? P.E.Ds!!!!!!!!!!!!
Double Pyramid (the neighboring peak is a 14er):
At 7:40am (Ryan like 7:30am) Victory!
I actually got a little misty when I took my first step from glacier to dirt crater rim. That is unusual for me. Altitude always scared me...I don't know why. I felt the best I had felt the whole trip, at this moment!
Ryan is reminded of his good friend, Rob Jansen (Photo by Ryan):
The larger than expected Crater NE:
After I have a snack/drink and Ryan does like 30 push-ups, we decide to head down!
Hey, where did that guy behind us go?
We delayer quickly, once in the sun! You can go down fast...it is a 35-45 degree, but the surface is soooo rough...with many buckets. No glissade would be possible!
As we leave the glacier, we see the guy above us...why is he so far to the right?
We are both feeling good and take a few pictures on the way down:
As we get back to base camp at 11:30, Joaquin is waiting for us...Joaquin, we said 2pm. No matter, everyone is in good spirits! Jen, however, is concerned about John...ohh, he'll be coming down in a couple of hours!
We pack up. Joaquin says we should wait until the other guy comes down....Jen is trying to get them a ride down with Joaquin!
A new guided group is staying in the Hut now. We talk with them.
Two other guys just biked up from Vera Cruz...something like 100 kms. One of them, Hector went for a quick run up to the glacier and back. Wow, who is this guy. It is Hector Ponce de Leon. He is a Mexican High-Altitude climber that has summitted Everest via three different routes and he has 6 other 8ers to his credit! Ryan is instantly smitten! It is just like the day before, only the roles have changed! Ryan is now the 12 year-old school girl and Hector is the majestic mountaineer!
Around 1:30, an exhausted John comes down the trail....he stopped at 18k. "Why were you so far right?" "I knew I was there, but don't know why I went there." Altitude (with pretty much no acclimation) got the best of him.
While enjoying the race between Joaquin and his competitor Senor Reyes (in his pickup with topper) we made our way down the mountain. We have quick showers, I enjoy another Coke, and we sit down for dinner....no hot dogs please! We enjoy some great soup, chips and fresh salsa, and cake...along with a few Coronas...of course! Oh yeah, and Ryan did a double Tequila shot with Joaquin. Joaquin and his daugher Maribel are awesome!
And things just keep getting better. Hector is here, and he just gave Ryan his number and email! He apparently hangs out in Boulder sometimes and may be doing Denali this spring! Ryan is blushing! Hey! When 8,000 meter climbers come to Orizaba, they eat at the Cancholas...not Senor Reyes'!
Again, we are in bed at 6pm....what, are we old men?
Oatmeal and coffee for breakfast! Packed up. Paid in dollars (they required a $35 per person pay pal deposit beforehand) with tip and extra pesos for the wrench we let get stolen. Antonio arrives at 9:15 (we paid him, with tip, at the end of each leg of the drive).
I take some parting shots:
Joaquin's Wall of Fame. Hector is the guy in red in the top left photo...on the summit of Everest:
We have a nice meal that costs us our remaining $700 pesos at the airport. Again, the flight is half empty. Dallas customs has 3 TSA workes and 1,000 people in line...55 minutes later, we are through. More TGI Fridays....and I don't even like TGI Fridays...but it was soooo goood!
Back Home, back to life, back to reality!
Thanks for coming Ryan! Polish Direct?
Thanks for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):