| Pico de Orizaba (Citlaltépetl) Summit Ski (Jamapa Glacier)
Date: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 (summit day)
Skiers: Lance and myself; Climbers: my dad (Fred) and Randy (close family friend)
Route: Jamapa Glacier standard ascent and ski descent from Piedra Grande Hut at 14,000'
Stats (summit day): ~6.5 miles; 4,500’ climbed; 2,500’ skied; 13 hrs RT
The eastern skyline begins to shine as I start ascending the Jamapa Glacier on Pico de Orizaba (Citlaltépetl):
Our routes (blue=climb; red=ski):
Photo courtesy of benners
Our group – Randy, Dad, me, and Lance with our guides Cato (left) and Fernando (right):
Where to start? This trip was more than just a mountain climb; it was an adventure, a genuine cultural experience, and a trip of a lifetime that we'll never forget. Orizaba has been in the works for at least a year and a half. A few years back, my dad and Randy attempted Orizaba in March, but weather halted their progress at 15,800'. They wanted to go back, and Lance and I wanted to start expanding mountaineering outside of Colorado (so why not start with Orizaba?!). After doing some research and talking to Sr. Reyes, we found out that around October/November, the Jamapa Glacier conditions are best, but the weather is less predictable; and the opposite is true during the more popular climbing season of January-March. The dates were set, and then the time came to decide whether to ski it – duh! We did a lot of research on ski descents, but there isn't much literature out there. Whatever we found seemed to lack certain information so I'm hoping this trip report will provide encompassing details for future skiers. **Although I'm sure it's been done, a few others and I have not been able to find any documented literature on other women skiing this peak from the summit.**
We took an early flight out of Denver, connected in Phoenix, and arrived in Mexico City (the biggest city in the world!) where we spent the night. The following morning, we took a 2-hour Estrella Roja charter bus ride to Puebla (the biggest bus station any of us have ever seen), and, after a short layover, caught a $4.00/2.5-hour bus ride to Tlachichuca, a small town just below the foothills of Orizaba. A two-block walk down the street and we were at the old renovated soap factory, the Reyes' Family guide service headquarters. That night we enjoyed an authentic Mexican dinner prepared by the cook, played ping-pong, and watched a movie.
A few photos of the soap factory:
2.5 hours; ~2,300' elevation gain
Most of us were up fairly early to a cloudy morning, still no sight of Orizaba yet. So we decided to walk around town to find the boys their mandatory cup of java. Sunday apparently is a big day in Tlachichuca – everyone comes to sell their merchandise (including used shoes) and sets up large tarps covering the entire main city square. After another genuine meal, we met and spoke with our guides – Fernando and Cato. An hour later, we packed up the vintage Dodge Power Wagon's and headed up on a dirt road, through the highest civilized village in North America (Hidalgo), to 11,700ft. The guides asked us to hike up to the hut from here to start with acclimation. The hike was easy, mostly on a dirt trail or the road, and took 2.5hrs to reach Piedra Grande at 14,000ft. About a half mile from the hut, we were greeted with our first views of Orizaba.
Hiking to Piedra Grande Hut:
First view of Orizaba, looming over Piedra Grande :
We arrived at 3:00pm to a nice lunch cooked by one of our guides, and would spend the next 49 hours at 14,000' or higher! Unless you have earplugs and sleeping pills, don't plan on sleeping well; we lucked out the first night with only one other Polish climber in addition to our group. Night fell early and we went to sleep planning on a higher-elevation acclimation day to follow.
Home for the next two nights:
2 hours up, 45min. down; ~1,450' elevation gain
Fernando cooked scrambled eggs for breakfast as we got our packs together. He suggested we bring our skis, crampons, ice axes, and harnesses to stash them at one of the high camps. At 8:30am, we started up the aqueduct at a rather slow pace, leaving the aqueduct around 14,150' and hiking up a steeper scree section. Dad turned around near 15,000' due to fatigue from lack of sleep; Randy, Lance, and I kept with Fernando and Cato to 15,450' (a new high point for us) where an established camp site provided us a place to stash our gear overnight. Fernando wanted to hang out up there for awhile, and we did so for an hour enjoying good conversation. At 11:30am, we headed back down and returned to Piedra Grande 45 minutes later. That afternoon, more climbers started to roll in, including cheeseburglar, his girlfriend, and taylorzs from 14ers.com! We enjoyed good conversation with them a majority of the afternoon. There were close to 20 people in the hut that night from all over the world –Brazil, Spain, Poland, USA, and Mexico. The next day's plan was to have Dad start at 1:00am, the three of us a half hour later for a summit bid…
Hiking up the aqueduct; Fernando, Randy, and Lance climb up the scree section (inset):
Acclimating at high camp at 15,540':
7hrs. 35min. total ascent time; 4,500' elevation gain; ~2,500' vertical skied
We woke to rain and snow. Fernando suggested waiting one hour maximum to see if the weather would subside. Just as we fell back asleep, the clouds broke and a "let's get ready to go," came from Fernando. Dad and Randy started at 2:20am; Lance, Cato, and I at 2:45am. An hour and a half later, we arrived at our stash covered with a layer of snow. Here, we switched into ski boots and everyone put crampons on. The next part, called the "Labyrinth" was a fun 500' section consisting of short ~50-degree pitches interspersed with some mixed alpine climbing on snow, rock, and ice. From the stash, we moved for an hour and a half as the skyline began to glow to reach the base of the glacier near 16,000' (at 6:30am).
Dad, Fernando, and Randy hike through the Labyrinth:
The group pauses for a break at the base of the Jamapa Glacier:
Starting up the glacier (Lance – inset):
We started up at 6:35am - the lower portion of the glacier is a mellow slope – maybe 28 degrees. Around 17,100', the slope gradually steepened, averaging around 35-40 degrees and maxing out in the low 40's (at least on the line we took). The guides asked if we wanted to rope up – Fred roped to Cato and Randy to Fernando, Lance and I elected not to rope up (but had harnesses on in case that changed). Lance took the reins, Randy and Fernando held a slow and steady pace behind, Dad and Cato were a half hour below me hiking all by my lonesome. Our route on the glacier primarily stayed near the center of the north face as we heard from a recent climber that he thought he saw some crevasse activity on the northwestern portion. Clear, sunny skies accompanied by a wind that was just cool enough to prevent constant changing of layers couldn't have made for a better glacier climb. The Jamapa Glacier felt relentless and looked deceivingly short to everyone! 3hrs. 45min. after starting the glacier, Randy, Lance, Fernando, and I were on the summit at 10:20am (7hrs. 35min. total ascent time). The volcanic crater was one of the biggest, deepest, and stunning craters we have ever seen.
Lance met me at the crater rim...
...before the final 30-meter effort to the summit:
Randy, myself, Lance (left photo), and Dad (right photo) stand as the highest people in North America:
Since Randy and Fernando each lacked the luxury (a pair of skis!), they started down shortly after and glissaded most of the bottom two-thirds of the glacier. We waited 25 minutes for my dad - so badly I wanted him to be up there with me, but he wasn't in sight and a low pressure system was closing in. Lance and I refueled and prepared to ski off at 10:55am. (My dad would then reach the summit crater at 11:25am – I'm so proud of you!). **As a side note: Lance was in contact with a guy about his Orizaba ski descent who mentioned that the first few hundred vertical averaged 50 degrees and to watch out for a sulfur pit; I would estimate the max slope angle off the summit (this time of year) was really no more than 40 degrees, and there was no sulfur pit we found to watch out for.**
I'm excited to ski off the summit of Orizaba!
Lance skis off first and hits the upper face:
**SKI CONDITIONS: Around 18,000', we skied to my dad, gave him some words of encouragement to press onward, and continued making our turns. The 40-degree summit pitch soon gave way to fairly consistent ~36-degree slopes. A little farther down, I cut slightly across to the northwest part of the face and encountered 6 inches of breakable crust - I don't know if that was crevasse activity that had been covered up the climber encountered a few days ago or what. But I elected our ski route to flirt with the central and slightly northeast flanks. We skied on typical hard-pack, brushing through small pockets of wind-deposited powder. Skiing above the clouds was so cool.
Lance gets his well-earned turns above the clouds:
My turn to rip the face:
We were back at the bottom of the glacier in 35 minutes (at 11:30am), just after Randy and Fernando. Dad and Cato also glissaded, arriving at 12:30pm. The crampons went back on, and we joined with a few other climbers for a slow, cloudy descent through the Labyrinth. We returned to our 15,540' cache, anxious to swap plastics for boots. Twenty minutes later, the group headed down the trail and turned up at Piedra Grande at 3:20pm. The trucks were going to leave base camp at 4:00pm so we quickly packed up gear, gave cheeseburglar et al. an update on glacier conditions, and had a 2-hour ride back to the soap factory ready for real food. The only minor problem Lance and I had with the altitude was descending a little too fast (headaches).
We all crashed hard the night before, woke up on Wednesday and took the busses back to Mexico DF. Randy checked to see what it would cost to fly home a day early but it wasn't worth it. So, we killed time on Thursday by taking a tour of Teotihuacán, the largest pre-Columbian city containing some of the largest pyramids built by the Aztecs. We worked out both mornings in Mexico City, taking full advantage of the altitude and flew back to sea level Friday afternoon.
"Pyramid of the Sun" at Teotihuacán:
I must admit I was worried how I would do with the weight of skis on my back at an altitude I have never been at. This trip was exactly what I was hoping for – a pleasant surprise – not having any problems with either (thanks to CytoMax!). As I mentioned above, this trip was more than a mountain climb. It was an extraordinary experience from the initial planning to the return home and everything in between. We highly recommend Fernando and Cato (our guides) and Servimont as the guiding service. The Reyes' Family were excellent hosts and to share in their legacy was remarkable.
Things we wish we brought on the trip:
*Black Diamond Orbit lantern (would have been nice to hang in the hut for extra light)
*a tent (if we knew how loud the hut was ahead of time, a high camp for quietness would have been fun)
*protein powder and protein bars
Things we were glad we bought/brought:
*CamelBak StoAway (fully insulated reservoir, tube, and bite valve)
*Black Diamond Windweight fleece liner gloves (they do a great job blocking wind and were the only gloves we wore along the hike)
*Clif Shot Roks (protein bites)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):