| Quandary gives us a lashing
Conditions were less than stellar, but with our Orizaba climb rapidly approaching, we don't have the luxury of waiting for ideal weather.
The forecast called for a few inches of snow. Not surprisingly, it was only about 25 percent correct, as Breck saw almost a foot by the end of the day.
We met the other half of our Orizaba team (Jeffro and Deb) at the winter trailhead parking area (unfortunately, Mickey, you couldn't join us). It was only plowed enough for a couple vehicles, so we double parked. Nearby, a sign says the summer trailhead is a mile away, up the snowed-in road. It was a relief to learn that it's wrong, as the TH is really only about a quarter mile away -- maybe less.
At about 8:45 a.m. we started up the nicely packed trail.
Near treeline we got a glimpse of the upper mountain, but it didn't last long, and conditions never got any better than this.
The half mile or so around treeline was tough. Blowing snow fiercely erased any signs of previous life, forcing us to routefind our way up the deep snow. At times it felt like we were climbing a mountain of white sugar, and it was completely exhausting. I didn't feel like hiking back to the truck for the snowshoes, and I don't think anyone else did either, so we sucked it up and pushed on.
This 7-second video gives you a sense of what it was like (snowing, gusting, postholing, freezing):
Adding to the difficulty was the relentless wind, which, of course, was blowing down mountain.
Once we made it to the ridge, the evil winds seemed to strengthen. Meanwhile, the stinging snow exfoliated my cheeks.
Crampons would've been nice in a few icy spots, but they weren't completely necessary. That, and I didn't feel like putting them on in those conditions.
There were some small snow drifts on the ridge, but nothing too deep. Walking in it, however, was very tiring -- like walking in sand.
Did I mention it was windy? At one point, where the ridge narrows, a gust blasted us so hard it felt like it was going to blow us over the cornice to our left. From that point on I stayed far away from the edge.
It was too cold for Jen to take her mitts off to take pictures, so here's a self shot. At this time, I think I was thinking: "Intuition boot liners are worth every penny."
This was about the time we met a couple who decided to turn back (I later learned it was arianna2 & wife?/gf?). Farther down the mountain, we could see a couple other groups, but they also turned back.
Even though conditions were brutal (though not complete whiteout or worsening, from what we could tell), we were all feeling pretty good, relatively warm, confident in our skills, yada yada … so we continued on.
Jen and I gulped down the thin, icy air as fast as we could, but it wasn't enough to keep up with Jeff and Deb, who were at least 50 yards ahead of us. It had been a while since we were up to 14,000 feet, and we could feel it.
As soon as the rocks faded beneath a blanket of snow, I knew we were getting close to the summit.
Here's a shot of Jen nearing the top:
At about 12:45 we gained the summit. Thankfully, the winds up top were a little lighter than they were lower on the ridge. Visibility was still limited. The temperature was -5 F. Wind chill was probably in the negative 20s or 30s. And it was still snowing. But it was an awesome feeling to be up there, especially since it was our (me and Jen) first calendar-winter 14er ascent.
Deb and Jen on the summit:
Me and Jeff:
For obvious reasons, we didn't stay at 14,265' (plus the feet of snow we were standing on) for long.
It was nice to finally be heading down, and it went much quicker than going up.
Along the way, a friendly and fearless pika came out of his hole to greet us. To our surprise, he walked right up to us. Before scampering back to his hole, he ran up to Deb's boot and gave it a little kiss.
Farther down the mountain, our tracks (and the other climbers' tracks) were mostly blown away. And the tracks that weren't blown away were difficult to see in the flat lighting. So, once again, we had to do a little routefinding, plus more epic postholing.
Once back on the tramped-down trail in the trees, it was mostly smooth sailing to the finish line.
We made it back to our lonely trucks at the trailhead at about 2:45.
Overall, the climb was tougher than I expected – mostly due to the poor conditions. But I think it was good for us, as it toughened us up some. But now that we're prepared for hellish conditions, it'll probably be hot as hell on Citlaltepetl and we'll be sweating our asses off.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):