| Los Tres Amigos Get High In Mexico
El Pico De Orizaba 18,490 North America's 3rd highest peak
Route: Jamapa Glacier
Elevation Gain 4,600 ft
Climbers: Paul Perea, Dima "Martynda", Michael "Shogun"
Round Trip time: 8 Hrs 20 minutes
Distance: 6.5 miles
Start time: 3:15 A.M Summit 8 A.M
First of all I would like to thank Dima for pushing to make this trip happen and to Michael who did not take any arm twisting to join us on such short notice. I'm starting this report from a internet cafe in Mexico City with 3 days to kill. We booked the trip for 6 days based on information we received from other climbers saying anything less would be rushing it. Since neither of us had any prior high altitude experience outside of Colorado we booked it for 6 days but can now say it could of easily been done in 4 days. Here was our itinerary and how it actually played out.
Saturday Night: Fly into Mexico City and travel by bus to Puebla where we would spend the night.
Sunday: Take an early bus to Tlachichuca and get gas and water and drive up to the hut.
Monday: Acclimation hike to 16,000 ft
Wednesday: Alternate summit day or hang out in Tlachichuca
Thursday: Take bus back to Mexico City
Friday: Fly back to Denver
Saturday Night: Flew Mexico City arrived 7:45 p.m took bus to Puebla stayed at the Holiday Inn Express.
Sunday: Traveled to Tlachichuca arrived at 9 a.m loaded up on gas for the stoves and water then traveled to the hut.
Tuesday: Traveled back to Mexico City where we would be tourists for 3 1/2 days.
Sunday morning we woke up early and were on the first bus from Puebla to Tlachichuca. We arrived about 9 am with a ride scheduled to the hut on the dusty 4x4 road at 11:00 a.m.
We instantly drew attention from the locals as we walked down the main street from the bus droppoff to Servimont with our heavy duffle bags.
Tlachichuca has a population of about 15,000 it is a very happening place. We were able to spend some time there on Monday night and there was music playing, kids running around, and food galore! I enjoyed the little town very much. Not one of us ever felt uncomfortable about getting robbed.
The residents of Tlachichuca wake up to this amazing view each morning.
Guns loaded ready to go!
The first views of the volcano looked very impressive El Pico De Orizaba towers above the town and all other mountains around it. While we waited for our driver Joel who would take us up the dusty 4X4 road we had a chance to get water and fuel for the stoves. We took two 5 gallon jugs up which was supposed to be enough for 3 days. Had we stayed on the mountain that long it would not have been enough. We got a tour of the old soap factory from Senor Reyes AKA Dr. Reyes who runs his mountain lodging guide business out of. He hosts climbers from all over the world looking to stand on top of El Pico De Orizaba. There are many unique antiques at Servimont and we realized that we were in real Mexico not some beach town. It was nice walking around the town and Servimont for over an hour but we were all very anxious to get up on the mountain. After breakfast we were ready to go and Joel our driver showed up. Joel was one of the coolest guys I met on the entire trip. I got to know him well on the two hour drive to the hut. We talked about everything from the local lifestyle, the mountain guide business, conditions on the mountain, and family. After about an hour in a half up the road Dima and Michael were complaining of the amount of dust in the back of the truck shell. I let Michael sit up front and got in the back with Dima and realized what the complaining was about very dusty indeed and not good for climbers trying to acclimatize. Joel stopped halfway up the road and we were able to get out of the truck for a pit stop and enjoy the amazing views of Orizaba as it got closer and bigger. It brought back a conversation we had with a resident of Tlachichuca when I asked "Do many people from here climb Orizaba"? His reply "No". I asked why not? He said "Only crazy people climb it". As steep as the glacier was looking I started to wonder if the man might of been right. The road was not that bad in comparison to some of Colorado's mountain roads.
After bouncing around in the truck for 2 hours we were finally at the hut elevation 13,900 ft. I did not feel like we were that high. Tree line here starts much higher than in Colorado and for some reason it did not feel that high. After unloading the bags and setting up our beds in the hut I took a casual walk up a short ways. I really wanted to go to 14,500 because I could not wait to break my altitude record but snow starts at 14,200 and I had only had my trail runners on. As I got to 14,200 feet I checked my heart rate monitor and it was 150 and I was sitting down. This was the first time it registered in my mind that breathing at that altitude is no joke.
Looking down at 14,200 shortly after arriving at the hut.
I made my way back down to the hut and asked the guys how they were feeling everyone was fine. We agreed that Tuesday was going to be our summit day and if we needed another day we would leave Joel the driver a note on the window of the hut to pick us up on Wednesday. A huge group from Spain was leaving as we arrived and they said the night prior the hut was so full that people were sleeping on the floor under the wooden benches and wherever they could find room. Another guided group from Mexico City came down after the group from Spain left and said only 3 of the 7 summited. Another family from the town below at 11,000 ft were there and had taken a tractor and trailer with about 10 people up to the hut. They sat and chatted with us as we set up our sleeping areas. Michael was a big hit with the kids as he gave them candy. As it got later in the afternoon the place emptied out and before long we were the only ones on the mountain. My anxiety grew I think the guys were getting annoyed with me pacing back and forth then stopping to look out the window at the peak every 5 minutes.
Drinking Acclimation Juice!
I jokingly said let's go for it tonight and skip the acclimation hike. Dima said "No that would be stupid and a huge mistake". The idea seemed to grow legs and before long we were debating the pros and cons of skipping an acclimation hike. We all agreed that it would be stupid and a mistake to try for the summit 12 hours after arriving at the hut. So we packed for our "acclimation hike" about 8.p.m and Michael said "This doesn't feel like we are packing for an acclimation hike we just looked at him and smiled each knowing in the back of our minds this was it even though it still remained "The acclimation hike"!
Soon after we went to bed and turned off the lantern the winds picked up. Surprisingly we were all able to get about 4 hours sleep. When the alarm went off at 2 a.m. The gusts seemed to shake the cement building. Dima went outside to check conditions and said it was not cold just really windy and we should push our start time back an hour. Then Michael went outside and agreed the winds were very strong and he had prayed to Mountain and God to grant us passage. We agreed to eat breakfast and get dressed then see how far we could get but we all packed like it was a summit bid.
Here I said a prayer for safety and success.
At 3am we walked out the door and like magic the winds died down and we were off in the dark looking at the stars and the lights from the towns below. About 200 yards from the hut we had continuous snow and were able to put on our crampons and shed a layer as we warmed up. We followed the snow trail that the previous days group had made.
So far so good
We deliberately kept a slow steady pace and was being very aware of any signs of AMS. I drank water like there was no tomorrow and tried to not overexert myself which in the past has lead to headaches for me on 14ers. We marched on through the night and kept asking Dima the elevation. At 14,500 ft we let out a Whoot Whoot a new altitude record higher than Colorado's highest Mt Elbert.
Making our way up the Labyrinth
Route finding through the Labyrinth
Route finding was easy through the Labyrinth as all we had to do was follow the tracks. It did get a little steep in sections but nothing more than 40 degrees. We got to the base of the glacier at 6 am and the sun started to come up. We had our first view of the remaining climb. This was my favorite part of the day as the sun was bright orange the summit was in reach and no one was sick. For the first time I felt this is going to happen so I told the guys joking ok this is our acclimation hike let's turn around. They laughed and we pushed on.
Sunrise at the base of the Jamapa Glacier
No words needed for this one
We were now exposed to the winds as we started up the first part of the glacier. The crater rim seemed very close and I remember reading that it takes the average climber 4 hours on the glacier so I was prepared for a long morning of kicking steps. I felt the first affects of the altitude when I got a headache. So I stopped and took 2 Excedrin. Advice if you stop to take a break on the glacier make sure to have your footholds and maybe a seat carved out so you won't slide down. About 5 minutes after taking my favorite drug Excedrin Migraine(works for me every time) the headache was gone and I pushed on passed Michael and caught up with Dima. We really couldn't talk but used hand signals to communicate because the winds and we were separated about 50 feet from each other each choosing our own route up.
As we got closer to the top I felt my breathing get heavier and instead of 20 steps rest it was more like 5 or 10 steps then rest. When I would rest I would stick my ice axe into the snow in self belay position and lean into the mountain. I repeated this until I could see the final 100 yards or so to the crater rim. Here it was really steep. A lot steeper than the pictures show but still I felt very comfortable and knew if I did slip I was ready to self arrest. The last push up I felt it easier to get on all fours and just crawl my way straight up instead of zig zaging. About 8 am I reached the crater rim and was able to stand up straight and admire the views of the valley 10,000 feet below, Popo and Ixta, and the surrounding 12,13 and 14,000 foot mountains down there. In the pictures I had seen it looks like the walk to the summit from the crater rim is a good distance still but it's not once you reach the rim you are pretty much there.
Final steps to the summit
Five minutes later Cha Ching! The summit of the 3rd highest peak in North America!
Looking inside the Crater
Dima and I took some pictures as Michael made his way up shortly after. My only regret of the trip is that we did not spend much time on the summit maybe 20 minutes. I felt rushed because I was still worried about AMS and also concerned about down climbing the glacier.
photo by Michael
After snapping pictures we started down. By this time the sun had softened up the snow and made it really easy to plungestep down. I thought going down the glacier was easy. We stayed slightly to the left on the way down and it was less steep but we did encounter a couple of cravesses about 10 to 20 feet deep I'm guessing. Kind of neat since this is the first time I had ever seen one.
Looking down the Labyrinth
Almost back to hut
As the glacier slope eased Michael and I sat down for a nice glissade well Dima felt more comfortable staying on his feet. I think I may have caused some damage to my pants but it did save a few 100 steps. By now the sun was beating off the glacier and I was getting hot. I brought 3 liters of water with me since Reyes advised to take at least 2 and I always drink a lot. I now wish I had brought 4 since I ran out at the base of the glacier. We still had to down climb through the Labyrinth and down 2000 ft. Michael was gracious enough to give me some of his even though he had very little himself. As I felt myself get weaker from dehydration I ate some snow(Yes white snow :lol to at least keep my mouth wet. My pace slowed substantially and the last mile seemed to take forever. I could see the hut but it was still 1000 ft below. Finally I made it to the end of the snowfield sat down took off my crampons and hobbled my way back to the hut as a 80 year old Mexican lady and a bunch of school kids probably on a field trip laughed at me.
At last I made it to the hut and slammed a liter of water in two drinks! About 10 minutes later I felt like new again and started to pack up as Joel our driver would be there to drop another group off in about 30 minutes. Joel showed up and was surprised we had already summited since we were scheduled to do so Tuesday or Wednesday. He said you guys are strong and have very good acclimation. This compliment earned him a nice tip my lantern which he had fallen in love with. He said "que es esta chilo se me vende" (this is neat what is it will you sell it to me?) I said no but I will give it to you. Soon after we were on the dusty road down to Tlachichuca and seeing El Pico De Orizaba in the rearview mirror I had a sense of accomplishment knowing I had made this dream come true. All the sacrifice, training, expense had finally paid off Yeahhhhhhhhhh!!!
We arrived back at Tlachichuca and had a nice dinner and cerveza served to us. After dinner we walked around town and found an internet cafe where I would check in with my family and friends back home. The next morning we caught a bus back to Mexico City and thought of climbing either Ixta or Nevada De Taluca but realized the logistics would be too much on such short notice so we turned into tourists for the next few days going to the pyramids, exploring downtown Mexico City.
The trip was great but it almost seemed too easy for the amount of planning and work that was put into it. Like Michael says " I want to climb a mountain where you are up there for a week riding out storms, getting sick of each other, and overcoming obstacles". Orizaba didn't bring any of that but I wouldn't trade to experience for the world but I am dreaming of a higher more challenging peak already. I have to run I think I hear Aconcagua calling my name...
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