| Sunrise on Pico de Orizaba
Tap. Tap. It's close to midnight and CJ mentions, "dude, there is someone outside of the car." I just spent a week working at sea level so we were camping just below the summit of Loveland Pass in a last minute acclimation effort. I open the door and a DOT guy apologizes for waking us up, but mentions that he is about to close the pass due to blowing snow and wind and recommends that we move our car to either A-Basin or Loveland so we don't get trapped on the pass when he closes it. We comply and move our car to Loveland. This put a damper in our plans to hike Sniktau in the morning so we settled for Douglas Mountain outside of Empire instead.
Pete K, and CJ met up at my house that evening and we packed gear for our 6:00 AM flights out of Denver. Due to flight loads (CJ flying standby), CJ ended up flying to Salt Lake City and then to Mexico City as we flew to Phoenix and then to Mexico City.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Travel to Mexico City and Tlachichuca
The alarm went off early and we made the drive to the airport and checked our single bag to Mexico City. As we boarded our flight, the all so pleasant gate agents took our backpacks as gate-checks to Mexico City. Pete and I were not excited that they took our bags since our trip would be jeopardized if they didn't make it. Fortunately, we had 3 ˝ hours in Phoenix for the bags to make the connection and when we arrived in Mexico City so did all of our bags.
Once we got off the plane, which arrived 30 minutes late, we exchanged our money for pesos. Next time, I would exchange the money outside of the baggage/customs area as there are multiple exchanges competing for a better rates. We exchanged $1 US for $10.5 Pesos whereas CJ was able to exchange for $1 US for $11.9 Pesos.
We waited about 10 minutes outside of customs for CJ to meet up since he was coming in from Salt Lake City. Pete and I were a little worried since his flight was supposed to arrive earlier but CJ arrived in the other terminal and had spent 20 minutes getting to our terminal. After we met up, we made our way to the bus area and without much trouble we obtained our bus tickets ($194 Pesos each) to the Puebla CAPU station.
We took the Estrella Roja bus to Puebla and the schedules to Puebla can be found at http://www.estrellaroja.com.mx/english/expreso‑aeropuerto.php Buses depart Mexico City Airport every hour to Puebla.
Our timing couldn't have been better and we caught the early bus to Puebla and we were on our way to Puebla at 4 PM. The buses were very comfortable and had complementary juice or water, cookies and peanuts. Better snacks than on US Airways. Traffic was a little backed up getting out of Mexico City and 2 hours later we arrived at the Puebla CAPU station. After de-boarding the bus, we took a walkway up and over to the departure side of the bus terminal and obtained our tickets ($46 Pesos) from Autobuses Unidos for our next leg to Tlachichuca. Let me tell you, the Federales do NOT like photos as I got yelled at for the second time in a day for taking photos. The bus station Federale was quite a bit more animated than the airport Federale. I think I learned my lesson.
Again, our timing was good, and within 15 minutes in Puebla we were boarding the bus to Tlachichuca and before we left, we were able to grab a few cheap snacks at the bus station. Riding the bus to Tlachichuca at night was quite an experience as the driver tried to pass several semi trucks on a two lane road with oncoming traffic. A little different driving style than what we were used to. At least the bus was one of the larger vehicles on the road.
After several stops, we arrived in Tlachichuca around 8:30 PM and within no time we were walking the streets of Tlachichuca looking for Senor Reyes house. We had to ask for directions twice, and each time the locals were very helpful. The second lady we asked for directions just escorted us to his front door. After meeting Senor Reyes, we received quick tour of the soap factory and the amenities that were available to us. Very impressive. Although we arrived late, and Senor Reyes's cook had left for the evening, Senor Reyes himself cooked us all an amazing dinner. Can't beat that hospitality.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Obtain Supplies and Travel to the Piedra Grande Hut
Since there wasn't any reason to get up early, we were able to sleep in a bit and at last we able to see Orizaba rising over 10,000 feet above the town. Wow. After we woke up, we packed some things up and went for a walk around Tlachichuca before our 9:30 AM breakfast. The town was quite a bit different looking in the daylight than at night. After a quick stroll around town, we returned for a wonderful breakfast. To make things easy, we bought our extra supplies from Senor Reyes as he was able to provide us with purified water and white gas which was ~$150 pesos total for the supplies. We bought 40 L of water in 2 jugs.
As expected, breakfast was excellent and after breakfast, we paid Senor Reyes $2000 pesos each for our 2 nights, 4 meals and our 4WD ride to Piedra Grande. We loaded up in his beefed up Dodge pickup and we were on our way to the Piedra Grande hut around 11:00 AM. The countryside scenery was amazing as we made our way up the road and was a nice perspective on rural Mexican culture. After a few bano breaks, we eventually arrived at the Piedra Grande hut around 1:20 PM. It was a long rough ridge in the back of the cabbed pickup truck.
Our driver said his farewells and we were left on the mountain. Unfortunately, the weather around Orizaba was socked in and we couldn't get a good perspective of what was ahead. Since I had read horror stories about staying in the hut, we brought a tent and we set it up within a few hundred feet of the Piedra Grande hut.
Just arriving at 14,000 feet from 8,500 feet, Tlachichuca's elevation, we took things easy for the first hour as we began our acclimation process. We spoke to a Canadian who just descended from the summit and he spoke of his difficulties at altitude and mentioned the summit was very windy and cold. He was advising his partner, who didn't summit, that he was wishing that he hadn't summited.
Once we settled in a bit, we took a hike down the 4WD road to ~13,500 feet and intercepted a ridge which we ascended back towards the hut. All of us took our time as we followed the ridge where it intercepted the first aqueduct. We then followed the aqueduct to the main trail leading up to the Labyrinth. Since we were all feeling good, we followed the trail up to ~14,700 feet, about 100 feet above the second aqueduct. Finally the weather was started to clear and we could get our first up close view of Orizaba. Quite stunning.
Socked in Orizaba on day one
Clearing and first good view of Orizaba.
14,700 feet was all of our personal records and we descended back to our tent and cooked dinner in the hut where 14 Germans had arrived. Ze Germans weren't very friendly, and one just walked out on us in mid conversation to go for a hike with his comrades. He must have been in a hurry for a last effort acclimation hike. We enjoyed our dinner, played a round of hearts in the tent and then went to sleep.
Cooking dinner in the hut.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Move to High Camp
Even though I was drinking lots of water and didn't have a headache, I didn't sleep the best the first night. We woke up and ate breakfast and learned that ze Germans had left at 2:00 AM for their summit attempt. It would have been a nightmare to sleep in the hut with all 14 of them getting ready for their climb.
As we were packing up our tent, we could see the Germans high on the Jampa Glacier. After filling up 5-6 liters of water each, we left our base camp at 14,000 feet and started hiking up the trail around 9:00 AM. Again, we took things slow as we worked our way up the trail and found an nice high camp spot at ~15,600 feet arriving around 11:00 AM. I could feel the affects of the altitude as I moved rocks making room for our tent. Still, none of us had any headaches or other major affects at that altitude. We hung around camp for about 3 hours before we packed up for another short acclimation hike. At this point, the Germans were making their way down toward our camp.
Working our way up to high camp.
Hiking towards high camp.
Hiking up towards high camp.
Trying to engage in conversation with Germans was hard as we started hiking upward from high camp. Pete had his hat on where his ears bulged out and the only German that talked to us laughed at him and remarked, "haha, watch ze ears" as we started our way upward. Douche.
View from high camp.
View from high camp.
Within a few hundred feet of camp, we had to strap on crampons and we worked our way through the Labyrinth which was packed down snow. The trail was obvious from all of the traffic and at ~16,000, we finally got our first solid view of the peak as we climbed out of the Labyrinth. We were all excited.
Working our way up the Labyrinth during our acclimation hike.
Working our way up the Labyrinth during our acclimation hike.
Near the top of the Labyrinth during our acclimation hike.
Feeling good, Pete and I continued climbing up the glacier to ~16,700 feet while CJ, who had a minor headache, sat at ~16,200 to acclimate. Pete and I were able to sneak a quick peak at Popo in the distance before returning to CJ.
Admiring the peak at 16,200 was sobering as we took in the views. Eventually, we headed back down to camp and made dinner and drank lots water. We were off to bed by 6:00 PM.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I slept much better this second night at altitude and we all woke up just prior to our 2:00 AM alarm. We were all excited and ready to go. After cooking a breakfast of oatmeal, and drinking some hot chocolate we were on our way just prior to 3:00 AM. Since CJ knew he was going to be a bit slower, he started out about 5 minutes before Pete and I. In the dark CJ missed the turn for the "mellow" route up the Labyrinth and we ended up taking a steeper direct snow line to the top. No big deal. It took us 30 minutes to ascend to ~16,200, our resting area the day prior and we could see the summit out in the moonlight. Upwards we continued.
When the moon set, it became very dark out and we could no longer see the summit. It was amazing how many stars we could see as we ascended upwards and I counted numerous meteorites shooting across the sky. Off to the west we could see many lights of many Mexican villages reaching out vastly in the horizon. Flat out, amazing.
None of us felt that we were going fast as we continued upwards. Looking back at the times, I joked about how we will be on the summit before the sun rises. At ~17,500, my feet were starting to get cold so I hustled to the crater rim since taking a rest break on the Jampa Glacier wasn't easy. Surprisingly, I got to the rim at first light. I catered to my cold feet as Pete and CJ made their way up the Glacier.
First light on the crater rim.
As the eastern skies began to light up, Pete and CJ arrived at the crater rim. Arriving on the summit of Orizaba for sunrise was now a reality and not a joke. Pretty much any photo we took was postcard quality as we made our way up the summit ridge.
CJ working his way up the crater rim towards the summit.
We arrived on the summit of Pico de Orizaba at 6:20 AM, just a little over 3 hours from high camp, just before the sun rose on the eastern horizon. The skies were clear except for a sea of clouds down lower and the wind was very calm. It was perfect in all fashions as we admired a stunning sunrise on the summit. Alpenglow lit up the crater rim and the shadow of the mountain was orgasmic as it stretched out all the way along the western horizon.
Pete on the crater rim.
CJ nearing the summit.
The summit ridge.
My feet finally warmed up when the sun came out and we spent over an hour on the summit enjoying the views, taking photos and enjoying being the highest people in Mexico, if not North America. We couldn't have had better conditions. Good firm crunchy snow, clear skies, and calm wind.
Alpenglow on the crater rim.
Summit with the shadow of Orizaba.
360 degree view from the summit.
CJ working his way down the crater.
On the crater rim.
As we started our descent back to camp, we could see a layer of clouds starting to engulf the lower portions of the mountain. A thick sea of clouds. It was rather wild to see the upper portions of the the Labyrinth get consumed by clouds. Our descent was quick, and the last 300-400 vertical feet back to camp was airy as we descended into a fog arriving in high camp around 8:45 AM.
Pete descending the Jampa Glacier.
Pete descending the Jampa Glacier.
Pete descending the Jampa Glacier.
Descending the Labyrinth.
Weather rolling in as we approach high camp.
While packing up camp, it began to drizzle and we all agreed we had good timing on the summit. We started down the trail towards the hut around 9:45 AM and arrived at the hut around 11:00 AM. Before we left for high camp, we had left 1 backpack in terrible condition (used to transport axes and crampons, straps were riveted on, and several spots had been hand sewn back together), with some extra food and a bag a trash. To our shock, when we arrived at the hut, the bag had been stolen. Seriously? We were all in complete shock. Ok, I get leaving high end gear and getting that stolen, but this was gear in very poor quality and it was just a backpack and some food.
Our 4WD taxi arrived early but we still had to wait for 3 ˝ hours. I think the coldest part of the trip was waiting for the ride back. The weather had completely engulfed the mountain and the temperature in the hut was everything but warm. We loaded our bags into the truck and we started our rough ride back to Tlachichuca. On our ride down, we passed another 4WD truck, the same ride that had taken ze Germans down and to our shock, it stopped and returned our backpack. The backpack had been mistaken as one of the several German packs even though it was placed next to our water jugs away from their gear. Still, I was shocked that I got my pack back as I wasn't ever expected to see it again. Unbelievable.
After being knocked around for a while, we finally made it back to Tlachichuca and enjoyed, again, a very good meal from Senor Reyes. With a filling meal, we went to bed and slept great.
Friday/Satruday, November 19-20, 2010
Knowing where to go in the bus terminals made things a breeze returning to Mexico City. I ended up using some of my collected Holiday Inn points for a free room where we enjoyed excellent meals at the hotel. Travel was uneventful returning home and we even got all of our checked bags upon returning home. Mexican security ended up confiscating my fork and they didn't like my pot holder, SPOT or carabiners but luckily they didn't take those.
Orizaba painting on a building.
Here is a list of gear/food that I ended up taking along with what I didn't use.
Extra Backpack for checking Axes and Crampons.
Heavy Plastic Bag to fit over Backpack or Rain Cover (4 extra trash bags)
Large backpack with ice axe attachments
4 Season Tent & Ground Cloth
Sleeping Bag Rated to 0 degrees
1 Emergency Space Blanket
Ice Axe with leash
Sun screen SPF 45+
White Gas Stove
White Gas Canister
Waterproof Matches, Lighter.
Cooking Pot holder
Bowl, Fork, Spoon
6 - One liter water bottles
Fleece top or heavy wool sweater
2 Pair Polypro Tops
Waterproof Jacket and Paints (Gore-Tex)
3 of Heavy Socks
2 pairs Liner Socks
Warm Gloves, fleece, or wool with water-resistant/proof shell
Light fleece gloves
Down or synthetic filled jacket
2 Freeze dried dinners
2 hot water breakfasts – (7 instant oatmeal packets, used 6)
Energy bars (3 Pro Bars, didn't use any)
Shot blocks, power bar gels. (12 Gels(6 left over), 4 Shot blocks(none left over))
Tea (caffeine free)/ hot chocolate (8 packets, used all)
Powdered energy drink mix (7 packets, used 4)
Lip Balm / Carmex
Pepto Bismol tablets
Camera/batteries/extra storage card
Handi wipes and purell hand disinfectant
Toilet paper with ziplock bags
I-Pod (used only on the flight home)
Deck of cards
Things I would take next time or do differently:
Foot and hand warmers.
Definitely use Senor Reyes again. Excellent hospitality.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):