Peak(s):  Pico de Orizaba - 18490
Date Posted:  11/30/2009
Modified:  12/16/2009
Date Climbed:   11/22/2009
Author:  Carl
 Pico de Orizaba - Jamapa Glacier   

El Pico de Orizaba, 18,490ft
Location: Southeast of Tlachichuca, Mexico, on the border of Veracruz & Puebla.
Route: Jamapa Glacier, approx. 4,600 vertical feet
Climbers: Carl (wesley), Sean (sstrauss), & Marc
Host: Andy

In October while climbing with Sean I suggested we climb Orizaba before Thanksgiving. Ben (benners) had convinced me this was a worthwhile journey and the many helpful trip reports on this site made it apparent that Orizaba was the most easily accessible (for us) 18,000 foot peak. Marc was easily persuaded, airfare was booked, and less than a month later we left for Mexico City.

Initial planning included researching bus schedules on for the trip from Mexico City to Puebla and Puebla to Tlachichuca. Plans quickly changed when my former college roommate who is living in Mexico City insisted we stay with him as many nights as our itinerary allowed and that he would drive us the 3 to 4 hours southeast to Tlachichuca.

The incredible benefit of having a good friend in Mexico City hadn't quite set in until Andy met us at the airport, drove us to the upscale neighborhood of Polanco as he pointed out notable sights along the way, and we enjoyed an excellent steak dinner a couple blocks from his apartment. The dinning experience made even better by the fact that we had better service than any high end restaurant in the United States, for a fraction of the cost.

Marc and Sean the next morning on Andy's balcony.

After a great breakfast we left Mexico City for Puebla. Driving (or riding for us) was quite the experience. Andy was quick to point out how many cars lack functioning break lights or turn signals. The former being less of a problem since most drivers don't stop for things like stop signs, traffic lights, oncoming traffic, etc.

As we left the traffic behind and drove through the suburbs of Mexico City we began to appreciate the overcrowding and poverty, from the safety of the highway. The landscape is filled as far as one can see with mostly unpainted concrete block structures. The vast majority of these unfinished homes have rebar protruding from the roof. With the lack of available financing this "Rebar of Hope" is ready in anticipation of a time when enough money can be saved to continue building.

The cultural experience continued at every toll booth and most speed bumps, where vendors took advantage of a momentarily captive audience. At these brief stops one could buy anything from cigarettes and candy to puppies or pieces of chicken.

Our stop in Puebla was brief. 60 liters of water were purchased at the MEGA as a water source is not easily obtained on the mountain.

We used Servimont for transportation between Tlachichuca and the Piedra Grande Hut ( Sr. Reyes is definitely not the cheapest option in town. That said, he runs a very good operation and has been in business a long time. He knows the mountain, his place is very clean, the staff is friendly, we were taken to/from the mountain at the agreed upon times, and warm showers and a meal were provided afterwards.

Arriving at Servimont.

Note: Andy's car looks so shiny in this picture because it was cleaned that morning, inside and out, just like every morning, at a cost of $30USD monthly.

We bought fuel from Sr. Reyes, loaded into one of his vehicles, and began the very slow 2 hour drive up around sunset. Andy headed east to Veracruz for a weekend of relaxation.

Marc and Sean sat in the back of the Dodge pick-up truck while I road shotgun with our driver Joel, who spoke not one word of English. I got out only enough Spanish to suggest that he shouldn't be sorry that he doesn't speak English, that I'm the one who should be apologizing for the awkward silence, and would he please stop so I can take a picture. I believe this is the 17,887 foot volcano Popocatepetl smoking in the distance.

We arrived at the Piedra Grande Hut at approx. 13,900ft after dark at 6:30pm. Surprised to find a few climbers had already called it a night we quietly climbed the ladder to the top of the 3 sleeping platforms and settled in.

On its own the hut is great. First come first served, surprisingly few mice, and if it had rained, I think there is a good chance we would have stayed fairly dry. Don't count on much sleep though if you're there on a weekend in prime season like us. In compliment to the anticipated snorers and climbers getting ready during the night, we had a Mexican climbing party burst into the hut at 5am apparently frustrated with a thwarted summit attempt and young boy introduce himself as he walked through the door a little after 6:00am with shouts of "Buenos Dias!"

With a slight headache I left the commotion of the Piedra Grande hut for the smaller more open air accommodations nearby for a brief nap. Had I known it wasn't going to rain I would have slept here. Although the local mice population seems to prefer this hut as well.

Unfortunately our acclimatization plan was in part influenced by reluctance to leave gear at a trailhead accessible by vehicle. Had this concern (which was not specific to Mexico) not been a factor we may have done a day hike and returned for another night of sleep at 13,900ft. In retrospect this may have worked better, at least for me. The allure of camping at 15,000ft was in itself appealing though and in anticipation of a shortened summit day we decided to leave Piedra Grande with sizeable packs and a 21 pound jug of water in hand.

It was a slow hike up the aqueduct. Plenty of time to think about the fact that we were straining to carry so much water up a structure that was erected to carry water down.

A few tent rings exist at 15,140ft. We quickly set up camp in case the clouds behind us moved further west. Although over the next 24 hours we watched the cloud bank sit in almost the exact same spot.

After lunch an acclimatization hike was had. Marc and Sean (visible lower left) scouted a route through the labyrinth up to 16,000ft.

At a tent ring at 15,500ft I decided to sit and relax. My headache had subsided and while I wasn't feeling bad, I just didn't have a lot of extra energy. Besides, the view was quite nice.

Also got the chance to share stories with a climbing party (of family and friends) who had gathered from different parts of Mexico to climb Orizaba.

Back at camp we were feeling pretty good and looking to call it a night around sunset. I was suffering from a loss of appetite but managed to get in a lot of calories.

Another sleepless night and we were moving by 4:30am. Sean and Marc were doing fine. Immediately I was feeling beat, with a slight headache and a little chest pressure, effects of the altitude no doubt. Sean and Marc slowed their pace and we decided to assess the situation at 15,500ft. I was definitely dragging when we reached my high point from the day prior but was feeling no worse, and so we continued on. Marc offered to carry my 3 liters of water. I declined. I wanted to make it to 16,000ft and assumed I would need to turn around there.

My mind was changed at 16,000ft and I thought before I turn around, I'll let a friend try to help me out for a bit. It was amazing what a difference 6lbs off my back made. Sean suggested I push until sunrise. Sure enough, as the sun began to pierce the clouds my spirits were raised and I decided to make it to the glacier.

We reached the Jamapa Glacier at about 16,600ft. Windy and cold as we took a break to gear up for the snow climb. My headache was about gone and I was breathing ok. Feeling totally exhausted (which was frustrating since we hadn't physically exerted ourselves that much) but otherwise showing no symptoms of the altitude besides loss of appetite.

Marc and Sean stopped at about 17,000ft. Sean was feeling the altitude and beginning to move slowly too. I sat on the snow a couple hundred feet below them and contemplated whether to push on. The Mexican climbers I met the day prior caught me. I talked with one about how it was still early in the day and if I could set a slow but steady pace the summit was obtainable. This was the first time that day that I actually thought I could reach the top. With a new determination I caught Marc and Sean (made possible by the fact that they were waiting), took the water back from Marc, and the three of us pushed on.

Sean and I climbed side by side, very slowly, while Marc proceeded a couple hundred vertical feet above.

Marc climbed slightly to the left of us where he found the only crevasse of the trip. Maybe a foot across but spanning a good distance and over 50 feet deep. Too tired and cold to stop for a picture, Mark neared 18,000ft, where the altitude was starting to put a damper on the steadied pass he was enjoying.

Still not certain that the summit would be obtained I was excited (and cold) at that 18,000 foot mark.

Success!! At 10:30am Sean and I reached the summit, five or ten minutes after Marc. High fives all around. My gps read 18,497ft.

The summit was surprisingly crowded with climbers who had ascended by different routes. The clouds stayed to the east while the skies were contrastably clear to the west. With a pick up scheduled for 2pm at the hut however we spent little time on the summit enjoying the view. We did notice the climbers who camped at about 18,400ft, apparently looking to really shorten their summit day!

Marc beginning his descent around the crater.

Sean and me leaving the summit.

The standard route on the glacier was fairly mellow. The steeper top half peaked at maybe 40 degrees. A few parties chose to rope up but that seemed entirely unnecessary. We had hoped to glissade the lower portion but feared for the integrity of our pant bottoms as the snow was pretty rough.

Marc followed by Sean.

Sean hiking down the labyrinth. With patience and good route finding I think this portion of the climb could be kept at class two.

A short break was had at our high camp before we hustled to make our rendezvous. At 2:30pm the last bag was loaded in the 1940s Dodge Power Wagon and we were headed for town.

Andy had arrived at Sr. Reyes' place a couple hours early and was using his Spanish to help a group of climbers from Iowa enjoy the market in Talchichuca when got back. After a nice hot shower a dinner was enjoyed at the Reyes' before we took off for Mexico City.

Three hours later we were sitting in traffic approaching the sea of endless lights that is Mexico City. Even with Andy's Garmin we still took a dozen or so wrong turns. Every street we took would so quickly and frequently be intersected by on ramps or off ramps that it seemed to elude the Garmin. Quite entertaining. And just as if it were any other climb, by 11pm we were in front of the TV with a couple of Papa John's pizzas. Delicious!

The nearby Pyramids of Teotihuacan and most of the local museums are closed on Mondays (edit: Teotihuacan may now be open on Mondays). Our host had to work, but we showed ourselves around Polanco before a driver Andy arranged took us to the Zocalo, or town square.

The highlight of the Zocalo was the Metropolitan Cathedral (also pictured above). The cathedral, built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the existing church, was stunning.

At an exchange rate of 13 pesos to 1 USD it's easy to have a good time in Mexico City for relatively little money. Our last night in town we spent a relatively large number of pesos, and had a really really good time. It started with margaritas at Sky Bar.

Thanks Andy!!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions
11/30/2009 23:44
.. and excellent trip report!

A favorite
12/01/2009 04:42
Orizaba sure has become a favorite among 14ers-dot-commers! This reminded me... a guy pulled a liter of water out of my pack on a steep section of Izta, and I too was amazed at what a difference a couple of pounds made. Those are the kinds of people you‘re proud to do peaks with. Congrats on the summit, and what I assume is a personal altitude record for all three of you!

12/01/2009 06:12
Nice work, Carl and company! Way to persevere by taking it slow and steady, allowing you to make it to the summit and back safely. I hope to hear more about your trip soon!

Nick Fryer
Great trip report Carl!
12/02/2009 20:54
Your photos and report make me yearn for another trip to Mexico!

P.S.: Henceforth, I will be trying to work the phrase ”I fear for the integrity of my pant bottoms” into casual conversation. Wish me luck.

12/02/2009 21:13
Good work in getting to the summit Carl!! What a trip. You guys are smiling in every shot! That‘s a lot of water to carry up!
Whatcha think of Mexico City? Mass confusion, eh?
Impressive you guys pulled this off with kinda short notice.
Nice work Shawn, Mark and Carl!

Mexico City
12/03/2009 22:37
was enjoyable and interesting and confusing....but alas not a great place to vacation. It was a great time all told though. Sometimes you gotta bring the fun with you, know what I mean.
Another good time in the mountains with friends!!

12/03/2009 22:42
looks really dangerous! I hope they‘re convicts...”

I feel like this sums up a good portion of our trip.

I finally
12/18/2009 14:47
had the chance to read over all of this Carl. It sounds like you had a fabulous trip and I‘m glad you got the summit. I can‘t believe how much less snow was up there (especially around the summit crater) compared to a month ago! Great TR. Can‘t wait to get out this winter. I can‘t believe I didn‘t even get credit for suggesting what gloved you should wear! Just kidding!

11/30/2010 17:28
Great job fellas, a trip to remember no doubt...can't wait to hear more about what happened after Sky Bar...knowing you guys it probably deserves a second trip report 8)

Nice Job!
02/05/2011 00:22
Im glad to see you guys summited too! Looks like you had fun. Congratulations! That is at least three groups of people summiting since mid October. Looks a bit more rocky in your photos than October was for us. have fun.

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.