Pico de Orizaba Trip Report (#1014)
- Signed By: Mitch Burgard
- Date submitted: March 28, 2001
- Date(s) climbed: 03/13/2001
- Number of People Encountered:
Three of us (Karl Cordova, John Westrup and Mitch Burgard) made the summit of Pico on 03/13/2001. It was a rewarding and spectacular climb. All of us had done many 14'ers in Colorado but this was by far the largest peak any of us had tackled. We chose to take one full acclimation day at the huts and during this time we climbed to about 16000 feet to scout a route through the "headwall" below the glacier. The traditional route nearer the Sarcofago has seen a lot of rockfall from freeze/thaw conditions, making it a bit dangerous and requiring that a safer passage be scouted out further to the east (an easy task by day that could be tough if attempted with headlamps the first time). This year the glacier is apparently icier than previous years. Due to concerns about the potentially icy conditions on the glacier (parts of it were glaring like a giant mirror a couple days earlier) we pledged early on that we content ourselves with a hike to the base of the glacier, watch a nice sunrise and decide if conditions were safe enough to continue at that point. We left the huts at 0330 and arrived at the glacier around 0600. With the moon and incredible stars we never had to use our headlamps. After relaxing and enjoying a breathtaking sunrise and a snack (not so breathtaking dry oatmeal) we decided to check out conditions on the glacier and were on the lower slopes around 0800. Normally you are supposed to be on the glacier before sunrise, however, it seemed that waiting until later allowed conditions to soften a bit before we arrived at the steeper sections. We were roped up with crampons and ice axes (absolute necessities) and carried a few ice screws (which we never used but were good for our peace of mind in case we needed them or if conditions changed). Senor Reyes and the previous days climbers were very helpful in describing the much more switchbacking and convoluted route (sort of a combination of the Jamapa Glacier and Espinoza routes) and we never encountered conditions that would be too icy to self arrest in (though we had to cross a few hundred feet above areas that would be difficult to get an axe into if you didn't arrest fast). We all felt great until about 17800 at which point the slow moving on the glacier went from a steady plod to a much slower plod with full stops every 15 steps or so! When we reached the caldera, the rocky summit on the other side looked depressingly distant but it was incredible how deceiving our minds made solid rock appear after a few hours on the snow and we found ourselves on top of Mexico just a few minutes later at around 1220. Such a late summit would probably not be advised without bluebird conditions and, even though we had an almost totally clear day, wispy white clouds were beginning to swirl and build around the peak. We felt lucky that we had such perfect weather and never had to use our parkas or wind pants as temperatures were very pleasant and winds were light (but like the ice screws, all those extra clothes in the pack felt comforting to lug around even though we never touched them!). We left the summit at around 1245 and enjoyed the ever thickening air as we descended, arriving at the huts just before 1700. The friendly Mexican culture, the village and market at Tlachichuca, the views from the huts and the hospitality of the Reyes family would have all made for an incredible trip even without the climb, we felt blessed and grateful that conditions this year lined up so that we could add the summit to our list of lifelong memories.