Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba Trip Report (#1129)

  • Signed By: John Batton
  • Date submitted: March 23, 2001

An unforgettable climb - everything about the trip was fantastic. Paul Young and I were in Mexico from 1-5-01 to 1-13-01. We first climbed La Malinche (14,609') to help acclimatize. The IMSS campground is great, and Malinche is a nice climb in its own rite. After staying at the Reyes' compound, we headed up to Piedra Grande. (Note: The Reyes' may be more expensive, but in my opinion the stay with them added greatly to the whole of the experience. They are wonderfully gracious people whose attention to detail and caring attitude are easily worth the price they charge. The camaraderie around the dinner table and the hours of conversation with climbers from all over the world were alone well worth the price.) First day at Piedra Grande we hiked a few hundred feet up to enjoy the view. The second day we found a route through the lower portion of the mountain to a snow gully on the left hand side of the climb (facing the summit) that we felt was a good bit less sketchy than the direct route up the tongue. The gully made for great cramponing and topped out at 16,200'. The glacier was just a short walk from where it topped out. We had heard reports from other climbers that the tongue and the surrounding colouirs were fairly icy, and though not terribly difficult, they were very run out. The snow gully we found was immediately to the right of the large orange-tinted rock band which can be seen on the top left-hand side of the lower mountain looking up at the peak. The following day we arose at 12:00 AM to ugly weather conditions and re-set the alarm for 2:00 AM which proved no better. So we slept in, choosing to use our alternate summit day. We spent the next day at Piedra Grande resting up and getting ready for to roll that night. Our list of things to do that day included: get water, drink water, use the restroom, cook dinner, and perhaps throw rocks. We were fast becoming a bit stir crazy after three days at Piedra Grande to say the least. We arose that night at 12:00 AM and were out the door at 12:45. We made it to the base of the glacier by 3:30 and started the long slog up. The peak looks so close from the bottom of the glacier, and I must say I was bit deceived. The glacier was in good shape, although a bit softer in parts than I would have liked. The only crevasse we saw was not even big enough to twist one's ankle in. The normal route up the Jamapa supposedly cuts left down low and traverses right higher, making a line towards the ice needle. However, the better part of the left hand side was icy and most folks were heading right down low and traversing left as they got higher. We chose to ascend the Espinosa Route which heads pretty much straight up the right hand side of the Jamapa. It is steeper, more direct, and hits the crater rim almost right at the summit. The slopes maxed out at ~50 degrees. We didn't use our headlamps at all because the moon was so bright - a gorgeous night, perfect for climbing. After bringing all the cold weather gear I own to Mexico, I was surprised to be climbing in only a base layer and shell on top, with only pile pants on the legs. It never got below 20 degrees F. We summited just after sunup and basked in our time on top. The views are amazing with Popo, Ixta, and La Malinche in the distance. Psalm 121. The descent was arduous, but got easier as we returned to thicker air. It is definitely a knee-banger. All told, it was a fantastic trip that was challenging and fun. It was not a technically difficult climb, but please don't underestimate it - especially if you have no experience on glaciers. There were many times when falls would have been "questionably arrestable." If unable to arrest we would have been taking the big ride for at least 2500 feet until we got up close and personal with some large rocks. I had to keep in mind that none of the eleven people who have died there this season thought it would happen to them either. Although I would not trade any of the experience, the whole of all the conversation during the trip came down to this simple thought: "It takes a climbing trip to show you that climbing is not the most important thing in life." Best wishes to all.

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