Pico de Orizaba Trip Report (#886)
- Signed By: Martin Foster of Laguna Beach, Ca, USA
- Date submitted: September 04, 2004
I hiked Orizaba with a Mexican trekking company called "Adventure Expeditions" run by Andres Delgado and ably assisted by Luis Espinoza. They have both summited Everest and climbed extensively in South America. However, this is their home turf and I felt very confident they would look after me on my first climb beyond 14500'. I basically selected them because they had an itinerary with lots of time for acclimatization. They also offered a trip in August which is generally the low season for the mountain because of the rainy season. I have climbed up to Mount Whitney many times (14,450') but not this year and have only been to 10,800') this year. So the acclimatization was very important to me.
There was already a party of three folks from Spain that had summited Nevado de Toluca and Izta with Andres. Myself and another guy called William Nelson form Texas were just going to be doing the Orizaba portion of the "3 volcanoes". Luis was added to be our guide. We met the whole group in Puebla and had a quick orientation over breakfast in the Puebla Marriot Real Hotel. I had driven in with my wife and kids from the Los Angeles area over the last 4 days. It was a tougher and longer drive than I thought, especially with 2 kids. I live near sea level but I'd been at altitudes of 4000' to 7500' over the last few days. I wasn't sure if that would help me much.
From Puebla we drove to Tlachichuca and the compound of "Friendly Mountain Service" run by Joaquin Canchola Limon and his family. They were wonderful. They fed us lunch and provided 4 wheel drive service to the base camp at Piedra Grande hut. They would also watch our gear while we went to high camp, provide return transportation, and another meal. Joaquin's wife was super nice.
Because I had been sitting on my arse for 4 days driving I asked if I could walk up to base camp, instead of driving all the way. So at Hidalgo village, I walked with Luis up to the hut in 1hr 30mins. Andres had said it would take 2hr 30mins so I guess I was doing OK. Luis' English is very limited. My Spanish is limited but better than his English, so we had some limited conversation on the way.
We spent the night in the hut. Our group were the only people there. The guides did some excellent cooking and we ate very well. They also kept us well hydrated with various teas and lots of water. I did a little astronomy with binoculars loaned to me by another client called Jose Luis who is Mexican but lives in Barcelona. The night sky was the clearest I have ever seen and I saw some awesome shooting stars with lengthy flights and quite colourful too.
I slept well that night (surprisingly and happily) and felt great in the morning. We reorganized our gear to lighten our loads a bit, but we still had full winter backpacking / moutaineering equipment. So probably about a 45 pound or 20 kilo load for me. The guides also had to carry extra stuff like the high altitude cooking equipment. We took about 2hrs 45mins to get to our high camp at 16100' or 4900 meters. We took quite a lot of breaks and hydration stops and it was a pretty gentle pace.
We made camp, ate and went to bed early. Perhaps 7pm. I couldn't sleep at all and when I finally dropped off my tent mate wake me up to tell me I was snoring loudly. So then I didn't go back to sleep at all and was the first one up at 2:30am. We had a light breakfast and organized much lighter packs for the summit attempt. I took an iceaxe, crampons, and a single trekking pole, plus the essentials.
Leaving camp at 4am in two groups, we advanced quickly to the edge of the glacier to rope up and put on our crampons. It had snowed overnight about 1" or 2cm but it was very clear and calm when we left. It wasn't very cold -- about minus 2 degrees Centigrade at high camp. The views at night and at sunrise were stunning. The clouds build up very quickly after sunrise though coming from the Gulf of Mexico. We proceeded at a steady pace with frequent hydration breaks. The pace seemed fine until the steeper portion where it started to feel like hard work. That's OK by me but if it had been taller I would need more and more breaks. However, the real steep section is fairly short so I kept up with the pace of my two companions who are both about 26 years old. I am 41. We reached the rim pretty quickly and traversed it to the summit by 7:45am, so the elapsed time was 3:45 from high camp or an accumulated time of 6:30 from the Piedra Grande hut over the 2 days. The second group who left slightly before us, we just reaching the rim as we were going back down. So they were roughly 30 minutes behind us.
I think I would have liked to summit again the next day (or the day after that) since I would be fairly well acclimated I could probably do a fast ascent from Piedra Grande direct to the summit in a shorter time because I wouldn't be carrying the heavy load for the first section. However, I enjoyed this itinerary and it gave an excellent chance of success by splitting the trip into manageable sections. I suffered no headaches or nasty symptoms from the altitude, it just felt like harder work for the last 500 feet maybe.
I didn't really time the descent, but we didn't do any glissading which might have been fun on the less steep portions of the glacier. So it wasn't fast. Also, we needed to break camp, repack, and wait for the other group. We all descended together to the hut. It had become very cloudy but there's not much chance of getting lost with the well marked trail and the experienced guides.
At the hut we waited quite a while for Joaquin's truck. I didn't mind because we had some great opportunity to talk and ask Andres all kinds of probing questions about his 3 Everest attempts and life in Mexico. When Joaquin arrived and we started driving down it became apparent why he was late. There had been a lot of rain and there was still a storm. The road was dissolving into mud and huge ruts as we descended. This caused is horrors galore as we slid around and seemed to be in great jeopardy of going down steep banks into swollen rivers. I wish I would have walked it would have been more comfortable and safe. Joaquin is a skilled driver and does this route frequently but even he some stressed out because the ruts could easily overwhelm even his high-clearance truck without any problem. Back at Tlachichuca in 3 hours instead of the usual 2 hours we had a late lunch and relaxed. Then back to Puebla to go our separate ways. I went off to Oaxaca, Huatulco, Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Toluca, and Zacatecas before heading back to Los Angeles via El Paso. We drove more than 5000 miles on this trip and it was one of the best vacations I've ever had. The Mexican people were almost without exception extremely nice and seemed pleased that I spoke even my limited Spanish.
I'm hoping to climb Aconcagua this Winter. The main consideration will be money, so I'll have to see how the bank balance looks later this year.