Pico de Orizaba Trip Report (#931)
- Signed By: Colin Morrison
- Date submitted: March 17, 2003
We arrived in Piedra Grande (14,000 ft) in the late afternoon on Thursday, set ourselves up in the smaller of the two huts a good distance away from the big 60 person hut that was accomodating an American team, a team from Singapore, and a team from Europe. Our tiny little home quickly became known as the Canadian hut. We left at 7am for an acclimatization hike to 16,000 ft, which is the mountains high camp and the toe of the glacier. We made good time, although upon reaching the camp, my head was beginning to ache and Ryan was very ill. We quickly stashed our climbing gear for our summit bid the next day and began to head back down to Piedra Grande. Upon arriving back at 14,000 ft, my headache had subsided and I concluded the acclimatization day had been beneficial. Ryan's condition however continued to degress even though we had descended back to 14,000 ft. For the entire evening we rested in the hut. Ryan incapable of doing anything for himself, I made the meals and treated water, with hopes of bringing my partners state back up to par. By 7pm I had decided that Ryan would not be able to climb, and that I would rise very early, charge on through to high camp, chase down the team from singapore and hope to get on their rope for a summit bid. At 1am I we woke up and Ryan made the decision that he would try for the mountains summit. I made some breakfast while he prepared himself for the long day ahead, and we were on the trail by 2am. At 2:07 am Ryan faught to keep his breakfast down and I immediately dismissed any hopes for the summit, and turned my focus on simply retrieving our gear from the high camp. Vommitting may have been a blessing in disguise because it seemed to settle his stomach. Ryan had purchased Diamox, so he took a dosage of that and we continued on our way. Our pace through the rock band, a sketchy 1000ft pitch of rock and ice, was painfully slow and I knew that I had no chance of catching the team from Singapore before they got on the glacier. As the sun began rise out of the gulf of Mexico, I had no idea what was going to happen that day....summit or descend? At 16,000ft I was very happy with how strong I felt and after evaluating the terrain we faced on the glacier, I began to consider the possibility of continuing on solo to the summit. The Diamox, however, was keeping Ryan on his feet and moving, so we donned our harnesses and crampons, tied in and set out on our way up the massive North Face. All the way up to the crater rim we encoutered gentle slopes and the sunrise as we approached the N.W. saddle was spectacular. About half way up the glacier my conditioned took a turn for the worse. My appetite left me, my head started to pound and my stomach turned continuously. The pace that we could manage made the glacier seem endless. At 17,500 we met the team from Singapore on their descent and they informed us that if we maintained pace the summit was two hours away. This news was not needed as it provided no comfort on the upward slog to the crater rim. Finally at 10:10am we reached the crater rim. I was doing everything I could to hold it together, finish the climb and still have enough in me to get down safe. Ryan offered me some Diamox for the second time, but I refused once again and he understood that I wanted to climb the mountain natural just to see how i hold up at such an extreme altitude. We traversed the ridge and walked the final steps to 18,800 ft, the third highest peak in North America, at 10:30 am. Our descent was swift and fast. We were back at the huts, strong and in good form, at 1:30pm....11.5 hours total up and down. Our ride back to Tlachichuca arrived early and we were drinking cervesa back in town by 4:30pm. By 6pm our bodies gave up and we turned in for a full nights sleep straight through to the morning. The ascent of Pico De Orizaba was by far the most challenging ordeal, physically and mentally, that I had ever put myself through. I learned how my body reacts to processes of acclimatization and altitude. I also learned what practical situations on the mountain required more concentration due to the altitude. Most of all, I reinforced the fact that I can manage to still love climbing big mountains regardless of the fact that I felt worse than I had ever felt in my life.