Day 3, Mexican Thanksgiving:
Climb Izta. Then taxi to Amecameca, bus to Puebla

When we got up, it was surprisingly warm. I had read about it being really cold, but it was about 40° or so outside the lodge. We had a brief breakfast, packed, and suited up. And we were off down the road to La Joya right at 1am. No sign of life from Lawrence and Oso. Oh well.

We marched over to La Joya, where the parking lot was full (it's Sunday, remember?). Without much problem we found the trailhead and started up the mountain.

Considering that we were walking at 13,000', we both felt pretty good. The initial part of the trail is very straightforward and easy to follow. There was frost on the plants. With no moon visible, we were depending just on headlamps.


Warning: I might have made this whole trip sound pretty easy. Be aware that people get AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) including HAPE and HACE at elevations well below those climbed on this trip (if you're not familiar with these, see the National Institutes of Health explanation of AMS. This trip report of Orizaba from SummitPost is a recent example. Don't take the altitude lightly; we didn't and I was quite worried about how compressed our schedule was, despite considerable preparation before we went. Mariel lives at 6000' and had been regularly staying at a cabin at 8500'. And I had been above 10k every weekend for the previous eight weeks, as you can see on my 2008 home page. Even with our preparation, we had the first symptoms (both headaches and nausea).

Izta is a large volcano with a north-south trending ridge. Amecameca sits to the west. Also known as the "Sleeping Woman", the parts of the ridge have body names, with the feet at the south (right in the photo), and as you move north including the Knees, Stomach, Breast (summit), Neck, and Head.

Our plan was simply to acclimate for Pico de Orizaba, so we weren't really planning to summit. We hoped we might get as high as Las Rodillas (the Knees) or so. Our route, the Arista del Sol (Ridge of the Sun), followed the ridge from south to north. As you climb, you go through several portillos (windows where you cross from one side of the ridge to the other). There are also side ridges with portillos. As the night wore on, we were able to follow the braided trail through the first several portillos past the Feet.


At one of the portillos, I finally lost the trail in the darkness (spot marked with a circle around an x, viewed from about the Knees on descent- also note other routes). We could see lights up above us, and we could hear people- we could even hear tent zippers as people got ready to climb. But we did not have a clear path to follow.

So we took a break to assess. Shortly thereafter, another set of headlamps came up the valley below us and gave us an indication of where the real trail was. We intersected their path and regained the main trail at the next portillo, just before the Grupo los Cien hut at 15,100'.

As we approached the hut, several parties comprising about 30-35 climbers were getting started. We sort of got in the middle of them as they started up the loose, scree-covered trail up the knees. These different groups were moving at a variety of speeds, and not following the best paths through the scree. I got excited and started passing, which due to the increasing altitude occasionally put Mariel and I in the red zone.

As you work your way up the steep slope below the Knees (Las Rodillas), there is some Class III scrambling up loose lava rock. I was relieved to have passed most of the climbers to avoid the rockfall danger, but it had taken a toll on us. We still felt good as we approached the ruins atop the Knees (GPS says 16,182') at 6:30.

But right after that, Mariel started feeling nauseous. Sorry the picture of her is blurry, but there wasn't yet enough light.

The sun was coming, so you'll now see more pictures, although many of these are just of occasional climbers because even though ill, Mariel was still staying in front of me here (remarkable for two reasons: I would not classify myself as slow, and just two months ago she was diagnosed with severe anemia).
Looking south from the Knees

We were finally up on the high ridge, where there was a slight breeze and it was fairly cool. Mariel thought the summit was in view and was willing to endure the nausea for a while. It was only 6:30, so we obviously had plenty of time.

Despite an intimidating-looking traverse ahead (look closely at the face on the left for a trail rising from left to right), we were off.

Looking south from the Knees

After those several dirt-humps on the ridge, we finally came to some snow. Mariel was suffering but hanging in there. I was watching my altimeter and didn't have the heart to tell her it was still a ways to go.

Here on what I think was the Stomach everyone stopped to put on crampons. The short section of steps in the picture was really the only time we needed them. No ice axe needed on this day.

Looking south from the Knees
After those steps, we walked across the broad plateau of the Stomach and climbed the ridge up to the Breast. The route follows the ridge just right of center with sun on the right side and shade on the left. The traditional summit is the highpoint on the right. Looking south from the Knees
Although the last picture doesn't show it well, there was still a lot of up and down to do to gain the final ascent. Poor Mariel took occasional pauses as the nausea swept over her. Looking south from the Knees

But she kept slugging away. The snow climbing here was not steep, so it was just a matter of pacing oneself to keep moving.

In the far back center, that's Pico de Orizaba with Sierra Negra on its right shoulder.

Summit shot

Here we are on top. Note my thorough application of sunscreen. Also note the slight blue tinge of Mariel's lips (actually worse than the photo shows). The GPS shows 16,932' at 9:03am. Note that for upper body clothing, I am in only a t-shirt.

Now, about the "top." Most people stop when they get to the crater rim. That's what we did. However, there are other spots on the rim that are higher, one being behind us in the picture.

Summit shot

You can see the other highpoint in the background here. You can also see the broad expanse of the crater itself.

Whatever. I wasn't going to put Mariel through any more suffering just to fulfill my peakbaggers ambition, especially since it had taken us an hour and a half to get from the Knees to here, and we would have to go back to the Knees before we got significant droppage of elevation. We'll go with the traditional summit.

Looking south from the Knees

Time to head back. On the first section of the ridge, you can see our route over the ridge, plus some old tracks traversing the side.

The broad snowfield is leading across the stomach. The little dark bump to the left of there is the top of the Knees. And of course, that is Popo smoking in the background.

Looking south from the Knees

Apparently there is a scree field off to the left of this picture that makes it easier to descend from the Knees. But we just retraced our steps, including downclimbing the Class III stuff and me falling on my ass several times as I was sliding around on the loose lava.

When we got down off the Knees to the hut, Mariel was finally starting to feel better. But we had been skipping food and water for about 5 hours.....

Also note in the picture: lots of trails to choose from. Not easy choices in the dark.

Looking south from the Knees
It was a really nice day, and as we descended it got warmer and warmer. We were over-dressed for these conditions (we needed shorts and a t-shirt), and added to our exisiting dehydration, we got pretty parched. Even though the descent seemed to take absolutely forever, we were still marveling at the beauty of the mountain. I've added a little marker to show what I think is the summit. Looking south from the Knees

When we got back to La Joya, it was 2pm. Unfortunately, we had asked César to meet us there at 4. There is a food stand at La Joya, and since we were carrying our entire wallets with us for security (remind me to buy a lighter wallet!), we were able to buy some water and soda. Then we decided that we didn't want to wait there for César, so we hiked back to Altzomoni, figuring that I could hike back down to the intersection at 3:30 to intercept César before he drove up to La Joya to meet us.

At about 3:15 I started walking back down the road and as I rounded a corner, lo and behold there was César. We had worried about the possibility of him not even showing up to give us a ride back down. Instead, he had arrived an hour early and taken the initiative to double-check up at Altzomoni when we weren't at La Joya. César, you are an angel.

So César loaded up our gear and drove two very tired climbers back to Amecameca. There, we repacked our gear, showered, and checked out of our hotel. We had a delicious dinner from a cart on the square (Sunday night, so it was chaos) and caught the bus with about 5 minutes to spare (without checking the schedule... this sort of miraculous timing was to be a theme for the week).

And thus began the bus ride from hell. We were told it was 30 minutes from Amecameca to Chalco. From Chalco we would have to change buses to get to Puebla. Cool.

Except there was road construction, so the bus left the pavement and went off through the dark on a dirt road, a rough dirt road. With all the windows closed, it was about 80° on the bus. When we finally got back onto pavement, the roads were jammed, so we were doing the ol' stop-and-go. We finally got to Chalco after an hour and a half. If this sounds trivial, you have to remember that we were tired; we'd been up since midnight and spent 14 hard hours on the mountain, both setting personal records for altitude.

An interesting thing about Mexico is that there are lots of buses, they run constantly, and they are cheap. Another interesting thing is that when they stop, they don't tell you where they are. They just stop. You can get off if you want. Or not. So when the bus stopped at some random, unmarked place in Chalco it wasn't clear that it was our stop, because we were expecting a bus station.... in a panic we figured out that this was it, and got off. Dragging our 50-pound bags, we walked down the street a ways, directed by a girl on the sidewalk that there was a bus station "about 10 minutes" down the road.

After walking down what appeared to be a dead-end road we found a closed bus station. The guide book said a bus ran every 30 minutes, so we sat in the dark waiting. And waiting. Fortunately, an old man came up and communicated to us that we were in the wrong spot and that he would show us. We drug our bags further into the dark, then over some old highway barricades, through an empty lot filled with garbage. At this point we were feeling a bit like lambs going to slaughter. But then we swung around a hill to an underpass of a different highway. Not two minutes later, a bus marked Puebla showed up and we were on our way.

When we got to Puebla, we grabbed a taxi into town and got to our hotel. Whew. They had our reservations, so we checked in and walked to the zocalo for a nice dinner. Despite our promise to avoid alcohol due to its detrimental effects at altitude, we had to have a beer. We were exhausted and hoped that we would recover tomorrow.

Mr. Natural Home | 2008 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski