Pico de Orizaba


Day 6, Mexican Thanksgiving:
Climb Pico de Orizaba. Then drive back to Tlachichuca

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).


The evening before, all the groups got together to discuss a schedule for the morning. The Colorado girls wanted to leave at 1am, so they planned to get up at midnight.

We all hit the sack a little before 8pm and tried to sleep. On Orizaba, as when sleeping high on Itza, both Mariel and I woke with headaches that were cured with ibuprofen.

When midnight came, the girls woke everyone else up, but we expected that. As they finished their kitchen chores at about 12:30, I hopped up and started our water on the stove. They were off right at 1, and we were out the door at 1:15, a few minutes behind Lawrence and Oso. The Spanish team, already established as blazing fast, was to follow about an hour later.

We caught the girls just before the second aqueduct, about 600' up the hill from the hut. They were having a blast, hooting and hollering and laughing loudly, but not moving really quickly.

We hit a tent at 3:30, and the GPS says it was 15,500'. As previously stated, the GPS put the hut at 13,650. So with 1850' in 2.25 hours, we were climbing at about 825' per hour. We both felt good and within our boundaries.

When we got into the labyrinth, I made the classic mistake of climbing too far before putting on the crampons. So we did a tense little dance on a rock in the middle of an ice patch. Then Mariel had to start right up the steepest, hardest snow of the day. About half way up the first narrow, steep chute we had to move over for the Spanish team, who blazed by in crampons and ski poles. As we moved higher, in some areas we had to work around gravel spots or rocks, trying to stay on snow the whole way. We finally reached the top of the labyrinth at 5:30, 16471'. The constant navigation, fussing with gear, extra caution and additional rests had slowed our progress quite a bit.

As we started up the glacier, my stomach was feeling a little strange, as was Mariel's. I think perhaps the coffee/chocolate mix was a bit off? So we throttled back for a bit. Then we both started feeling better.

On the open glacier, we could see headlamps ahead of us, and the sun was starting its slow trip to reach the eastern horizon. We felt great and were gaining on the groups ahead of us. I was again watching the altimeter, calculating how long it was going to be before we reached the crater rim. At this point, it seemed like it might be my next lifetime.

When it finally got light enough to take pictures, we had progressed well up the glacier and it was getting steeper. Note that the horizon on this photo is a little off, and it was actually steeper than shown, and was going to get quite a bit steeper before we finished. Mariel was working her axe and crampons like a pro, but I stayed close regardless. Hey, I'm her dad. It's my JOB to worry about her!


This IS a glacier, but the only thing we saw resembling a crevasse were several cracks running across the snow, not big enough to get your hand into them.

However, snow climbing is all about conditions. There are several crosses at the top of the labyrinth commemorating climbers who died after falling on these same slopes. It is pretty steep, and if icy... so we were careful as we moved up into steepening terrain.

And then we noticed that we could no longer see the boots of the higher climbers. It was rolling back!

Looking south from the Knees

We were being treated to another excellent day. But up here in the shade of the north side, it was still cold.

That's Popo and Izta on the far left horizon.

Looking south from the Knees

We finally hit the sunshine right on the crater rim. There are some little dots down low on the shadow's edge- the two rope teams of the Colorado girls. You can also see the Sarcophago, the peaklet in the sun. And on the right, you can see the roads leading to the Piedra Grande hut. Note that I used the zoom on this photo!

Looking south from the Knees
Once you hit the rim, it's 10 minutes or so to the true summit. The ridge looks narrow, but it wasn't bad.
Looking south from the Knees
Mariel was pretty happy after quickly dispatching the narrow section. Also, she knows that those folks in the background are on the summit. Looking south from the Knees

The GPS says we hit the summit at 8:50 am and the elevation was 18,305'. The generally accepted height is 18,490', which explains how some of the other readings might have varied from the actual (this GPS is using pressure, not satellites).

Summit shot

Our new friend Lawrence.

Looking south from the Knees

And his guide, Oso (In Spanish, "Oso" = "bear"), owner of Orizaba Mountain Guides


Looking south from the Knees

Manuel "Lolo" Diez, guide and adventurer from Mundo Explora, and leader of the Spanish team.

Below, you can see a hack panorama I put together, which shows the crater rim.

Looking south from the Knees
Looking south from the Knees

After reading trip reports, we had not brought a rope. But once on the snow, it was steeper than we expected. On the way up, I had climbed immediately behind Mariel in case something went wrong, but that doesn't work on descent. At the summit I had a discussion with Oso and without hesitating he was kind enough to add Mariel (middle) to their rope and guide her down the glacier (and the Spanish team loaned her a harness). I highly recommend Oso to anyone who wants a guide.

Curvature of the earth, anyone?

Looking south from the Knees
The snow was still quite firm on our descent. But now that the sun was up, it felt a lot warmer. When we were about 1000' down from the top, we passed the Colorado girls on their way up. Looking south from the Knees
When we hit the bottom of the glacier, we could see the Colorado girls still working toward the crater (click for a bigger version). They all made the summit, but were a long time behind us. Looking south from the Knees
By the time we got down to the labyrinth, Mariel was an old pro with her crampons. This chute is around 45°, quite firm under foot (note the lack of crampon or ice axe penetration), and she cruised it. Looking south from the Knees

We got back to the hut around 12:30, where we collapsed. It had been a really good climb: we had prepared well, we paced ourselves well, and we had done a good job eating and drinking. At around 16k Mariel had a mild headache and we both had a slight stomach problem, but that all went away. Otherwise, no issues with altitude.

After our long drive back to Tlachichuca, we had another excellent meal at Servimont (and now with beers!) and then slept like babies. Ah, oxygen.

Well, now we were on the homeward leg of our trip.

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