Hey, I’m back. So it seems as if I’m going through phases of creativity and self-expression, alternating with apathy. Bear with me. When I do post, it’ll probably be worth the wait. But anyway, on to the post. I’m going to break it in two since it’s gonna be a long one:
On January 27 I flew down to Mexico City to embark on my first high-altitude mountaineering adventure. Several months ago the idea was ping-ponging about my brain and I did some internet research to see what kind of climbs would be feasible and within my limited time and budget. I came across a few candidates, and mentioned one to my roommate Curtis: Pico de Orizaba, an 18,500 foot (5800 m) volcano between Puebla and Mexico City in central Mexico. Unlike most high climbs, there wasn’t any sort of fee for using the mountain hut and we figured the whole trip would end up being pretty cheap.
Wow, were we wrong. It was hella-cheap. I spent $350 on the flight to and from Mexico City and no more than another $350 while there. Most people spend that just getting to their vacation destination. Then again, most people don’t sleep with mice or get up at 1 am to climb mountains on vacation either. But more about that later.
Curtis was immediately in and excited about the trip. We contacted all our climbing (and some non-climbing) buddies to round up some more people. After a few weeks two more had committed: Greg, one of Curtis’s college buddies, and Tim, one of Greg’s friends. Over the next couple of months we recruited two more: Nick, another runner and friend of Curtis’s, and Adam, another of his college friends. That made six. We figured this was perfect since groups of three are ideal for roped glacier travel.
On Friday, Jan. 26 we left Rochester to drive down to Philadelphia, where our flight would leave at 7 am the next day. We stayed at a friend of Greg’s, made it to the airport on time, and were in Mexico City by 2 PM. Beforehand we had decided to try and make it to Tlachichuca (the closest town to the mountain where we would spend time acclimatizing) that day. By 10 PM we had arrived at the climber’s hostel after a long day of bus-riding and mountain viewing.
Side note: Touching down in Mexico City is really cool. You can see two enormous glaciated volcanoes in the distance (Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl) as well as numerous smaller mountains within the city. The city is a massive sprawl; getting from the airport to the outskirts took well over an hour by bus.
After the insanity of Mexico City it was nice to settle down in the small mountain town of Tlachichuca (say it: tlah-chee-CHOO-cah) for awhile. It is a poor village with very few restaurants or tourist attractions of any sort. There are three hostels that cater to climbers, and we chose what surely is the best, run by the gracious Joaquin Canchola Limón and his wonderful daughter Maribel. When arriving she asked us if we were hungry. We were of course famished and she cooked up a multi-course meal right then and there, serving it up by 10:30 PM! It was fantastic. We enjoyed authentic, delicious homemade Mexican meals three times a day until we left for the mountain on Monday.
On Sunday we had our first taste of exertion at altitude. Mexico City lies at about 7,300 feet (2200 m) while Tlachichuca is closer to 8,500 (2600 m), and while we didn’t feel any effects the first night, Sunday was different. The group split into two and I, and in my typical gung-ho hiking
spirit, decided to go climb the ridge right next to the city. Adam and Curtis joined me while the others went for a run. It was a sweltering 80 degree day and it took about an hour and a half to reach the middle summit in the photo at right. I would guess we were at about 10,000 feet at that point, and it was a little slower going up than normal but not too bad. The others, however, were hurting during their run. (Nick, Greg and Tim all run marathons for fun [yeah they’re nuts] so they know their limits very well)
It was a pretty fun hike besides the nasty cacti that kept assaulting my shins and feet. We got some breathtaking views of the mountain and topped out by mid-afternoon. There’s nothing like getting sunburned in January.
We also wandered around the market (typical street market stuff, kinda like in Europe but dirtier) and picked up a soccer ball, with which Greg and I displayed our American skillz on the street outside the hostel. At one point Maribel’s son (of about 5-6 years) joined in; he had quite a kick on him.
By noon on Monday we were in Joaquin’s 4×4 heading up a dirt road to the mountain hut at 14,000 feet. The road was BADASS. I wish I would’ve taken a few pictures of it, there were several points where there were hundred foot drops two feet past the edge of the road and the hugest potholes I have ever seen. Taking anything less than a monster truck on it would be disastrous (and highly entertaining for any passersby). We took some awesome shots of the mountain on the way up, and after two hours were at Piedra Grande, the rustic mountain hut at the top of a large field. The air was distinctly cooler but the views were amazing.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out at 14,000 feet, and after three or four hours we all had come down with pretty bad headaches. First signs of altitude sickness. I popped a couple Ibuprofen and was good to go, but the others didn’t have such luck. Before Joaquin left to go back down the mountain we had to tell him what day to pick us up. After a lengthy discussion we decided to have him come back on Wednesday, thus we would have one full day to acclimatize and an extra day at the beach later on in the week. That night it was incredibly windy, the hut had a metal roof and it would go BANG BANG BANG BANG every time a gust came overhead. It was like sleeping under railroad tracks, except trains usually don’t go by EVERY FIVE MINUTES.
At dawn we were up ("up" being a poor term, we were up most of the night) and ready to, well, not do much of anything. Tuesday was supposed to be an acclimitization day, meaning we would hike around for a bit and let our bodies build up a tolerance to the lack of oxygen. I got bored at one point and went for a walk by myself, purposefully going REALLY slow so as not to exert myself too much. When I got back four of the other guys were all geared up to go up the mountain for a few hours. Curtis was feeling pretty awful and I didn’t feel like going again so soon so I hung back with him. We went for another walk up behind the hut to a ridge so we could get a good view of Tlachichuca, which we couldn’t see from the hut. It was ferociously windy and we had to lean into the wind so it wouldn’t blow us off the mountain, but a good time nonetheless. Curtis got an awesome panorama from the ridge.
Sometime in the late afternoon the other guys returned. They had gone all the way up to the labyrinth (a glacier-carved boulder field above 15,500 feet) before entering the clouds where they couldn’t see a thing. Greg got a bit of a scare on the way up when he got nailed in the face with a fist-sized rock that got launched off a rock wall to the right of the path. He was OK but a little shaken. At that point we were debating whether we wanted to make a summit bid the next day or wait for the weather to clear, and when the clouds cleared off the summit and wind died down that night we made up our minds: Go for it tomorrow and get picked up in the afternoon by Joaquin. So we made dinner early and passed out by dusk to get some sleep before we were to get up at 1 am the next morning. We wanted to allow enough time to get up and down the mountain by 4 PM, and an alpine start sounds badass anyway.
During the first night Nick and I stayed up to do some killin’. Mice killin’, that is. The hut was infested with several families of mice, and not just any mice; mice that have LOST ALL FEAR of human beings and possess a KILLER INSTINCT. Well, a killer instinct for pissing people off, anyway. I narrowly missed goring one with my ice ax the first night, and Nick nailed one with his boot during the day. They must’ve been pretty riled up because that night one crawled into Greg’s sleeping bag. Greg literally flipped out (of his bag) and we tried to ignore them the rest of the night. Stupid mice.
1 AM came pretty quickly. I felt great and was really pumped for the climb. But it’s late and I have to get to bed. Coming up next: Summit Day and walking on the beach in Veracruz.