I went to Mexico last week (Jan 13-19, 2014) and successfully climbed Pico de Orizaba (18,490 ft.) and quickly toured several hundred miles of Mexican countryside, ancient ruins, and the Pacific coast with my brother-in-law, John, and my friend Von.
We flew into Mexico City, rented a car and drove to Tlachichuca, a small town at the base of the giant Mexican volcano. The drive to Tlachichuca was uneventful and fairly straightforward; it took about 4 hours with midnight traffic in Mexico City. We got into Tlachichuca around 3:30 am and rather than find a hostel or hotel, we found an unfinished home on the outskirts of town and pulled out our sleeping bags.
|Ciudad de Mexico|
Tuesday morning we woke up to the sun and eventually made it over to Joaquim Conchola's home to get a ride up to basecamp (Piedra Grande). The road to basecamp at 14,010 ft. is an unmaintained, bumpy, 4x4 road. Thus, a couple Mexican outfitters have made a good living hauling climbers up there day after day in their trucks. We took the 2 hour drive in an old school jeep up from Tlachichuca (8,500 ft.) to the Piedra Grande Hut (14,010 ft.). This big jump in elevation is enough to get altitude sickness. Most people take it easy the first day, go for an acclimatization hike the second day, and go for the summit on the third day. We decided to go for an acclimatization hike on the first day and summit the second day if we were feeling good.
Von, John, Carson (new friend on his way to Patagonia with his brother), and I hiked up to 16,000 ft. to the base of the "labyrinth." We hiked at a good pace, enjoyed the scenery, and all felt good. Once we reached the labyrinth and the edge of the snow line, Von told us he was going for the summit. We laughed, but he was serious. John and I didn't have any of our summit gear with us, so we had to retreat, even if we wanted to summit as well. Von summited around sunset in perfect conditions. We could barely make out a tiny black dot making itself up the glacier from basecamp. He summited and was back in basecamp around 9 pm, about twice as fast as all the other parties that have been summiting.
That evening, I woke up with a terrible headache, fever, and nausea. I spent several hours puking and dry-heaving for all the climbers to hear. I evidently came down with acute mountain sickness (AMS), which I have gotten it a couple times at elevation now. I just need to give myself more time to acclimatize in the future. Pushing for an 18,000 ft summit after coming from 8,000 ft. ain't gonna work for me physiologically.
|Hostel del Joaquim Conchola|
|Listo para ir al Piedra Grande|
|animales en la calle|
|Piedra Grande hut|
|Pico de Orizaba con el camino en la frente|
After a long night at 14,000 ft. I woke up and John was gone; he went for the summit knowing I wasn't up for it. He left at 3 am and was back by 10 am. He climbed it in 7 hours in whiteout conditions. Quick. Around 1 pm, we got a ride back to town to allow me to recover and get some sleep. We spent the afternoon walking around Tlachichuca. We played pick-up soccer with about 15 8-year-olds. 3 gringos against 15 mexican children. We lost. That evening, we found a way to get on top of the church and get some great views of the mountain. The bell-ringer, an elderly man who has worked at the church his entire life (we later learned), let us climb up the bell tower. He even took a selfie for us (see below).
|Los 3 gringos|
|futbol: Gringos contra Mexicanos!|
|Selfie del Bell-Ringer|
|La montaña de la iglesia de Tlachichuca|
Thursday: (summit report)
After a full nights sleep (minus the couple minutes we woke up to the drunken Colorado climbing club members shouting out massage invitations to the only girl in the hostel in the middle of the night), we ate some delicious breakfast at the Conchola's and went back up the mountain to base camp. We all felt good, so we packed our gear and went for the summit that day! We left Piedra Grande at 2:30 pm. The mountain had some whispy summit plumes but we went for it anyways. We quickly hiked up the scree and talus to the labyrinth, where we put our crampons to climb the maze of ice and rocks and the steep summit dome above. Once we reached the top of the labyrinth, the wind picked up considerably and a thick cloud layer seemed to envelope the entire mountain. It was now 4:30 pm and we still had 2,000 vertical feet to climb and conditions seemed to be getting bad. John, who already summited in whiteout conditions, was not up for another go and retreated. Von and I however, continued on. Despite the very windy conditions and low visibility, we made our way up, up, up. Around 17,500 ft. we emerged from the clouds, the summit was clear, and the sun was setting over a sea of clouds. We were going to make it! We made good time, even though the thin air required additional breaks to catch our breath. We reached the summit around 7 pm, just after sunset. It was COLD. Von toppled over and I toppled on top of him in exhaustion and celebration. I fought up the courage to remove my gloves to take a couple pictures before we turned around. We still had to navigate our way down a steep mountain, in the dark, at high elevation, yet the descent went smoothly. We were back in the hut at Piedra Grande around 9:30 pm. It took us 7 hours.
|Yo escalando el glacier|
|El cumbre (the summit)!|
We got a ride back to town around noon, packed our bags, ate some dinner, and drove to Oaxaca en route to the Pacific coast. We stayed in a cheap hotel in downtown Oaxaca, ate subpar food in the central square, and listened to some pubescent mariachi musicians.
Saturday morning we drove up to Monte Albán, an archeological site overlooking the Oaxaca river valley. The site featured a cool temple complex of a civilization that lived in the area between 500 BC to 200 AD. We walked around the area, took pictures and learned very little from their vague signs, but it was cool nonetheless. We left the Oaxaca area and drove to Paradise by way of the road to Hell. The road meandered over and down countless mountain ranges, all part of the Sierra Madre Occidental of western Mexico. The drive took 6 hours and it wasn't fun. We reached Puerto Escondido and quickly found out its another 8 hours to Acapulco and another 4 after that to Mexico City (our flight was at 8:30 pm on Sunday). So we spent an hour at Puerto Escondido in a cool beach cove and then hit the road again. This drive up the coast to Acapulco would have been cool, but we did it in the dark and the road had over 200 speed bumps; we counted. We finally reached Acapulco around 2 am and found a cheap hotel near the beach.
|El doble tope|
After sweating all night and sleeping 3 grown men on two double beds, we got up and went swimming in the ocean. It was enjoyable. Acapulco is like a run-down Waikiki, except not as pretty, and not as nice a beach. It's also cartel and federale war territory, which kept things exciting in our minds. After a couple hours at the beach, we took the toll road up to Mexico City and caught our flight.