Climbing Pico de Orizaba (or Trying)

Trip Start Dec 10, 2008
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Trip End Dec 20, 2008


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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Saturday, December 13, 2008

After a few nights of rest at the soap factory, I headed up to Orizaba with one of my guides, Manuel.  We slept in the forest on the mountain for one night at about 12,000 feet.  I've slept higher, but for some reason, I've never been as cold in a tent as I was on that night.  Enough about that. 

The next day, we headed up to the Piedra Grande Hut at just under 14,000 feet.   The hut was simple and basic, slabs of wood attached to the wall for sleeping.  There are allegedly rats living in the hut, but I never heard or saw them.  In the afternoon, my climbing guide, Ruben, showed up via 4x4.  We had a good chicken dinner with some cheese quesadillas and lay down around 6:00 p.m. to get some sleep before our 2:00 a.m. departure. 

I didn't sleep one wink that night.  I woke up to a cold morning and nature's call around 1:00 a.m.  After some hot soup, we were off with our headlamps on full.  The first few hours of the climb were over rock.  Unfortunately, we had to wear the heavy plastic boots because we would later need to attach our crampons when we arrived at the glacier.  This was a very steep and unrelenting climb.  I started to feel some altitude symptoms very early, and I stopped eating because my stomach was upset.  This would prove distastrous later that morning.  We finally arrived at the labyrinth, a mix of rock and glacier.  After attaching crampons, I got my first taste of real glacier ice without snow.  Glaciers in the Pacific Northwest are usually mixed with some snow and are much different than the glaciers on Orizaba.  Orizaba's glaciers hadn't seen snow since the last time I had a steady job.  These things were literally just sheets of ice on at a scary steep angle on the side of the mountain. 

After another hour or so of climbing, we finally arrived at the Jamapa Glacier.  During a short break (at 8:00 a.m.), I asked Ruben how far we had.  The top looked so close, and I was guessing maybe two hours at most.  Ruben told me that we were moving too slow and that we had about six hours left.  WHAT???????  At that point, my mountain mortality became very real.  I hadn't eaten since the hut, and I had some severe altitude symptoms.  I decided to push on to see if things got better (yeah, right).  After another hour or so of climbing up the glacier, we stopped for a break.  I had a terrible headache and stomachache, and I was having momentary blackouts during climbing.  Time to go down.  I made it to about 17,000 feet, but this mountain defeated me.  It would have been much easier if I had done two things: (a) climbed the smaller Izta first for acclimitization; and/or (b) climbed Orizaba with some snow on it.  Lesson learned.  The mountain is still there for me.  Maybe I'll try again someday.  I must say, however, this is one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen.  Also one of the most dangerous, althoug seasoned climbers would disagree.  If you get up on that glacier and slip, you could slide thousands of feet before the rocks break your fall.  Look at the pics. 
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