Success and luxury in the heart of Mexico
Doug Peers, BC Canada
Mountain Madness just wrapped up its second trip to Mexico for 2014 with its “Orizaba Express” trip, a fast track to the top of North America’s 3rd highest peak at 5700 meters or 18,700 feet. The week-long trip began with a night in Mexico City (7,384 ft / 2250 m) and continued with a visit to Teotihuacan, one of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican sites in the Americas. Teotihuacan was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is the location of the 3rd highest pyramid in the world. Participants were able to get their hearts pumping during this visit by scaling the 248 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun and the100+ steps of the Pyramid of the Moon. This was the perfect way to start the acclimatization process, as Teotihuacan sits at an elevation of 2300 meters or 7,500 feet.
Pyramid of the Sun. Jaime Pollitte photo
Pyramid of the Moon. Jaime Pollitte photo
After the visit to the ruins, the group feasted on a traditional Mexican lunch with local delicacies like grilled meat served in a mocajete and mole de pavo. Take a look a Lou H., taking down the Turkey leg like a champion! Lou, a past professor in Latin American Studies turned out to be a mole fanatic and had several special orders of the traditional Mexican sauce throughout the trip!
Lou enjoying mole de pavo. Jaime Pollitte photo
With full bellies we head to our accommodation at the base of the La Malinche which stands at an elevation of 4461 metere or 14,636 feet. We started our hike up La Malinche at 4 am the next morning with a plan to set a slow acclimatization pace to the summit. It is very important in the first few days to allow the body to adjust without putting out too much exertion. We reached the summit in about 5 hours with beautiful views of a smoking Popocatépetl (5426m / 17,802ft), Iztaccihuatl (5230m / 17,160ft), and a snow covered Orizaba (5700m / 18,700ft). This was old hat for Colorado resident Robert L., who has climbed all of the Colorado 14ers and has repeated 41of them. Another 14er to add to the list of many!
On the approach on La Malinche. Jaime Pollitte photo
Final steps to the summit of La Malinche. Jaime Pollitte photo
Our 8 hour day was rewarded with a relaxing afternoon at the Historic Hacienda Santa Barbara (Mountain Madness exclusive). This historic hacienda is a throw back to a different time yet supplies first class accommodation, homemade local food, and a spectacular view of your previous climb of La Malinche! This place is truely a gem and posed a pleasant surprise to all the participants in the group as they caught up on sleep and dined on some homemade favorites!
Single and double occupancy available at Hacienda Santa Barbara. Jaime Pollitte photo
The climbers raved about the delicious meals made from this kitchen. Jaime Pollitte photo
The next morning we were off to our final objective, Pico de Orizaba! Access to the hut Piedra Grande (4270 meters or 14,010 feet) is from Tlachichuca, which is about 1 hour 15 minutes by 4×4. Unfortunately we would be departing minus one member of the group, Marty R., who was suffering from a stomach illness. The trucks were then loaded with all the equipment and food in preparation for 2 nights up at the hut. All eyes were on the summit attempt now and with one final acclimatization hike ahead, the group was crossing their fingers for the weather to hold.
Packing up to head to Piedra Grande. Jaime Pollitte photo
The next day was spent with a short hike up to just above 15,000 ft, below the notorious section of the route know as the “Labyrinth”. Once back at the hut, final preparations were made for the next mornings’ “alpine start” at 2 am. At this point we strategized the rope teams and Lou decided that he would set his sites on a lower elevation side summit the following day instead of gong for the Orizaba. This left Dave G., Doug P., and Bob L. on the summit team. Doug and Dave, aka “Team Canada”, would be on the first rope team, while Ricardo and Bob would join me on the second rope team. Alarms were then set and an unusually quiet night in the hut followed before the early morning took rise.
A view of the summit of Orizaba from the hut. Jaime Pollitte photo
In the morning the weather looked stable, yet windy and cold! Bob and I departed at 2:30 and Team Canada departed at 2:45. The wind continued to increase as we ascended and by the time we reached the “Labyrinth” we were experiencing heavy winds, cold wind chills and some blowing rime ice. We navigated to the base of the glacier and at this point the sun had come up but we were still sitting in the “ping pong ball,” so to speak, with no visibility. At this point Bob decided that his success for the climb would be his record altitude at 16,615 feet and we decided return to the hut. “Team Canada” continued to the summit in less then ideal conditions and were rewarded by reaching the top at about 10:15 am!
“Team Canada” at the summit! Ricardo Lugo photo
Success on the mountain is often reflected on making the summit but success on this trip really came down to the team and personal successes. It was a great pleasure for me to work with this group, not only on the mountain but also in the day to day travel. The Mexican Volcanos in many ways are the gateway to high altitude climbing. It combines all of the great things about an expedition, rich culture, new experiences, and of course a beautiful and challenging mountain.
On behalf of the guides, Ricardo, Cato, and myself (Jaime Pollitte), we hope to see you down there to experience it first hand!
~ NW Program Director and Guide Jaime Pollitte