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Pico de Orizaba / Izta

January, 2018

January 2018

Over the winter, I set out to Mexico for nine days with a rowdy crew to summit Pico de Orizaba, the tallest peak in the country, sitting at 18,451 feet. I flew into Mexico City alone, and read for a few hours until I spotted a lanky fellow with an unmistakable way about him, it was Adam. His buddy Isaiah had tagged along to spend some time in Mexico City while we waited for the rest of the crew to assemble.

We spent a couple days in the city, visiting Teotihuacan, the Anthropology Museum, and just wandering around. At one point, while bumbling about, we got on a bus, noticing it was much less crowded, painted pink, and constisting of only women at the front of the bus where we stood. We quickly realized we were on the "woman only" side of the bus -- each standing well above six feet. Besides this slight mishap, we had a smooth couple days in the city.

Both Anthony's eventually rolled in to town and so we set off for Orizaba. Several buses, collectivos and hitches later, and we found ourselves in Tlachichuca, the town at the base of Orizaba.

Pico de Orizaba dominating the landscape

In town, we stopped by to see Señor Reyes, who managed the bus that shuttled you to the North side basecamp. He was short condescending to us upon seeing we were a bunch of cheap bastards who likely wouldn't use his service. Fortunately, we got some free info from him -- apparently the Northside hadn't seen a successful summit in some time due to the lack of snow leaving only rock-solid glacial ice at the top.

We told him we would probably walk to the basecamp instead of taking his wildly overpriced five-hundred peso bus. He said this was impossible -- it turned out to be quite possible. We hitched rides from a few kind families, bushwhacked and scrambled, and lost one of our Anthony's for a while. But we made it to basecamp, and had the place to ourselves.

After a day or two loitering at basecamp and chatting with a few locals we saw, we realized this route would be impossible without ice screws, ropes, and a whole lot of gear we didn't have. We debated whether to traverse around the mountain to the Southside or to hike back to town and  hitch South to Ciudad Serdan. 


We decided on the latter, hitched a few rides, and got into town that afternoon. We began hiking up to the outskirts of town, meeting a kind family who wanted to offer us a ride up part of the way. The men of the household darted off to procure a truck, while the women and kids showed us around the place, and even offered up some tea and coffee in the bedroom -- where all three couples slept along with the dozens of kids residing there.

On a bus down South

The men returned, we haggled over the price for a while, and then hopped in the bed of the trunk as the sun faded away. We spent a few cold hours in the truck, and finally reached a point where they couldn't drive us further. We got out and hiked for a few hours to basecamp under the lumens granted to us by the moon.


Again, no people. The next morning, we set off, with Orizaba towering above. There was very little distance to go, but the seemingly vertical fields of scree proved difficult for travel. We slowly edged our way up the face of the mountain.

Navigating some loose rocks

Anthony Ottati and I led the charge, with Anthony B. and Adam close behind. The two of us finally made it up to summit after about five hours of climbing. The view from the top was mind boggling -- over 4,000 feet higher than the tallest point in the continental United States. It truly felt like another planet, especially with the mental high associated with the acute lack of oxygen (who needs lsd when you have these mountains).


Relaxing at summit, with some remnants of an old plane that had an unfortunate crash here some time ago


With Logan and Denali out of season, we were the highest folks in the continent!

After about 45 minutes, Adam and Anthony appeared, beaten, but still breathing. Anthony started vomiting just before reaching the summit, and Adam did the same right before our group summit photo. They sounded pretty out of it, but were stoked to be up top. 

We didn't take much time up there together, as Anthony B. started getting worse. His speech devolved to that of a 4 year-old, and his coordination was poor. I held him and kept him from falling for most of the way down. Adam was in pretty rough shape too, and b-lined it down to basecamp, not knowing how dire Anthony's state was. Ottati helped out with other Anthony. Finally we got him to basecamp, not without a few falls to the now-bloodied face and hands. Anthony kept expressing a desire to "take a quick nap," but we had a hunch he had H.A.C.E. and knew a nap could be deadly. 

So Adam rushed down to town with him while Ottati and I lugged all 4 packs and several liters of water down the dirt road. We made it to a lower basecamp by night, with no sign of Adam and Anthony -- worried about their condition as well as ours, we decided the safest option was to sleep where we were and continue our search in the morning.

Eventually we found them in the back of a truck of some farmers, both in much better shape. We took the ride down to town, got some food, and bused back to Mexico City. Everyone was pretty beat, and anticipated chilling out in the city before flying back home.

Anthony Ottati had other plans in mind, with his eyes fixed on the country's third tallest peak Iztaccihuatl (17,160 ft). He convinced me to climb it with him, and we parted ways with the rest of the crew at the bus stop. We snagged forty peso bus tickets to Amecameca, a three hour trek. 

We arrived at night and caught a ride with some other climbers, which was lucky because the dirt road in was 8 miles. Our lack of planning for this peak had us ill-informed on the climb in general. The next day we set out up the tiresome but beautiful ridgelines to the summit.


One of many ridgelines on Izta

We were unsure which peak around the rim of the volcano was the true summit. So for good measure we climbed all five of them to make sure we could say for certain that we summited Izta. On the way back down we met some sick locals who ended up driving us all the way to the city and treated us to an incredible dinner at a hole-in-the-wall market. One of them raced with the Tarahumara in the famous Copper Canyons, and true badass. That encounter was probably the highlight of my trip.


Eventually, the sickest and most ambitious trip of my life came to a close, and I made it back to the United States. A pretty insane ten days with some pretty insane dudes...

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