Mexico: Climbing Pico de Orizaba and Iztaccihuatal

Matt, Adam, Anthony and I set out to Mexico to attempt to the climb the 18,491′ Pico de Orizaba. This volcano is the highest point in Mexico and the third highest point in North America. This was my first time going outside of the United States or Canada in a long long time and I am really glad that I did. Furthermore we got to see a part of Mexico that many American tourists never get to see.

I got in early and on the first day we took the bus from TAPO to Ciudad Serdan, from there we took a combi(a small very cheap van that fits about 10 people and serves routes less crowded then bus routes) to Tlachichuca

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Matt looking out the bus window
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Orizaba as seen from Tlachichuca

In Tlachichuca we talked to the local guide about a potential ride up to the base of the mountain. However it was very expensive, 1000 pesos(about 50 dollars). He told us that it was a thirty mile walk but in reality it was only about 10-15. We decided that since we needed to acclimatize anyways it would be best to just do the walk up 7000 feet to the end of the road. Luckily we were able to hitch a ride for about half of it. If you take this strategy be sure to carry lots of water! We found a spring at the hut but apparently it is not always running.

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After that we began to walk up the roads. There are many different intersecting roads and there is no good map. So, we just headed up steep hillsides and eventually got to the hut at the end of the road well after dark. We were now at 14,500 feet and were really feeling the altitude,

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sunset over Mexico
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Orizaba from about halfway up our improvised route
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the hut

We talked to a few tourguides that came up that day and they said that the conditions were very bad on the mountain. The Jamapa glacier was very wind scoured as it had not snowed in a long time. A few people had died on the mountain last month. Therefore we decided that we could not safely complete this route and decided that we would try the route from the other side of the mountain. We paid one of the tour guides some money for a ride back down to Tlachichuca and then took a combi back to Ciudad Serdan.

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driving back down the road we hiked up

We took a taxi and then paid some people to get us a few miles from the hut on the other side of the mountain. Our packs were very heavy with lots of water, and we climbed to over 15,000 feet to spend the night at the hut. For the second night in a row we had a large hut to ourselves. The next morning we set off for the summit.

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there are a lot of crosses everywhere on the mountain, many even use them as reference points to navigate
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Anthony climbing up the steep scree
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Matt at around 18,000 feet
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looking across the crater at the top
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Matt celebrating at the top
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group picture at the top
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The top of Mexico

Matt and I arrived at the top 45 minutes before Adam and Anthony and spent some time relaxing and taking in the view. By the time they got there they were feeling sick so we descended almost immediately. Anthony was starting to display symptoms of HACE so Matt and I had to guide him down as quickly as possible. It may be tempting to not acclimatize on this climb as the summit is only 4-5 hours from the hut, but do not be tempted by it. Even after spending a few days at above 14,000 feet Anthony still got sick.

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descending

When we got back to the hut we immediately sent Adam and Anthony back down the road to get to a lower elevation. Unfortunately this meant we had to carry both of their packs down as well in addition to 7L of water each. We placed one pack on our front and one on our back and began to descend.

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looking back on Orizaba

We made it down to another hut and stayed the night there. The next morning we walked most of the way down to town and then hitched a ride the rest of the way.

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above the clouds
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Matt and all the backpacks

We then all took a bus back to Mexico City. On a whim Matt and I decided to climb Iztaccihuatal as we were already acclimatized and it was near Mexico City. We took a bus for only a dollar fifty to Amecameca, and a cheap taxi to the park headquarters. By this point night had fallen. After paying the park entrance fee we found a ride with a nice man from Mexico City the last four miles to the trailhead. We camped the night there and departed very early the next morning.

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nearing the top
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Matt descending, Popocateptl an active volcano can be seen in the distance.

After 10 hours of hiking we got back to the trailhead at around 4pm, stoked but tired. Luckily a very nice couple from Mexico City gave us a ride all the way to downtown Mexico where we stayed at a hostel. They even bought us dinner despite our insistence to buy their dinner. My karmic debt continues to grow. They said that it was on the condition that we tell Americans the Trump is wrong about Mexicans and that they are good people.

The next day(our 6th in Mexico) after walking for hours through the incredible markets in Mexico City, I took the train to the airport and flew home.

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