Ascending Pico De Orizaba

By: Steve Banks

Pico de Orizaba in central Mexico is the third highest peak in North America. Glacier? Mountaineering? In Mexico? Yep. At 18,491 feet above sea level ( 5636m), on a clear day you can see all the way to the Gulf of Mexico from the summit. 

Irwin Guides' Mexico expedition takes place each fall, usually in early November. This is a great time to climb Mexico's volcanoes, after the rainy season the weather is more stable and predictable with good snow coverage in higher elevations. 

We arrive in Mexico City and then move East to the mountains. Iztaccihaut 17,000’ or La Malinche at 14,500’ make for great warm up peaks to acclimatize to the elevation and enjoy the climbing in Mexico. After a night in Tlachichuca we ride in 4X4 trucks up a rutted jeep road to the Piedra Grande hut at just over 14,000'. From here we can stage our summit attempt, or we can move to a high camp at 16,000' and summit from there. Either way, summit day is a long one at altitude with crampons and ice axes. 

Temperatures are generally moderate with the latitude evening out the altitude. Usually it is around 35-45 degrees F at the hut, and about 20-30 F at the summit. Warm climbing clothes are a must, but not full on expedition wear. 

With a 4:1 climber to guide ratio, personal attention can be given to each climbers skills. Orizaba is a great training climb for higher or more technical peaks like Denali, Mont Blanc or the mountains of Bolivia. While Orizaba is not technically difficult, conditions can vary and proper climbing techniques must be employed. It is not uncommon to see ill-equipped parties struggling without the proper training, acclimatization or equipment. On the way to the summit pre-dawn, we often see the mountain casting its long shadow across the lowlands to the West. Neighboring volcano Popocatepetl is the most active in the region and is usually spewing clouds and ash into the air. Orizaba is a dormant volcano, but is not yet totally extinct. The last time this mountain erupted was back in the 19th century. In the early 1900's the area was established as a National Park to preserve the area and the surrounding beauty.

Filed under: Global Travels

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