2017 Orizaba Trip Report

By: Ian Havlick

Just a quick summary of our recent trip down to Mexico to climb the 3rd highest mountain in North America. Our trip was excellent, the group showed up strong and motivated, and we were able to successfully follow our trip’s itinerary and acclimatization schedule and successfully and safely climb Iztaccihuatl (17,159’) and the ultimate prize Pico de Orizaba (18,491’). 

For all in the group, each mountain had their unique difficulties and challenges. Both were tough but very rewarding climbs where many tested their mental and physical abilities created and strengthened friendships and bonds that only mountains can forge.

After arriving in Mexico City, we arranged transport to Hotel Historico Central downtown, a short walk from many of Mexico City’s famed attractions such as the numerous shopping districts, the National Cathedral, Museum of Fine Art, Alameda Central, and many taquerias and fine restaurants.

For “Ixta” the difficulties came from the mountain’s arid climate and lack of water sources high on the mountain. With the help of a porter, everyone needed to carry between 6-10 liters of water for the two-day climb. We all adjusted to our heavy loads and hoofed it up to our high camp at 15,400ft. We were treated to spectacularly calm and warm conditions for early November. Sunset comes early that time of year, so after several hours of basking in the sun and a warm meal, we retreated to our tents at 7pm for a few hours of sleep before our alarms sang at 4am for our summit bid. The day went smoothly and was a surreal experience to look down to the valleys below choked with glittering lights of Mexico City to the west and Puebla to the east. Though “Ixta” is technically moderate with short bits of class 3 scrambling and a small amount of glacier travel, multiple false summits and the thin, dry air challenged all. Despite the challenges, I can happily report the rare feat of all 8 climbers and 3 guides reaching the summit around 1400. We then descended, packed up high camp and were greeted by fresh tortas (sandwiches) and Coca-Cola and Tecate beer.

Popo (right, active volcano) and Izta (left) morning after successful summit from Puebla.

Next up was the big goal. Orizaba. After Ixta we drove to Puebla, moving east. A hot shower and a margarita were on my mind. After that shower, we gathered for a big group dinner, heavy on the molé (a regional specialty of chocolate mixed with many seeds, chiles, dried fruit and served over various meat) and tequila. It was a great celebration of our first success.

Finally, after a good nights rest, showers, wandering around the incredible city of Puebla we departed toward the rural Mexican lifestyle and the tiny village of Tlachichuca, the launch point for most attempting Pico de Orizaba. We sorted gear in the grassy courtyard of Señor Reyes outstanding facility and climbers hostel, preparing our gear for our departure the following day.
The long 4WD road filled with myth and legend of its ruggedness was the first chapter of the climb of Orizaba. Despite the rough roads and dust, the vehicles used for transport were great. Eventually we arrived at the Piedra Grande refugio (14,000ft), a stone cabin with triple-decker bunk beds and stoves for cooking. We reviewed crampons, ice axes and glacier travel near the hut on the nearby sand dunes, hustled back to the hut for a hot dinner, and got to bed around 6pm. At midnight the stoves were firing and we were bleary-eyed making the final adjustments for the summit. Everyone was half asleep, but very excited to finally set out for what they really came for. Fog and heavy mist blew outside the door, though in the bright moon, the snowy upper mountain could be seen reflecting in the darkness high above. It was very magical, and reassured us the weather would be short-lived. We set off and sustained a solid pace all the way to the snowline at about 16,000ft. From there, the very firm, icy snow required roped travel and sharp crampons and good steep snow technique with axes and footwork. The team did great, and at about 7:30am, the bright, warm, morale lifting sun began to break and cast the most amazing shadow of Orizaba westward, across the low lying corn and agave fields below.
Prepping for snow school at 14k hut before Orizaba

The team showed amazing tenacity and grit and 6/8 guests made it to the summit, but all realized it wasn’t the summit that made the trip. The process, the camaraderie, the early mornings, good food, hot showers, and amazing culture Mexico delivered are memories we all won’t soon forget. Thanks to all members for the adventure. Here’s to more in the future! ¡salud a más aventuras! 

locals herdinf sheep below Orizaba

Orizaba Sunrise

Filed under: Field Report

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