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Ascent of Pico de Orizaba on 2012-01-11

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Duane Gilliland
Greg Slayden
Date:Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Pico de Orizaba
    Location:Mexico
    Elevation:5636 m / 18491 ft

Ascent Trip Report

After our Volcán La Malinche ascent the previous day we made the 2 hour drive to Tlachichuca, a town at the foot of Orizaba. Here we tracked down Senor Reyes' establishment (N19.11510 W97.42055, 2599m), turn R immediately before the Pemex; his is the first gateway on the R in about 50m). He has 4x4 vehicles and transports climbers to the Piedra Grande hut for 70 USD/person round trip. We arrived in plenty of time for the standard 11 am departure and Greg, Duane, Ryan and I made the bumpy 2 hour trip to the hut (N19.05809 W97.26984, 4225m), stopping a couple of times for photos of the peak.

During the afternoon, Duane and I made a recce of the first third of the route. This saved a fair bit of time wasting the next morning as the first steep section is a little vague with quite a few variations.

The main hut sleeps about 60 on two sets of three storey platforms. It was nowhere near full this Tuesday. There was one large guided group and others including two Spanish guides guided by a Mexican guide! Maybe they were to take him up Mulhacen or Aneto in return? There was also a pair from San Diego, who were staying in the small original yellow-painted structure nestled in among large boulders (hence piedra grande) at the start of the trail; this would sleep about a dozen. There are also three outside toilets.

There is no charge for using the hut nor for climbing the peak.

The large group's acclimatisation plan needed working on: in particular, a Polish lad who had flown in and been driven directly to 4240m was sick. As he was sleeping on the top platform and we were directly below, he was effectively sick all over Duane (and they wonder why there are Polish jokes, said Duane!). The lad was still apologising - and still sick - the next day.

It was windy in the afternoon and evening - with a lenticular cloud sitting over the summit to prove it. Senor Reyes had said that it is best to start very early to avoid afternoon winds; also to allow 12 hours round trip for the summit, and as our transport was due at 4 pm we decided to get up at 2 am.

The wind sounded strong all night. At 2 am it didn't sound much different but outside it didn't feel too bad so we put on warm gear, had a little food and set off at 02:40.

The trail starts about 10m above the door to the main hut. It is initially what appears to be a water channel, with a flat concrete top, easy to walk on although quite steep. When the concrete ends a zigzag trail continues, a bit ambiguous in places - we were glad of our GPS track from yesterday to keep us on route in the dark. There is a fork at N19.05388 W97.27027 (4414m): we kept L here until we reached a low stone wall which we followed R for about 15m to reach an obvious steep trail. There is one spot higher up where the trail descends L a little but it is mostly fairly obvious (we had the benefit of a full moon).

At N19.05002 W97.27092 (4599m) the first of several bivvy spots is passed and the gradient eases; the cairned and paint marked trail continues into a shallow rocky canyon which it exits on the L. The trail then aims somewhat R of the summit dome which is visible ahead.

The snow level was fairly low for us (there had been a significant fall over the New Year) and we fitted crampons before taking a steepish snow gully. Duane discovered a screw was missing from a crampon and Greg executed an expert repair with 3 safety pins and some duct tape! The climb from here to the snowfield was poorly defined with several boot tracks on different lines through a fairly complex area. There was some zigzagging on icy snow to about 45° but no real difficulties.

Once on the snow field the route is straightforward - somewhat icy snow starting at about 30° and steepening to about 45° on the final summit climb. My feet were chilly so I pushed on ahead of the others to generate some heat, catching the party of 3 guides who had passed us while we were fixing the crampon.

The dawn was superb. Although the sun rose behind the mountain (hence we stayed cold), a faint orange glow turned to a yellow band, then Orizaba's rocky NW top glowed orange. The shadow of our peak was cast against the atmosphere against the distant shapes of Popo and Ixta. A roped party of five made a nice foreground. The shadow disappeared and after a few minutes a clearer shadow formed, this time cast directly onto the land.

This superb display was for me the only enjoyable feature of the ascent, which was a seemingly unending toil up steepening icy snow with at times a breakable crust, in the teeth of a cold wind. For me it recalled the brittle steep snow of Chimborazo and the freezing wind of Ojos del Salado.

At last the slope relented and I contoured L to the skyline and followed the snow rim of the ragged-edged crater a short way to the summit. The highest point is snow; there is a small toppled cross a few metres beyond, and a circular stainless steel cap at ground level which presumably houses a monitor of some kind.

I was at the summit at 09:10, five minutes ahead of the three guides. When they arrived we took summit photos of each other, and I headed down. I was feeling quite weak on the last 200m of ascent and realised I'd eaten nothing since breakfast (higher up it was too cold to stop). I plunge-stepped fairly rapidly down the snow slope, stopping to talk to Greg and Duane who were ascending and in good spirits.

Just below the snowfield were two tents belonging to the rope of five. I stopped here in the sunshine for food and drink, and after negotiating the steep icy snow gully I stopped to de-crampon then completed the descent to the hut, arriving at 11:40. Ryan had the stove on and I had some lunch before crawling into my sleeping bag for an hour, still a bit groggy from the lack of food and drink on the ascent.

Secor's book warns that anything left in the hut is liable to be stolen. We took all small valuables up with us but there was no sign of interference with sleeping bags, stove etc which we left behind. This was consistent with what Senor Reyes had told us.

Greg and Duane spent an hour at the summit, made a leisurely descent and got down a couple of hours after me. Our transport was waiting and after a bumpy 90 minute ride we were back at Tlachichuca, where Adam and Collin were waiting for us. We stayed at Senor Reyes place - a former soap factory with some of the machinery preserved. After a shower we had a nice meal at one of the two restaurants on the town square then an internet session at a place just off the square.

Next morning we made a leisurely start then drove to Amecameca to get set up for our Volcán Iztaccíhuatl climb planned for the following day.

Orizaba photo album

For a comprehensive illustrated description of the whole trip, see Adam Helman's expedition report

Trip itinerary
Mon 26 Dec: met Duane Gilliland at MEX, drove to Ciudad Guzman, met Bob Packard and Adam Helman and drove to Nevado Colima trailhead, slept in vehicles.

Tue 27: climbed Colima, drove to Rincon de Manantlan NW of Capillas, slept in vehicles.

Wed 28: climbed Capillas, unplanned bivvy on descent.

Thu 29: completed descent of Capillas, drove most of way to Tancitaro, slept in vehicles.

Fri 30: completed drive to Tancitaro trailhead, climbed Tancitaro, drove out and slept in vehicles. MY 100TH ULTRA.

Sat 31: Duane and I climbed Tequila and slept in a hotel in Guadalajara; Bob and Adam climbed Zamorano.

Sun 1 Jan 2012: met Bob and Adam at Matehuala, drove to San Onofre

Mon 2: climbed San Onofre and Pena Nevada, drove out, slept in vehicles south of Matehuala

Tue 3: drove to Lagunita de San Diego and made arrangements for La Joya; slept in vehicles in village.

Wed 4: climbed Cerro la Joya; slept in vehicles in village.

Thu 5: drove to Mexico City, swapped to 2WD rental car, met Greg Slayden, Collin Kamholz and Ryan Courtney, hotel overnight

Fri 6: climbed Cerro Ajusco, drove to Toluca park, camped at xxx (Bob P returned to the US).

Sat 7: climbed Nevado de Toluca, slept in cabin at trailhead.ADAM HELMAN'S 100TH ULTRA.

Sun 8: drove to Malinche trailhead, slept in cabin.

Mon 9: climbed Volcán La Malinche, slept in cabin at trailhead.

Tue 10: drove to Tlachichuca, 4x4 ride to Piedra Grande hut.

Wed 11: climbed Pico de Orizaba, slept in Tlachichuca.

Thu 12: drove to Iztaccihuatl, slept in refugio.

Fri 13: climbed Volcán Iztaccíhuatl, slept in hotel in Amecameca.

Sat 14: climbed Sacromonte Chalchiumomozco, in Amecameca, approx 2565m P90m; slept in Amecameca.

Sun 15: flights home.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1396 m / 4580 ft
    Distance:7.6 km / 4.7 mi
    Route:NW ridge (ordinary route)
    Trailhead:Piedra Grande hut  4240 m / 13911 ft
    Grade/Class:YDS 2
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Hut Camp
    Weather:Cold, Windy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:6 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:2 Hours 20 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO resposibility or liability from use of this data.

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