Ascent of Pico de Orizaba on 2004-02-06

Climber: Ben Lostracco

Others in Party:Roberto
Date:Friday, February 6, 2004
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Pico de Orizaba
    Elevation:18491 ft / 5636 m

Ascent Trip Report

I SUMMITTED PICO DE ORIZABA, NORTH AMERICA'S 3RD HIGHEST PEAK AT 18,405', at 8h45 hours. A most memorable 3 day adventure ...... especially the last 200-300 meters, a lot gasping and huffing and puffing, a heart-pounding climb. No one had summitted Orizaba since the unusual huge snow storm that hit this area over a week ago (see TR of 2004-02-03). Our start on February 4 was somewhat iffy since the conditions on the mountain were not known. Gerardo Reyes, my Outfitter for this trip, felt that the time was right so I decided to go for it. My guide was Roberto from Mexico City.
For the prologue to this report see "Volcan La Malinche TR dated 2004-01-28" and the "Cerro de la Ermita" TR dated 2004-02-03"

DAY #1 (Feb 4) PIEDRA GRANDE (13,944').... We left our base in TLACHICHUCA (8530') at mid-morning for the drive up the mountain to Piedra Grande. The driver tried his very best to go as high as possible, he got stuck at about 12,200' and couldn't go any higher. We got out and walked.
Roberto decided to take a short-cut and not follow the main road, a xcross country straight line thru deep snow , tough going at places. After about half an hour we came upon a lot of fresh tracks, later caught up with 3 porters carrying for a Colorado group. Chatted for a while and decided to continue as a group.
Higher up we came out to the main access road and followed it to PIEDRA GRANDE(13,944'). Nice slow pace as we had all day, not at all difficult. We arrived at 16h00 hours, about 15 other climbers in the hut. Roberto cooked dinner.
In the hut we chatted with a number of climbers, one of them was a USA guide, Ricardo Pena, up here with a group of 12 from a Colorado mountain club. They arrived earlier in the afternoon and intented to do a number of acclimatization day climbs before going for the summit.
Except for a small headache across my forehead, I was feeling good as I slippped in my bag with the rest of the hut at 20h00 hours.

DAY #2 (Feb 5) HIGH CAMP (15,700').... I was up early feeling great, no headache. Overnight I was up a few times to pee in the clear cold night, a beautiful bright moon.
After breakfast we left for high camp on a virgin trail since the storm, half of the trail was open however the rest Roberto had to break trail, knee deep in places, 12" for the most part. I slipped and fell a few times because of the rocky footing under the snow. Moderate, easy pace, I huffed and puffed.
We arrived HIGH CAMP AT MID-DAY, elev 15,700', a small flat area on a short ridge, room for 4 to 5 tents. We set up camp, cooked lunch and melted snow all PM for tomorrow's water needs (4 liters for me and 1 for Roberto). Relaxed all PM, chatted with a number of day hikers up for acclimatization among them was Ricardo Pena and his group and simply tried to enjoy the superb panorama.
Beautiful sun and no wind, relaxed all afternoon, tried to take in a lot of liquids, had an early dinner. After discussing tomorrow's summit day (we will leave at 3h00 hours), I slipped into my bag. The time was 17h00 hours under a full sun, I tried to sleep !!

DAY #3 (Feb 6) SUMMIT DAY (18491').... Up to get ready after a windy, tent flapping, sleepless night. At times the wind was so strong that it felt as if the tent would be blown off the ridge. We did a poor job of tying down the tent. Roberto prepared a nice hot soup breakfast. We readied ourselves for the cold weather, hat and gloves. We will leave the tent as is and break it down on the descent.
At 3h3O hours WE LEFT CAMP (15,700') under a super full bright moon, cold and very windy. We used our headlamps but they weren't really necessary, I had a pumped up feeling. Roberto had no trouble finding the route to the SNOUT OF THE JAMAPA GLACIER(16,500'), the wind here somewhat stronger. The climb from here to the summit is on the glacier, 30 degrees at the bottom increasing to 40-50 degrees as you get higher. It felt like going straight up. We stopped to put on our full wind gear and crampons, got roped together.
Roberto used a zig-zag route to about 200 meters from the crater rim, then a straight line to the rim, once on the rim it is a gradual slope to the summit. Luckily the wind completely disappeared as we neared the rim.
As we climbed we had an AWESOME INSPIRATIONAL SUNRISE over the Gulf of Mexico !! an amazing sight , the kind you only see in photographs, however in this case you are in that photo ..... It's these types of settings that brings you back for more. I love it. However the gasping for air, the heart and head pounding climb and the necessary concentration with every step that you take prevents the full enjoyment of the moment. My frequent granny stops every 20-30 meters resulted in a hard tug from Roberto "keep moving".
WE ARRIVED AT THE SUMMIT (18,491')at 8h45 hours, after a 5 1/4 hours of climbing. Super conditions, no wind and full sun, you couldn't ask for better. I gave Roberto a big hug and a muchas gracias.
Pablo from Guadalajara, who passed us on the way up and was the first to summit on this day, had melted snow and had tea ready for everyone .... how nice was that .... A bit later 2 Germans, Klaus and Peter, preceded their friend, Harry - an amazing 80 year old Swiss - an inspiration to all the 66 yr olds who thought they were good.
It took me about 10-15 min to recover from the climb, before I could really enjoy and appreciate my effort, the setting and my new friends. In these situations everyone becomes an instant best friend because of the mutual effort and accomplishment, the comradery is beautiful. We all hugged each other. The 6 of us would be the only ones to summit on this day. Everyone took their usual photos. We promised ourselves to get together this evening back at base camp
After 45 min we all started our descent, the day being far from over as we are going all the way back down to base camp in Tlachichuca. Roberto took a traight line down the glacier, I led as he acted as my safety line. Tough on the knees.
Arriving back at High Camp at 11h30 hours, we packed up and descended to PIEDRA GRANDE by 14h00 hours. We shared our experience with the Colorado group, after a snack we descended the rest of the way to the waiting TRUCK AT ELEVATION 12,200'. It was 15h30 hours. Rose was there with Gerardo's family, the children playing in the snow. We hugged each other. I related my experience to her as we waited for the German/Swiss group to arrive.
We got BACK TO TLACHICHUCA at 17h00 hours, after a 13 1/2 hour day.
We later dined together, Roberto, Klaus, Peter, Harry, Rose and I, reliving our day. Luis Cobos's music from his album "Viva Mexico" enamored the room. A very happy group indeed. I was exhausted but very content.

When I got up in the morning (Feb 7), I had puffy, face and eyes and looked like a punched-drunk fighter..... this is always the case during my climbs to high altitude. We would rest here today before making our way to Manzanillo for a 6 week winter stay. We plan to visit a number of sights on the way and check out Nevado de Toluca for a future climb.


Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2791 ft / 850 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5 mi / 8 km
    Route:standard route up jamapa glacier
    Trailhead:high camp  15700 ft / 4785 m
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons

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