Ascent of Pico de Orizaba on 2016-02-09

Climber: Connor McEntee

Others in Party:Scott Larson -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Pico de Orizaba
    Elevation:18491 ft / 5636 m

Ascent Trip Report

*** There is objective crevasse danger on Orizaba on the Ruta Normal despite all reports otherwise ***

Orizaba was climbed as the second peak during a 9 day trip to central Mexico. Scott and I had a rented jeep in Mexico, which had taken us to Toluca a day prior. However, it was not 4x4 and had almost completely bald tires e.g. transitioning on a banked turn from one highway to another at 60 mph would cause the jeep to fishtail. Fortunately, we didn't need to drive to the hut at Piedra Grande rather just make it to Tlachichuca. So, we picked up a companion at the Puebla airport late at night rounding our team out at 3 and proceeded to make the drive to Tlachichuca and meet our outfitter, Orizaba Mountain Guides. The trip was uneventful except for being followed by Policia with it's lights on for a while and getting stuck in traffic due to a bad accident after making a wrong turn.

The help at OMG were very friendly, the rooms were ok, and overall it was a positive experience. It's overpriced to arrange your trip through any of the outfitters in Tlachichuca, because the accommodations are pretty bare bones. The jeep is the only thing you really need. It's completely unnecessary to have a helper in the hut watch your gear. Maybe it's possible to negotiate the rate down by removing that service. We paid inclusive rate of around $130 per person, which was worth it at the end of the day just to simply everything. We did meet climbers though that handled logistics themselves and paid significantly less.

Anyway, the road to Piedra Grande is bumpy but also scenic. After a couple of hours we were at the hut and settled. I wandered out to do a little acclimation hike and my companions soon followed, However, I wasn't planning on going that far and wore my flip flops, but ended up going a lot higher than I intended. Coming down on scree was a little interesting, and a guided group coming down from an acclimation climb to the glacier threw some comments my way. After returning I made dinner and met a group of three guys from Utah, who mentioned that there was someone else from Utah staying at the hut. He had apparently gone for the summit that morning, but no one had seen him since and his gear was still in the hut. There was some simmering concern that something had happened to him e.g. fell and broke a leg.

Carlos, the only guide in the hut, had been told by another climber who summited that morning that he saw the missing climber and thought he saw him enter an ice cave to go exploring. Carlos was insistent that there were no ice caves and that he was simply mistaken. Late that evening Carlos received a call over his radio that a phone call had been made to the emergency services by a climber stuck on Orizaba. The story was that he had fallen down the glacier and needed help. Search and rescue was on it's way and they came crashing through the door to the hut a little before midnight. That basically set the theme for the rest of the night. It was very difficult to get any sleep. I was struggling with a significant cold, and at least every hour a group was getting up, getting their things together, and setting out for the summit. At 2:30, I got up after realizing that I wasn't going to get any more sleep, made hot water and waited for my partners to do the same. We set out at 3am and were the last group to leave that morning.

Climbing in the dark was uneventful. It's is not hard to find a trail, though there are so many branches down low after leaving the aqueduct that it's difficult to perhaps find the best trail. Slowly, we gained on and passed the Utahans, who left an hour before us. We went through the labyrinth, which I thought was a lot of fun. I much prefered the solid snow and ice to the soft dirt and scree lower down. I could imagine some groups putting crampons on, but they were unnecessary. Shortly we reached the glacier, tried to find a spot out of the cold wind, and put our crampons on. We would soon discover that the glacier is so degraded by the sun with penitentes that it would be an accomplishment to fall down more than a few feet on it. Crampons maybe make walking on it a little easier, but a good mountaineering boot that day would have no problem giving excellent purchase all the way to the summit. I was having gear difficulties, so my partners went on ahead. I shortly caught them and then a solo climber who left at 1. I finally passed the only guided group on the mountain putting me ahead of everyone else.

It was cold and I had forgotten my down jacket in the hut, because I was using it for a pillow. So, without shelter of some kind I wasn't going to be able to stay warm without continuing to move. I wanted to drink some water, but also didn't want to stop on the side of the exposed glacier and fumble around in my pack. Looking around I saw a little defect in the glacier maybe 15ft below me. I assumed that the sun was melting some water, which wore a little channel through the ice. This could maybe be deep enough to get out of the wind for a few moments. I started to walk that way, and then decided that I really didn't want to loose any elevation. I would just march on to the summit and leave early if I had to.

Within 15 minutes, I was at the summit and quickly discovered that just inside the crater rim, there is no wind. It's a perfect place to bask in the rising sun and enjoy impressive views of the Gulf and the crater walls. Just don't slip and fall in. Before too long the guided group behind me reached the summit. I never even saw Carlos, but his two clients came and joined me on the crater rim. We talked for a bit, and eventually they mentioned that they think they found the missing climber in a crevasse. Immediately, I knew where this was. I waited for a few more people to make it to the summit, and after giving them a short break we headed down for what I had thought was only a small defect in the glacier. Upon reaching the scene, I found Carlos and looked over the edge to see a 20ft crevasse and climber waving up at me from below. Shortly, the rest of the rescue team from the summit showed up, and we used Carlos' rope to do a direct haul out of the crevasse. We soon discovered that he has spent over 24 hours inside wiggling his toes and fingers all night to stave off frostbite.

We slowly went down the mountain and were eventually met by a zoo of police, park service, and rescue personnel. He was quickly whisked away to a hospital and subsequent debriefing. After napping for an hour, we made the journey back down to OMG for dinner and sleep in a quieter room.

Photos courtesy of Scott.

Crevasse/Bergschrund Photo #1
Crevasse/Bergschrund Photo #2

Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Ski Poles, Hut Camp

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