I dug this one up from a few years ago-this was my first out of the country mountaineering trip. Be warned-its long.

the mists of time clear to february 1997

Hmm, my girlfriend wants to sit on a beach in Jamaica for spring break. That sounds like hell, and a total waste of a rare week off school(thats probably why I am single). A few months ago a friend went to the Mexican volcanos and said it was a cheap trip. Decision made-Mexico it is.

About three weeks before the trip, I decided soloing didn't sound as fun as it had when the trip was still a distant prospect, so I called my friend Dave in Minnesota. I hadn't talked to him for a few years, but he agreed instantly and cleared REI out of all the mountaineering gear they had.

Spring Break. The approach to Mexico City goes very near Pico de Orizaba, the first mountain I plan to climb. Holy shit. It is a huge white cone sitting by itself in the central Mexican plateau, and looks very intimidating. I land a few hours before Dave, and discover that the Mexico City airport doesn't have anything like gate numbers, so I spend the next few hours running between gates anytime I see a Continental flight land.

After meeting up with Dave, the first obstacle is Customs. Starting a trend that has continued every time I leave the country to this day, I drew the red ball and had to be searched. I spent an hour trying to explain the ice axes, fuel bottles(thankfully empty), food, etc. before they let me go. This was the first time I had left the country in 10 years, and the hostile reception had me pretty freaked.

We were lucky and found a direct bus to Puebla at the airport. I love Mexican buses. Weekend at Bernie's 2 with English subtitles was the featured movie, and I bought a whole roasted chicken from a lady who got on the bus to just outside of Mexico City. Much more fun than the Adirondack Trailways ride to the gunks!

On to Tlachichuca at the base of Orizaba, where we meet Senor Reyes. He is an old Mexican climber reknowned around the world for his hospitality. He runs a climbers dorm in an old soap factory, his wife cooks amazing meals with plenty of cold beer, and then he gives you rides to Piedra Grande(Orizaba basecamp) in ancient Dodge PowerWagons that are the most amazing vehicles I have ever seen.

I bought a bunch of fruit in a village market, and then we headed to Piedra Grande. There are 4 other guys in the truck with us all of whom became very good friends. One of them, Bob, spent the truck ride telling us a story about his brother who has a cable access TV show in upstate New York somewhere. One of his shows was sponsored by a limo company, who drove him around to every strip club in town. The highlight of the show was two of the strippers shaving his ass in the back of the limo-this became the subject for many running jokes.

I made angelhair pasta with garlic and sundried tomatoes for dinner, and spent the next day throwing it up because of altitude sickness. I learned it is not wise to sleep at 14000 feet 3 days after leaving sea level. The rest of our time was spent taking pictures of people using the outhouse and threatening to post them on the net. The outhouse had no door and faced the windows of the refugio, so we called it the half-assed crapper.

Two days later I finally feel well enough to try Orizaba. We woke up at midnight and started up the trail by headlamp. The night was perfectly clear with no moon so the stars were magnificent, but the lower part was pretty creepy because gravestones line the trail like cairns. We reached the end of the trail after an hour or so, and were faced with a series of cliff bands on the left and a huge scree slope on the right. I made the biggest route finding error of my life and headed up the scree.

The scree was what I imagine the worst pit of hell must be like. I used my ice ax to self arrest every few minutes-I am sure we climbed that slope at least two or three times after all the sliding. Before the slope, Dave and I were way in front of the others, but most of them caught up with us by the time we finally reached the glacier.

Time to put on the crampons. Dave had never used crampons before, and hadn't even adjusted them to his boots yet. Damn. I spent the next 20 minutes using my knife as a screwdriver trying to fit them to his boots. At least we caught our breath, and started slogging up the long, long glacier.

The sun came up as we approached the summit, and the view of the plateau was amazing. It was very clear, so we could see all the way to Popocateptl in the west, and the jungles near Veracruz to the east. We were both really running out of steam, but pressed on to the crater rim. We arrived there after about 7 hours of climbing, and decided it was far enough. We were exhausted, and the summit is another hour of climbing on loose rock and ice-a soloist died on this section just a few days before. We sat gasping on the crater rim for a half hour talking about coming back stronger to rappel in and put up routes inside the huge crater walls.

Bob and his partner Luc were near the rim as we started to descend. We encouraged them, and then made plans to meet near the start of the glacier so they can show us the way back through the cliffs. A few hours later we made it back to Piedra Grande, completely exhausted. The other climbers who had turned around met us with soup and celebratory cerveza. They told us everybody was watching our headlamps as we were going through the scree, and said it was hilarious. They just saw these points of light jinking up and down, crossing back and forth, and couldn't believe we made it through.

The soup revived us considerably, and we bouldered near the refugio in our plastic doubles until Senor Reyes came to pick us up. Life was good, and we spent the next few days hiking, playing tourist in Mexico City and Toluca, and checking out Aztec ruins until it was time to go back home.


Its all A1 until you fall.
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