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#1161 - 11/21/00 08:32 PM Mexican Volcanos
andrew Offline


Registered: 11/15/99
Posts: 1816
Loc: Denver, CO
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.
This isn't an office. It's Hell with fluorescent lighting.

#1162 - 11/24/00 02:18 AM Re: Mexican Volcanos [Re: andrew]
GeeVee Offline
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Registered: 11/14/00
Posts: 4403
Loc: Brooklyn, NY
All too familiar - did the same trip myself this past February. I was less brave than you - signed up with REI for the trip. The guides were from an outfit called Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides - Ian and Shawn were real good people. The outhouse is still as bad - hence the piles behind every rock (read Cameron Burns story in the October / November R&I for more on that) and that haul up to the glacier in the dark doesn't get any easier. I'd do it again though - wouldn't you?

So long as you can boogie you ain't too old.

#1163 - 11/25/00 04:58 PM Mexican Volcanos - specific beta [Re: GeeVee]
andrew Offline


Registered: 11/15/99
Posts: 1816
Loc: Denver, CO

GeeVee - I am definitely planning on going back. My little brother is taking my dad climbing there in a few weeks, and I am jealous. The outhouse is bad-but you should see the one for the Illinizas in Ecuador. Wow, I would rather use a bathroom in the Times Square subway station.

Beta. I have a webpage about climbing the volcanos at:

There are some nice pictures there. I have no idea how long it will take NYU to figure out I am not a student anymore and shut off the page, so let me know if it disappears.

Beta. This is very specific beta to getting around Mexico and very little for the routes. The normal routes are easy and obvious, and pretty safe. I didn't need a rope on Orizaba. There is really no crevasse danger, but if you are uncomfortable on steep snow you will probably want one. No rope is needed for the Arista del Sol on Ixtaccihuatl. Some of the other routes on Ixta would probably be more fun and less crowded, like the Ayoloco Glacier(which you need a rope for). If you do decide to bring a rope, prussiks, a few snow pickets, a few 22cm ice screws, and maybe a deadman would be useful.

The prices and exchange rates have probably changed, and the bus lines may have as well. YMMV.

The Mexican Volcanos are probably the ultimate value in mountaineering. Nowhere else can you go so high on beautiful mountains for almost no money. The three main peaks for the area are Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico and the third highest in North America, Popocateptl, and Ixtacchihuatl. La Malinche and Nevado de Toluca are both higher than anything in the continental United States and are great for acclimating. Popocateptl is currently closed to climbing because of volcanic activity, and the roads to Ixta's normal route occasionally is closed because of Popo as well.

All of these peaks are relatively easy to climb, but can be dangerous. The standard routes on the big three are on glaciers, requiring the use of ice ax and crampons, as well as some crevasse rescue knowledge and equipment. Additionally, their altitude alone makes them dangerous. La Malinche is 14,500+, Nevado de Toluca 15,000+, Popo and Ixta 17,000+, and Orizaba is 18,400. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema(HAPE) and Cerebral Edema(HACE) are both caused by altitude, and are deadly. I saw someone evaculated for HAPE on Ixta, and someone was killed in a fall on Orizaba a few days before I got there.

That warning aside, these mountains are a lot of fun-and central Mexico is a great place. All costs were from March of 1998, and at the time the exchange rate was 7.5 pesos to the dollar. I also highly recommend either knowing Spanish or being with someone who does. Neither Dave nor I speak Spanish, and very few people there speak English-getting into a cab or ordering food was always an adventure. It is certainly possible to get by without if you must, but it would make your trip less frustrating and probably more enjoyable.

Fly into Mexico City and catch the Estrella de Rojas bus to Puebla. The bus is nice, express, and you don't have to deal with going into Mexico City. You can catch the bus right outside of the airport. The cost was 60 pesos.

In Puebla, take a cab to the zocalo area, 30 pesos-though the driver will almost certainly charge you that per person. The Hotel Santander was clean, convenient, and very cheap. 111 5 Poniente, one block from the large cathedral. 64 pesos for a double room with no bath. Puebla is a beautiful city-try to spend a day sight-seeing and shopping for onyx and tipico pottery.

It is a good idea to warm up on La Malinche before you climb Orizaba, especially if you are coming from sea level. We didn't and still did fine on Orizaba, but we were really sick our first few days at Piedra Grande. If you want to climb La Malinche, it would be easiest to rent a car in Puebla. If that is not possible, take a bus to Apizaco and catch a cab. This can be exciting if there aren't any cabs when you wish to return.

Take a bus from Puebla's CAPU station to Tlachichuca. We rode on Acosa, cost was 21 pesos. The ride takes about 2 hours, and is very interesting. People get on and off at every village selling everything you can think of. Turn left out of the bus station and walk about two blocks. Senor Reyes can be found in the building across the street from the gas station. Anybody in town can tell you where it is if you get lost. Senor Reyes is famous all over the world for taking in climbers, and his hospitality was one of the best parts of the climb. The rate for two nights, two meals, white gas, and 4WD transportation to Piedra Grande is $82 American and they take American Express. The Casablanca restaurant is also very good, and we were lucky enough to get fresh fruit at an open air market before we left. If you are climbing during a busy season(like Christmas), it is best to make reservations with the Reyes at least 3 months in advance.

phone 011-52-5-595-1203
fax 011-52-5-681-7306

There are other outfitters in Tlachichuca besides the Reyes, but I haven't used them. I also highly recommend buying some fruit at the market in Tlachicuca to eat at Piedra Grande.

Enjoy the dusty ride in the old Power Wagons to Piedra Grande. Some other climbers with us wore bandanas over their mouths-very good idea. Piedra Grande is at 14,000 and is a good place to spend a few days acclimating. Bring some rock shoes if you have them, as there is some good bouldering around the hut. Tents are not necessary aside from during the peak climbing season. Water is available at a spring downhill from the hut. Also bring some nails and a hammer to repair the tin roof if you can. The loose tin shingles made some of the most horrible sounds I have ever heard.

We climbed Orizaba after only two nights at Piedra Grande, but that was cutting it very close. It would have been much better to spend another day hiking. Start climbing around midnight as the weather is much better in the morning than the afternoon, and watching the sunrise from 17,000 is very nice. We returned to Tlachichuca in the afternoon after climbing.

Take a bus back to Puebla, and then to Mexico City. Don't take Estrella de Rojas on the way back unless you are flying back after Orizaba. If you want to climb Ixta, take a bus to the TAPO terminal, and then catch another bus to Amecameca. Los Volcanos was 12 pesos. Keep your eyes peeled, as Amecameca is not the last stop on the bus. It would be best to cache any unnecessary gear in the TAPO lockers, because you have to pack in a little for Ixta. Also, be sure to get water, because unless there is snow cover down low none is available on Ixta. Minivans are waiting to take you up to La Joya. While I was there Popo was closed to climbing due to volcanic activity-inquire with other climbers if it is open. Locals assured us the way was open to Popo, and it wasn't. Hike up to the hut from La Joya. Don't leave any gear laying around La Joya for thieves to enjoy. It is several miles to the hut, so if you arrive late you may want to camp at La Joya.

Nevado de Toluca is a little out of the way, but worth going to for the city of Toluca alone. Take a cab from Mexico City's TAPO to the Terminal Poniente(35 pesos for two people). We took a first class bus to Toluca for 35 pesos, and then a cab from the terminal to the Portales(30 pesos). The Hotel Rex was one block from the Portales, and a double with TV and shower was 90 pesos. Don't miss the interesting candy. The Aztec ruins of Teotenango are just south of the city. They are not as spectacular as some of the sites around Mexico City, but the solitude more than compensates for this.

Nevado de Toluca is very easy-the Mount Evans of Mexico. A road goes all of the way into the crater, and we jogged to the summit while our cab waited. This would be an interesting place to be stranded, so either renting a car or negotiating with your cab driver before your climb is a good idea.

For specific route beta and driving directions, get RJ Secor's wonderful guidebook, Climbing the Mexican Volcanos.

For current conditions and other good info, check out
This isn't an office. It's Hell with fluorescent lighting.


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