Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mammut 150 Peaks Project: Pico de Orizaba/Citlaltepetl

Mammut 150 Peaks Project: Pico de Orizaba/Citlaltepetl

Citlaltepetl, or Pico de Orizaba, is the highest mountain in Mexico, and the third highest in North America. This 18,491’ volcano is only 62 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, giving it about 9,000 feet of vertical relief. The village of Tlachichuca is the most common starting point, and the meeting point for team Trepacerros.

The team arrived by bus from different parts of Mexico a day early to acclimatize in the village, and I arrived from Colorado just after. A 2 hour four wheel drive road takes you to 14,000 feet where a small, primitive stone hut is used as the base camp for most climbers. The Piedre Grande hut can sleep about 60 people, but has no running water, heat or other amenities, it is just a basic shelter to protect climbers from the wind and cold. Most of the Jeep operators will also provide stoves, fuel and someone to watch over your belongings while you climb.

We decided to spend the first day hiking the steep, dusty trail to the first bit of snow and ice below the glacier to brush up on crampon and ice axe technique while gaining some acclimatization at about 15,500’. The days were warm and sunny with clouds far below us in the coastal valleys. This made an amazing panorama each evening at sunset. 

The morning of Dec 11th we woke at midnight, made some quick breakfast and coffee and headed out the door. The midnight air was warm and we hiked along quickly though the crumbly moraine past the old aqueducts and up to the snowline. We put on the crampons in the dark, and the air became chilly as we ascended higher over the ice. We reached the glacier at about 16,000’ and we silently began climbing the snow slopes first trending to the West, then back toward the East following the line of least resistance. The sun came up and cast a beautiful mountain shadow on the plains far below with the setting moon behind.  

 It was cold climbing through the dark, and as we gained elevation the altitude began to take its toll. We all got very quiet as we steadily moved one foot higher than the other. Reaching the summit crater of the volcano the sun finally hit our faces and the winds were so light that we were able to linger on the summit for some time, taking pictures and chatting with other climbers who had summited from the South side of the mountain.

The descent was leisurely with the sun warming us quickly and with the snow being perfect for easy cramponing we made good time. Halfway down the mountain, where the slope mellows out a bit, we took advantage of the conditions for a little glissading to speed the descent as well.

Near the bottom of the glacier we took the time for some additional photographs and fun before stripping off the hardware and hiking back down to the hut. Our transportation was waiting to take us back to Tlachichuca for cold beer and hot Mexican food!

In all it was a safe and successful climb with all 7 climbers reaching the summit and returning home safely. The team consisted of 6 young Mexican climbers we had met through a hiking club. For some this was their second time on Orizaba, for others it was their first time at such high altitude. This crew is using their ascent to help raise local awareness of global warming and the rapid decline of Mexican glaciers.

More photos can be found here 

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