After strolling around in the city and on the ruins it was time to turn up the action level a click or two. Close to our route to the east coast is the Peak Orizaba, the highest volcano in North America, the third highest mountain in North America, and Mexico’s highest point. Pico de Orizaba rises 5635 meters above sea level (18488 ft), and fortunately for us, it is the perfect time of year (! ;) ) for climbing it! We had already spent about two weeks at about 2000 meters (Mexico City and Teotihuacan is at about 2300 meters), so the acclimatization had already started and would give us and advantage when driving up to base camp.
We didn’t know too much about the mountain and the routes going up to the summit, but after doing a bit of research on the internet we had a fairly good idea. One detail that we really liked was that with a 4x4 you can drive all the way up to the basecamp, called Piedra Grande, at 4250 meters (13944 ft). Our map did not show the road up to Piedra Grande, but on the internet we had found a company called Summit Orizaba ( www.summitorizaba.com )in Tlachichuca that said they could help with everything needed for the mountain.
So on the way to the mountain we stopped by their place where we met a smiling and helpful Maribel. She gave us a description to find the road up to Piedra Grande and some info about the conditions on the mountain.
Then it was just to start the climb/drive up to Piedra Grande driving through a really nice landscape and forest with amazing views to the mountain. The Patrol definitely felt the altitude, and just before 4000 meters we had to engage the low gear. But we made it up to base camp at 4250 meters with no problems, and that is good when we know we are going to the Andes further south.
At Piedra Grande we found an almost flat spot and put up the roof tent and the annex so we had our base camp. While putting up camp we could really feel the altitude, and only small efforts (as putting some rocks on our annex (on the “snow valences”)) felt like hard work. Still we were able to eat a good dinner and have a good night’s sleep.
Since there is a road going all the way up to Piedra Grande, most people that go for the summit arrive there one afternoon, sleep in the basic hut that is up there, do an acclimatization hike the next day, go to bed early, and then get up and start the climb to the summit from the hut at 2-3 o’clock the following night. As we are not really short on time we decided to take it a bit slower and get better acclimatized.
Our first day in base camp we were reading books in camp, enjoyed the view which is just amazing, and towards the evening we did a short walk. When we got back to our camp we were invited to eat tacos and mole from a group of Mexican students that had parked next to us.
They were just up for a day trip, enjoying the views and had a picnic. While we were camping up at Piedra Grande, we saw several cars with Mexicans doing the same thing.
On our second day in camp we had a slow start, but at lunch time we packed up about half of our gear and hiked up to 4740 meters were we put up our mountain tent as an advanced basecamp.
When it was all set up we hiked back down to the car to sleep there one more night, and then move up the next day. But the next morning Malin did not feel ready to try for the summit, so we spent another day reading and relaxing in camp. The rest did good, and the day after we both felt ready to move up to our small tent. Well up by the tent we put on crampons and hiked another 200 meters up the hill so we had a better view of our route the next day.
Our alarm went off at 5 o’clock in the morning and even Espen managed to get up early. Everything is moving in slow motion at this altitude, so we weren’t ready to start the summit attempt before 6.45. The advantage at starting relatively late is that the sun is getting up at the same time, and it followed us the whole way up so we did not have to walk in the shade. This makes a big difference at high altitude as it is difficult to push on in order to get warm.
It was slow going up, and the last hill (at about 35 degrees) is a “monster”! You don’t really see the summit, and it feels like tis hill doesn’t have an end… The last 100 meters we were just able to walk 30-40 steps before we had to rest. But at 11.30 we were on the summit. And it was spectacular!!
It had a huge crater in the middle that is not visible before you suddenly are standing on the edge. Some years back we climbed Elbrus in Russia, witch is also a volcano, but there the summit is just flat. Not nearly as spectacular as the summit of Orizaba.
We were the only ones on the summit, and we were sitting there for 45 minutes at 5635 meters in sun with no wind.
The views in all directions are amazing, and we could look down on the town of Tlachichuca 3000 meters below us. Climbing the “monster” hill was worth it!
Walking down from the summit was so much easier. Back down at the small tent we had some food, packed up, and then continued the hike down. At 16.30 we were back down to the Patrol at base camp, and we made a quick decision to pack up this camp too and drive the 1 ½ hours off the mountain and down to Tlachichuca. A warm shower at the SummitOrizaba, dinner at their restaurant, and a proper bed, was more tempting than one more night in the tent in 0 degrees celsius.