A crazy trip, 5 days, no sleep (well, barely), 2 guides, 4x4ing, tacos, and hell of a mountain to climb. This is how we mountaineer: Pico de Orizaba.
And we’re off! 4/24/19
The day is here. Inception to realization. It’s 1145pm. I’m sitting at the tail end of a plane, 2 beers deep at Vancouver international airport. Exhausted from work. How did I get here? The last 2 days have been relentless. Truly. Tristan and I just had but a moment to catch up at some airport bar. A quick huddle over what the coming days will bring. Our overnight flight will have us landing in Mexico City at around 7am. Tristan still has to put in a half days work when we land. Boy do we know how to cram it all in.The plane leaves the tarmac and we’re off!
We have arrived. We are here. 4/25/19
The red-eye. 5+ hours of airplane clatter and semi states of incoherence have brought us southward. We have arrived. We are here. Welcome to Mexico City. I believe I got less than an hour sleep. But this is not a trip for that. Lack of sleep is likely to become the theme for the coming days. Our objective is to get to the top of Pico de Orizaba. A stratovolcano, and the highest peak in Mexico.We made our way through immigration and collected our bags. Tristan ordered an Uber, while I tried to figure out how much Starbucks costs. Priorities, you know. The Uber arrives and with the steam rising from my dark roast coffee I begin to perk up, for this day has already begun.Our Uber driver Erick, begins zigzagging us across the city, while Tristan and I enquired what life is like living, and working here in Mexico City. Erick said it’s a busy life. Folks work more than one job. He himself is a graphic designer, interior designer, and well an Uber driver. Trying to juggle it all. The drive through the city is full of colour and life. Signs everywhere. Pizza. Coca cola. Karate! On street corners folks were selling licuados and setting up for markets to sell there wares. We arrived at our Airbnb, toss our gear down and tried to catch our breath.Tristan still had to tackle some work related issues for the morning, so I hit the city for a bit. I walked a couple blocks up to a big park full of market vendors. I spent an hour there wandering, and trying to let my brain settle. 12 hours ago I had just finished packing for this trip! Talk about cutting it close. I began making my way back to see if Tristan was finished with work. Along the way I decided, spur of the moment to pop into a barber shop for a haircut, and despite the language barrier between, we managed to navigate through the process with the added help of Google translate. I arrived back as Tristan was just finishing up. We both elected to take a break. Time to lay down. Wait what time is it. We crash out for a bit. We went out and grabbed coffee a little later in the afternoon, we still had a few hours to kill before the rest of the climbing team was joining us, so we went down to check out the historic district. The main square, the cathedral, the old pyramids. We stopped in for a tequila and a beer at Sanborn’s before heading back to meet the others. What a busy day.The rest of the team arrived shortly after we got back to the Airbnb. Rene, a videographer, Francesca, one of our guides, and Oso, a friend from Monterey. We all jumped out to dinner to catch up and in my case get to know everyone before we left the next morning on our trip. Arriving back at the apartment, we all promptly went to bed as it was a short sleep until we were up again and on the move.
Heading to the hills. The journey begins. 4/26/19
The alarm goes off. It’s 545am. I make my way to the kitchen and fumble around to find a pot, and put some water on boil. Everyone gets up and starts quietly going through their gear, and packing up their bags. Oso and I have a quick coffee together. Our journey begins. Our van arrives and we make our way to street level, load up the van and hop in. The driver takes us to the historic district where Tristan and I went yesterday. We wanted to all catch the flag raising ceremony at sunrise.For all of us, I think it’s important to observe the ceremony, and the pride that comes with it. Not only for Rene, Oso and Francesca, as locals, but for Tristan and I as guests in the country. Rene tells me over breakfast how in most schools, they go through a similar tradition most mornings. Maybe not as grand. We finish up and hop back in the van. We have a ways to go today. The van starts to leave the city and heads towards Tlachichuca, a village where we will swap our van for a 4×4 to get us the rest of the way into the mountains and up to base camp. The mood is a mix of excitement, anticipation, and mild exhaustion from lack of sleep. Oso made reference to us as “the zombies” at the rest stop. Back on the road, Izta and Popo, the other 2 volcanoes in the region, are faintly visible through the polluted air. I put my headphones on and stare out down the highway.We stopped in at the Mountain guides in Tlachichuca, and picked up some remaining gear. This was also our opportunity to have some lunch and explore the village whole Francesca picked up the remaining food we would need for the trip.We loaded up the 4×4 with all that we needed and made our way out of the village and into the mountains up a grueling 2+ hrs of 4x4ing, and finally to Piedra Grande, the Mountain hut, and our Basecamp for the next few days. We ate and drank as much water as we could until we fell asleep. We could all begin to feel the effects of the altitude.Full Mountain Day 4/27/19
I woke up at 5am, after tossing and turning most of the night. This is the first time I have actually felt the effects of altitude. Not fun. We finally got up around 730am. We took our time this morning, as this was our preparation day. We ate huevos rancheros for breakfast, and went over the game plan for the day. An acclimatization as preparation for our summit bid tonight.Breakfast finished we packed up and started out on our accent up to 4600m/15000ft to a place called “the nest” a higher tent camping option than the hut. Everyone felt pretty good. Spirits were high. It was slow going for sure though, as there was far less oxygen than we are used to (coming from sea level). Through the heat of the day, the glacier began to slowly melt some of it’s run off into it’s tributaries. Before us small river ways and waterfalls began to form. Super cool. We headed back to Basecamp and had lunch. The remaining part of the afternoon was dedicated to packing, carb loading, and resting.When we got back from the hike, the hut was getting busier and busier with it being the weekend. Many local mountaineers, and enthusiasts were beginning to filter in, and so it became a full house.And then things went sideways…It began to snow. Yes snow. In April, in Mexico. Wet snow. Continuous wet snow. It didn’t stop by the time we went to bed.Summit Day 4/28/19
1200am. “It’s time to get up!” Francesca calls out. We all know. We slowly start putting together our headlamps and getting our bags ready. The snow had stopped sometime after we went to bed. There was a fresh coating of snow at Basecamp and further up on the mountain. Conditions looked promising for a good summit push.As a last minute decision, a few members of our group decided not to summit, which left us to scramble to rearrange our rope team and game plan. Typical mountain times. Nothing is guaranteed. We left the hut shortly after 2am.It was cool but not cold out. Our rope team was Tristan, myself, Rene and Daniel, our second guide. Francesca stayed back with Oso at the hut. With a French team behind us of Alexandra, a lady we met the day before and her guide.We began up the same route that we had followed the day before up to “the nest”. We made good time as a smaller team. We then made our way through a region of the mountain called “the labyrinth” then “the coffin” before “nest 2”. You have to love the names of the parts of the mountain. It makes everything feel more mysterious. Finally we arrived at the toe of the glacier. Here we switched out our hiking poles for ice axes and put on crampons. Rene stepped back and roped up with Alexandra as her guide was beginning to not feel well. So me, Tristan, and Daniel roped up and continued on.By this point the fatigue of multiple days without real sleep, and the altitude began to ware on me. We push onward. The sun was beginning to creep in and you could start to make our the world around us. Small villages off in the distance, with just faint twinkles of light, and the shadowy figures of smaller peaks below us. We push onward.We would take about 10 steps, and then break to catch our breath. I was spent. Listo? (ready) Daniel would call out. Ready? No I was not ready. My head was about to explode, my chest was pounding. “Si, Listo”. Was it a lie? Ya it was. Teams were beginning to crest the Ridgeline at the top of the glacier, and making their way along the ridge to Pico de Orizabas true summit. We are almost there. Thank God!We accend to the Ridgeline and can see the top. Just steps away. I am exhausted. I think back to me and Tristans first trip together, last year on a wild adventure, summiting Mt Hood. I remember the accomplishment, the comradery, the bond we built, and the adventure we shared.And now here we are steps 3..2..1. We have made it! Pico de Orizaba. Mexico’s highest peak. 18500ft. Tristan and I hug with ear to ear grins. Daniel joins us as well and we all high five. Almost over come with emotions, we look out over the waking world around us. We’ve done it.For Tristan, a project over a year in the making from inception, to realization, to execution. For me , months of planning, my first 5000+m climb, and my highest peak climbed to date.Rene arrives with Alexandra, and we all cheer. It is amazing what can be accomplished when you are willing to forgo sleep, push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and learn to trust and rely on friends around you (both new and old).In the end it’s not the summit photos, or checking off a list that matters, it is the adventure itself, and the stories it creates. Adventure breeds adventure, and if you’re willing, it will take you on a wild ride, and introduce you to amazing people, and places.I am now on my flight back to Vancouver BC, and back to work in the morning. Talk about quick turn around. Thank you Mexico, you have been a great host. Time to start planning the next trip.CheersChris
4 thoughts on “Once upon a time in Mexico”
Love your Mexican Adventure Chris… Living the Dream🙏👍
Awesome trip Chris and your best article to date!
Great recap of the trip and it’s nice to read and hear your perspective on this memorable adventure in Mexico and all the way up to North America’s third-highest peak.
Awesome job guys! Great pics!