Friends, family, loved ones,
Stuart here from the Mexico Volcanoes Team. It seems that my last couple of cybercasts did not go through, so just wanted to give you all a recap of events and conclude the cybercasts for this expedition. It seems to be par for the course down here with the sat phone, probably related to the mountain topography, just lack of satellites overhead or the summit air temperatures and weather just not being conducive to taking off those big gloves to dial out for any protracted period of time. I am sure now all the climbers, with the exception of Jordan are safely back in the United States, albeit a little tired from our adventures and travels. Jordan elected to extend his stay in Mexico enjoying a little time with his family on the beach. I am sure the four of them are having a great time.
Yesterday, I’m pleased to report, the whole team, bar one team member, summited Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest peak and third highest peak in North America (18,405 feet). We staggered our start times in the early hours, utilizing two local guides to ensure every team member had the best chance of summiting the mountain safely. My rope team was last to leave, leaving our base camp at the Piedra Grande hut (which is just a little less than 14,000 feet) just before 3 am in the morning. All three teams worked their way up, steadily and conservatively, through a series of gullies at the base of the eastern cliffs of the Sarcophago to the base of the Jamapa Glacier. Route finding is always somewhat tricky through this labyrinth after recent glacial recession and washouts but we all made good time. Regrettably but prudently Carl and his guide Ricardo elected to make this their highpoint. Carl was feeling the altitude perhaps a little more than the other climbers and he gave it his all. For me Carl made it. He realized to push on and for the wheels to potentially spin or completely fly off made no sense and could be dangerous. At the base of the Jampa Glacier the other two teams consisting in no particular order of Adam, Jordan, John, Matt, Laurey, Carlos and myself roped up and donned some crampons. We were able to ascend the glacier fairly directly, occasionally switching back towards El Espolon de Oro, the Ridge of the Gold. This was to make the climbing a little bit easier but also to avoid some wind-scoured, icy snow patches, which has unfortunately been the scene of some recent accidents. After about six hours, we reached the Aguja de Hielo, the Ice Needle. It’s a prominent landmark up by the summit crater and from here we worked our way up the crater rim to the summit. For the most part the weather was conducive for the ascent, not too warm, not too cold. It however began to deteriorate just before we summited. In addition the staggering of teams worked out well, with all of us able to get in a team photo together on the summit.
It was beautiful up there! We were rewarded with the fantastic views of Popocatapetl, Iztaccihuatl, our first objective, and La Malinchi to the west. The crater itself was filled with clouds but that perhaps was more aesthetically pleasing than some of the clearer days I have enjoyed in the past. We pretty much got the mountain to ourselves, with other teams turning around, thwarted by the weather, exertion or altitude. For most of the ascent we had a beautiful sea of swirling clouds below us and distant cumulus nimbus thunder cells giving us a light display. The strongest impression I got from the summit and climbing Pico De Orizaba in general was one of isolation, solitude. When looking down on the plains below us; there was very little sign of man’s influence on the environment, which was completely different character to Itza, our first objective, which of course lies between two of Mexico’s largest urban conurbations, Pueblo and Mexico City itself. I don’t know of any other location in North America where the climate varies between tropical jungles and arctic snow in such a short distance. One has a powerful and fascinating feeling of height while standing on the summit.
After summiting, we descended back down, met up with Joaquin Cancholla, who had his 4×4 Jeeps there to meet us and take us back down to Tlachichuca and the Canchollas compound, where we had a welcome celebration dinner. Senor Cancholla has a reputation for machismo and he didn’t disappoint. The weather crapped out a little on the way down with snow, rain and whiteout conditions but you cannot always have it all climbing and it is what it is.
Just want to give a special mention here to our oldest and youngest team members Laurey and Matt, respectively. Matt was close to not leaving high camp on Izta but did. He went on to climb these two peaks in style, putting up with me along the way. Looking forward to seeing you up on Denali Matt and continue to dream big. Laurey at the opposite age spectrum had felt the pack weight and effort required a little more than some of our climbers on Iztaccihuatl. He made the summit of Orizaba in good style which is a testament to that gentleman’s quiet determination and tenacity…. I knew you could. The way down he had to dig deep, but did it. Perhaps could have been in better style, but oh well, it is mountaineering, which rarely is ever perfect. Carlos a local guide from Orizaba Mountain guides worked with Laurey and I have nothing but good things to say about his ability, character and work ethic. If you read this Carlos I hope to work again with you in the very near future… my friend.
Lastly, I just want to say, as ever, I found the Mexicans that we interacted with to be honest, hardworking, more than hospitable and eager to make us at home and see their culture. As a former US president once said ‘bring down that wall’. Everywhere that we traveled was safe, and this trip is a fantastic trip for anyone who has perhaps climbed Rainier or Baker or done a mountaineering skills course with us, and is looking for new challenges. You get up to climb at high altitude (above 18,400 feet) with a minimum of expense and time, and you get a glimpse of a fascinating culture while you’re here. Again a great trip down here, good success on each mountain, success not just in terms of the summit but being part of a safe, environmentally sound expedition and having a fun experience. Once again Arnoldo our tour guide came up trumps, which is par for the course for him, he was awarded Mexico’s best guide by his president a couple of years back. Mexico’s best driver, perhaps not, that honor probably goes to Pedro Rodríguez. Anyway enough jib jab from me. Thanks everybody for tuning in. It’s been a pleasure to guide down here once again. I will add a few photos when I get a chance.
Mucho Gracias, Denali.