February 13-15, 1998
A business trip brought me to Mexico City. With that being said, Katy and Ab were up for trying to climb Izta. The thought process about deciding which volcano to climb went like this. Note that we only had enough time for one volcano. Popo is "closed" for climbing due to active venting. (Although, while there, we heard that climber are sneaking up it.)
El Pico de Orizaba at 18,400 ft. seemed a bit much, in that Izta at 17,100 was there. Prior to the trip, the highest Ab and I had been was 14,400 (Rainier), and Katy had been up to 12,500 (Missouri Pass, Colorado). So, Izta it was.
We proceeded to procure RJ Secor's book Mexico's Volcanoes, A Climbing Guide and a video titled Climbing the Mexican Volcanoes. Be wary of the book. Secor manages to plant the thought that Izta can be climbed in tennis shoes, as he had done. We witnessed two individuals attempt this, with both making fast mid-day retreats down the mountain, freezing their asses (and feet) off.
From Mexico City we took a bus to Amecameca. There we bought water and hired a taxi to take us up to the La Joya trailhead (13,000 ft.). We set-up a tent and spent the night there acclimatizing. While cooking dinner that night we were visited by a black bull. Later on while trying to sleep, we heard noises outside the tent. It sounded like the bull was just outside milling about our belongings. After an inspection of the situation we discovered it wasn't the bull, but instead it was several field mice. Go figure -- how we mistook a couple of mice for a bull is beyond us.
The next morning we woke and hit the happy (and dusty) trail. Our goal for the day was to reach the Republic de Chile hut at 15,500 ft, which was about five mile hike. The climb went like this, and note that we were carrying 50-60 pound packs -- we would take about five steps, stop and breathe for 15-30 seconds, then take five more steps. We would do about five sets of these, then rest for ten+ minutes. After five ten minute brakes, we took a half hour break. This is the pace we were comfortable with. Would a Guide Service put up with that? I think not. Well six hours later we reached the RdC hut.
The RdC hut has sleeping space for about twenty people, but standing room for only five. That night we shared the hut with six others. Everyone cooked dinner in shifts, then hit the hay. At about midnight I heard a guy situated above us throwing-up. I heard pots and bags in the flurry of things and felt pretty sure that the mess would not affect us sleeping or attempting to sleep directly underneath. Well, when the morning light lit up the interior of the hut is became apparent that the guy did not ralph into something, as Katy sleeping bag and shell was covered in frozen puke. GOOD MORNING! He did apologize (with a fucking smile on his face).
Anyway, the wind was howling outside, but the sun was shining. This being our only day for a summit attempt, we were psyched to get going. We left the hut at about 9:30 am. We climbed for about an hour and the weather really turned on us, as the clouds moved in. However, we kept going up even as four climber that were ahead of us retreated. We were about 300 feet below the top of The Knees when things got fairly dangerous. Visibility was about ten feet, the wind was blowing at a steady 50-60 mph, and the snow starting coming in. Katy's face was blue and her nose was gushing blood.
The decision to turn around, at this point, was easy. And we did, making our way back to the RdC hut. Now we had to make a decision as to whether we were able to retreat to the La Joya trail head. After being in the hut for about ten minutes discussing what to do next, the hail started. Our decision was made for us, it was going to be another night at 15,500 in the hut. At this point it's just the three of us, but we know that Kristin was still up on the mountain. Finally, about a half hour later she returned to the hut.
Kristen, our new friend from Toronto, had been waiting out the storm on top of The Knees at the ruins of the Luis Mendez hut. When the hail came she finally decided retreated. We all spent a cozy afternoon playing Rummy 270 (hey, it's hard to concentrate at that altitude -- Kristen was the big winner) and talking about everything.
The next morning we had to head down the mountain as we had a plane to catch. Kristen had the time to attempt the summit, however the lost day was cutting into her beach time at Acapulco. What took us six hours to climb, took two and a half hours to descend. We were back at the La Joya lot at 11:50 am to meet our schedule taxi pick-up at 12 noon. The taxi arrived at 12 noon. AMAZING!
It was back to Amecameca to catch a bus back to Mexico City. After some shopping at the market we got on a bus. We threw our packs in storage hold underneath and climbed on. During the trip back we were serenaded by a local musician playing the guitar and signing (at the top of his lungs) in the aisle. This made for a delightful trip in true Mexican style.Back to Morrison's Hiking and Mountaineering Page