el Pico de Orizaba

Kevin, Jeff, Suzanne, and I climbed Pico de Orizaba (18,410') via the Jamapa Glacier in January 1997.

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Trip Report

Brian, Suzanne, Jeff, Kevin

The Short Story
Starting Saturday 4 Jan 1997...
Sat) fly into Veracruz, drive to Tlachichuca climber's ranch at 8.5k'
Sun) drive up to climber's hut at Piedra Grande at 14k'
Mon) acclimatization day, climb to 15k'
Tue) summit Pico de Orizaba at 18.5k', return to Tlachichuca
Wed-Sun) play tourist in Puebla, Oaxaca, and Veracruz

High/low temperatures: 50/10 degrees F (a guess). Temperatures on the summit were probably in the mid 20's, assuming the sun was shining. We had widely scattered clouds around the mountain for the entire trip, with occasional, temporary local cloud cover (with very low visibility). Some low-lying areas in the distance had thick cloud cover, but with no apparent precipitation.

Leaving DIA at 8:30am, fly to LA, Mexico City, and finally Veracruz, arriving at 9:30pm. We take a taxi from the airport and arrive Senior Reyes' climber's ranch in Tlachichuca at about 12:30am. It's been a long travel day, we go directly to bed.

We sleep late, purchase fuel, wander downtown to see the open-air market and do lunch, and organize our backpacks. Reyes loads us up in the back of a 4WD pickup, and, around 2pm, we leave for an obnoxiously dusty ride up to Piedra Grande. The terrain reminds me of Colorado. Arriving at around 4pm, we claim some space in the larger hut. The hut is very simple with three levels of bunks and a cooking table. The hut could sleep about 24 people comfortably (sleeping-space-wise), and perhaps 48 people (or more?) if everyone slept shoulder to shoulder. Including our team there were roughly 14 people sleeping in the hut -- the 3rd level bunk was empty. Perhaps another half- dozen people were either in the other small hut or camping nearby. We opted not to bring a tent, which would only have been necessary if we wanted to stay a night at the 16k' camping site. We talked to folks who summitted that day and folks who planned to summit in the next day or two. In spite of horror stories about "hard ice" snow conditions (and related accidents) earlier in the season, everyone said the current snow conditions were great.

A party of two leaving the hut wakes me up at around midnight. I had slept well up to then, but now I notice that I've got a splitting headache and I don't sleep well for the rest of the night. Suzanne also has a headache, but Jeff & Kevin do not. Our decision to have an acclimatization day may have been more of a necessity than a precaution. After hearing stories of people getting off-route between Piedra Grande and the Jamapa Glacier in the pre-dawn darkness, we decide to do our acclimatization workout by hiking partway up this first leg of the route to the summit. There is a somewhat confusing variety of paths heading up the gully. It starts out as annoying scree, but after a while it turns into large boulders. We hike half-way up the gully, to about 15k'. This is a leisurely hike that takes about an hour and a half. Looking at the upper half of the gully, we see that there are some small snow fields, and that snow and ice start to mix in with the boulders.

We make our plan for tomorrow's summit attempt: wake up at 1:00am, cook some breakfast, leave at 2:00, and arrive at the start of the Glacier by around 5:00 or 6:00. Sunrise is at about 6:30 -- if we want to traverse over to the East Glacier (Plan B), we'll need some sunlight in order to route-find our way across the Filo de Chichimeco ridge. Even if we just do the Jamapa Glacier route (Plan A), I don't see any reason to be on the snowfield before sunrise. Some folks reported summitting around sunrise, but there is no apparent advantage to summitting so early, yet there is a distinct disadvantage to hiking & climbing in the dark of night.


...as recollected by Brian, Jan 1997