After recovering from our climb of Izta a couple days before, it was time to give a go at the big boy of Mexico.
After rallying our 4×2 Jeep wrangler up a rather gnarly and wet road we arrive at the 14,000 ft Refugio at around 11:30 PM. We are the only car in the parking lot, which is no surprise considering the hassle of the road. Inside there are probably another 25 people asleep. We find ourselves in bed by midnight and wake up about 45 minutes later to the first climber leaving for the summit (we found out later that he was trying to be on top for the sunrise). Around 6:30 AM we finally crawl out of our sleeping bags and proceed to get ready for the day. By 7:30 we are back to our normal routine of loading up our skis and boots on our backs, and climbing our way up a trail that follows along side an old aqueduct.
Anton is out front and after keeping up for a while, I realize that I don’t need to be moving quite that fast. Dave has a water bottle explosion in his pack; realizing that he will need that water he runs back down to the Jeep to fill back up again. Anton and I continue up. Around 15,400 Dave catches back up to me. It looks as though Anton has continued in his trail shoes, but Dave and I decide to switch to boots and crampons instead of continuing the slip fest up the basin.
We find Anton sitting somewhere around 16,000 ft waiting for us.
We are all feeling good. The acclimatization we obtained on Izta is coming in handy today as we all feel as though the altitude is of far less concern than it was just a couple days earlier.
We continue up the snowfield towards the base of the glacier. Putting one foot in front of the other. The crunching of crampons on the icy snow; “frozen salsa” as we decided to call it, continued on for another thousand feet where we came upon a couple of packs and some skis stuck in the snow. With all of the white stuff above us, we can’t really think of why someone would leave their skis here, but after a quick snack and drink of water we are off. Just 1,500 feet to go and we are still feeling well. The day is incredible. Clear in all directions. Bluebird sky. The sun is coming straight down the glacier at us. The temperatures are pleasant and all of us are hiking in little more than a softshell jacket.
Switching back and forth up the glacier, our altimeters keep telling us that we are getting closer, but as is typical of a glacier, the summit just never seems to look any closer.
Finally we arrive at edge of the crater.
We had fantasized on the idea of dropping into the crater on some ski line, but this looks obviously impossible. The summit is just a couple hundred vertical away. Our pace picks up with our excitement and we are there in five minutes or so. The weather is incredible. Not a breath of wind. We stick around for awhile taking pictures and enjoying the view of the valley 10,000 ft below us.
Eventually we realize that we should head on down and hit the road.
We drop in to some frozen corn snow and immediately spot some softer snow a couple hundred vertical down below. We B-line for it are pleasantly surprised at what we find. Recycled powder. We are skiing powder in Mexico! No face shots here, but powder nonetheless. For the first 2,000 feet of skiing we manage to ski more powder than anything else. The last couple hundred vertical to the end of the glacier is icy again.
No worries though, we remember that we still have another 1,000 feet of skiing before we have to click out. We drop into a couloir below the glacier that drops us into what we call the labyrinth.
The first pitch is more recycled powder, the second is bulletproof. Below we find ourselves skiing a gully down and eventually the rock dodging becomes less efficient than walking.
Finally we take our skis off at 15,400. A 3,000 foot descent! The entire way through this trip we have considered ourselves almost stupid for coming to Mexico to ski, but this really felt rewarding.
We strap the skis on our backs and proceed to plunge step through the snow and mud on down to the refugio 1,400 ft below.
It feels good to be done. Arriving at the bottom is supremely different from when we left in the morning. There are probably 30 tourists walking around, several trucks that put our little Jeep to shame, and a whole lot warmer. We yank the beers out and proceed to pack the rig up again for our drive back to the beach. The beach…well thats a story for another time, you might just have to ask about it sometime.
Random Thoughts on the trip:
There are a few things that really made this trip fun. I think the biggest factor in our enjoyment was the lack of planning. The extent of planning for this trip was really just buying plane tickets when they were cheap. Beyond that we just kind of flew by the seat of our pants. It’s really a fun way to do things. Perhaps not the most efficient, but fun nonetheless. We brought together a pretty good blend of friends. Much like Denali, I happened to be the only one who had climbed with everyone previously. Everyone is laid back about schedule and timing. And most of all, everyone is just there to have fun. The other big thing is that I feel fairly certain that we got to see parts of Mexico that most Americans never receive the opportunity to see. This is a trip I would absolutely recommend, but maybe wouldn’t go back for seconds on; mostly because I know how lucky we got with snow conditions on Orizaba. All you can do is pick an adventure and go after it!