March 25, 2016

Climbing pico de Orizaba

Standing at 17,333 feet above sea level; the summit was within reach. Calling me and taunting me to continue. The glacier had become Solid water ice, and became impenetrable with ice axes and crampons. It was at this moment a decision had to be made, and it was an easy call. My first thought was “there are old climbers, and there are bold climbers.” The summit isn’t going anywhere, and I can always come back with more suitable conditions arise. I have been waiting almost a year for this moment. Roberto “Oso” and I had been in contact over several months and I was prepared for a solo expedition on Pico de Orizaba; the highest mountain in Mexico, and third highest in North America at 18,491 feet. This was my first formal mountaineering experience as a Solo climber. I had an acclimatization climb to 15,600 feet. Sierra Negra was absolutely awesome, and I was feeling strong at the top, and ready to get on Orizaba. We left the Hostel at 8 am, to hopefully be at the hut before noon. It was a grueling off road ride that seemed to last forever. It was everything you could expect from a tiny mountain community.

The Hut is a busy little shack that sits at the base of the climb at 14,000 feet. This 3 storied structure looked like it was ready to come down, but none the less it was home for the next 3 nights, and I loved it. As fate would have it I met some other American’s from Denver and Cambridge. What started out as a solo ascent turned into a good sized 3 team project on the mountain, it was comforting to know someone had my back. The Colorado team consisted of 6 climbers, and the Massachusetts team had 2. We started prepping for the summit with an acclimatization climb to the base of the Glacier just to get a feel for early afternoon weather conditions. On the descent I wasn’t sure if there was enough energy left within me to push for the summit the next day. After making the decision to continue on with the help of some Tequila and a worm, it was time for bed. I figured if I could drink at 14,000 feet and feel fine, then there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to give it everything and try for the top. It was 3am, we had an hour to gear up, fuel up, and head out.

We gathered together, said a few words of encouragement, and headed up the trail. The moon light shining above us with clear skies and constant breeze made for a beautiful, yet frigid morning. Our goal was simple, to reach that base of the glacier by 6:45 just as the sun was rising, and asses an efficient route to the summit. We ended up traveling directly up the middle of the glacier where the incline is an average 45 degrees. Near the top it tips 50 degree. We had come this far that breaking point happened at different times for each of us and I called it at 17,500 feet. The wind was starting to pick up, and the night before the readings at the base of the glacier pushed 80mph. When we were descending the glacier we had been hit by 50mph winds. I was ready to go home, and I still had to get down. Back at the hut, I wanted a nap I had slept in my Zerkil 20 bag and on my Q-Core pad for the past 3 days, and it still felt fresh. I know for a fact that a huge part of my success on this mountain was being able to have genuine quality sleep and comfort. The level of comfort is unmatched by anything else I have ever tried. If comfort is a crime, then I am guilty.

Roberto "Oso" Flores  Orizaba 
Mountain Guides
Big Agnes Zirkel  UL20

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