Shelley and I left for Mexico early in the morning on December 3. Thanks to Travis for giving us a ride to the airport so early in the morning. We breezed through security where neither of us were selected for the back-scatter screening and neither of us set of the metal detector so we didn’t have to be fondled. The flights down were uneventful. We were de-iced here in Boise, but that was the only slight delay.
We arrived in Mexico City in the early afternoon. At the airport we had scheduled to meet two of our climbing partners, Joe and Demetria. Joe was from Colorado and Demetria was from LA. We hooked up with them and shared a taxi to our hotel, the Best Western Majestic. All of us were hungry so we had dinner on the roof-top restaurant. The view from the restaurant was pretty spectacular. A large cathedral was to the north and the governor’s palace was to the south. Across from the hotel on the east side of the square was the Presidential Palace.
They were setting up the square for the big festival coming up the following weekend. At the time we didn’t know it, but the Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival was coming up. All during our trip we saw people heading to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The newspaper later indicated an estimated 8 million people traveled to the Basilica during that weekend. Nothing much was happening in the square that first day we arrived.
We had dinner with Joe and Demetria then met another climber, Lance, in the elevator after dinner. He had just arrived. The five of us had some more time to kill till our 7:00 pm meeting in the lobby so we walked around the square for a while.
At 7:00 pm we met our two guides, Jake Beren and Geoff Schellens and the rest of our climbing group, Mark and Bob. Our last climber, Martin wasn’t scheduled to arrive till later and we didn’t officially meet him till the next morning. Some of the group went out for dinner after our meeting, but Shelley and I already had eaten and we were tired, so we opted to go back to the room and get our packs ready and go to bed early.
The following morning we had breakfast as a group and then met in the lobby early. We loaded into our bus for our drive to La Malinche (14,640 feet) for our first acclimatization hike. We lucked out on the bus, as you can see. Usually they get one of those tiny 16-person buses. We had this luxurious ride for the first couple days of our trip. Very nice. The guy with his back to us in the blue jacket is one of our guides, Jake and Geoff is the guy lifting the bag to his left.
Before getting to La Malinche, we made a shopping stop in the city of Amecameca. Since there wasn’t going to be much snow on any of these mountains, water was going to be in short supply. We stopped in Amecameca and hit the local WalMart and stocked up on water for the rest of the week. Shelley and I bought 20 liters of water (2, 10-liter bottles). We picked up some lunch meat, tortillas and snacks as well. The drive from Mexico City to La Malinche was a long one so we made tortillas with ham and cheese for lunches on the bus. Oh yeah, we bought a couple Cokes too. Real Cokes. Not the fake stuff we drink in the states.
The drive up to the mountain went through a bunch of little tiny villages. I took a couple of shots of these villages as we drove through them. Very different quality of homes along the way. Some seemed newer (or just kept up better) where others were just shacks without fixed roofs. The corn harvest had just happened and in many places families had laid corn out to dry and had stacked up the corn stalks to dry in the fields. The corn stalks are used to feed cattle once they dry. I don’t know how long that takes. We saw this all week and never saw anyone collecting the stalks.
This hike was not a summit attempt of La Malinche. It was just an acclimatization hike to get us ready for the next two mountains. We arrived in the early afternoon and didn’t start our hike till around 1:00 pm. This late start was another reason we didn’t go for the summit. We stayed at a resort that at one time was used by the Mexican Olympic Team to live and train at but now it’s a resort for vacationers and hikers. It was pretty nice, really. A nice restaurant and comfortable cabanas. We packed up our day packs and headed up La Malinche.
The hike started in the parking lot and moved up through the trees. It was a nice, pleasant warm up. One thing that struck us immediately was all the trash and graffiti. It was literally everywhere you went. You couldn’t get away from it. After hiking so much around the US National Parks I just found it amazing that people have such little regard for their surroundings down there that they just toss their water bottle, candy wrapper, cigarette butts, etc onto the ground or into the water. Just amazing. There just is no attempt at all to contain it. We walked past a trash collection point during this hike (the only one we saw during our hikes) and there wasn’t even a garbage can around to contain the trash from animals. I have no idea what the point is of this collection point.
Once we broke out of the tree line, we started gaining some elevation. The graffiti continued all the way up too. We topped out around 13, 800 feet, about 800 feet or so below the summit, but the sun was going down by now and we would have had another two hours to the summit, plus the time to get back down so it just didn’t make sense. There just wasn’t any way to go for it without being able to start out earlier in the morning. In the photo below of us coming out of the trees, you can see a little peak directly above our heads, but below and to the right of the the summit. That was our high point for this climb.
The terrain started getting steep near our final rest break before we turned around. There was a lot of pumice and scree we were walking over. Little did we know how much scree we would have to deal with the rest of the week. It was on every mountain and I never want to see it again. Wishful thinking. I hate the stuff. At the top of our hike, Jake (in the blue jacket) talked about the next day and climbing in general. The view around us was nice. The smog was pretty bad to the west towards Mexico City so we couldn’t really see Popocatepetl or Iztaccihuatl, but we could look east to Pico de Orizaba. That’s the white peak in the distance.
After the descent back down to the resort, we got things organized for sleeping and then had dinner at the restaurant as a group. RMI rented two cabanas. Each cabana had one bathroom and a kitchen area. They each slept six. We shared our cabana with Jake, Geoff and Mark. Mark was from the UK and he was not feeling well. He injured his back about two months ago while boating and had a hard time conditioning for this trip. On this hike he made the decision to pull out of the trip. He could tell from this short hike up La Malinche that he was not in any condition to go on to Iztaccihuatl or Orizaba. That was too bad. Mark had already climbed Vinson Massif and Denali this year, so it was a bit of a disappointment for him in one aspect. He had dinner with us all and breakfast the next morning, but then left after we were dropped off in preparation for our climb on Iztaccihuatl.
You can see in the two pictures above the various bottles of water laying about we had bought in Amecameca. Shelley is using one of our 10-liter bottles to prop the door open. The spots in the photo is the light from the flash reflecting off the dust in the air. The air everywhere was dirty like this. The air seemed cleaner at the resort then in Mexico City. We spent two nights in Mexico City during this trip and each morning I woke up with a soar throat from breathing the air. Just filthy. You’ll see what I mean later as I took some photos of the air quality later in the trip.
In the picture of dinner above, starting in the bottom left corner and working counter-clockwise: Demetria, Bob, Mark, Shelley, our driver Rogelio (I think that is how it is spelled), Joe, Martin, Lance (Lance is in the hat, Joe and Martin are out of view behind him), Geoff and Jake. We are eating our first course, Tortilla Soup. Man, this was good stuff.
We all slept pretty good this night. The following morning it was time to head towards Iztaccihuatl and our first summit attempt.