The Top of Iztaccihuatl

On the morning of December 6, we woke and had a breakfast of breakfast burritos made by our guides. It was very good.

Our packs were pretty ready to go from preparations the night before.  We just had to finalize them a little after breakfast.  We caught another break by being able to load them into Fernando’s truck for the ride down to La Joya (the trailhead for our climb), but we would have to walk.  Our four-legged friend joined us for the walk to the trailhead.  We tried to chase him off and threw rocks at him to chase him off, but nothing worked.  He just kept stalking us on our walk.  Our concern was that we weren’t feeding him or giving him water and there wasn’t either where we were going.  He didn’t seem to care.  He would check our rest stops for food scraps we may have dropped, then tag along with us on the trail.  In this photo you can follow the road we are on down to the intersection to the right.  That was where we unloaded the bus the day before.  The road to the trailhead continues into those trees in the distance.  The road back to the bottom right of the photo leads back to the Paso de Cortez.  Ixta is off camera to the right.

Once at La Joya, we unloaded Fernando’s truck and loaded up our backs and started up to high camp.  That is Ixta in the background.

We made a number of stops along the way to high camp.  I think, maybe 4?  The views looking back at Popo and back down the valley we came up were quite spectacular.  This next set of photos are just shots I took on the way to high camp.  I didn’t get a photo of them, but there were cattle grazing down on the valley floor while we hiked above them.

This is Joe in the blue shirt behind me coming up the valley.  I believe that Geoff is bringing up the rear behind him.

La Malinche is in the foreground and Orizaba is the snow-capped mountain in the background.

Here is our friend, still with us moving to high camp.

High camp.  This is Shelley approaching camp.  That metal structure is a hut that sleeps about six or eight.  The guides used it for cooking and that is where they slept.  We would end up pitching our tents around this area and use them instead.  Of course, you can’t climb a mountain in Mexico without bringing along a can of spray paint.  Notice the crosses up above the hut in the rocks.  They were all around this site.  My understanding is this is a common practice in Mexico as a way to honor the deceased.

After setting up our tent and getting settled in, it was time for a spaghetti dinner and watch the sunset.  This is Geoff preparing dinner in the hut and below him is Jake serving it up.  The clouds began to move in a bit during dinner.  They never reached up to our camp however.  We watched as they looked like they were trying, but they never quite made it.

We went to bed at sunset.  The plan was to get up early, around midnight to 2:00 am for our summit attempt.  One of the ways to help acclimatize to this type of altitude is to do what is called “pressure breathing.”  We had been doing this for the last couple of days.  When we got to high camp and set up camp, we had some down time (maybe an hour or so) to relax before dinner was ready.  I ended up taking a nap in the tent.  Shelley was next to me and heard my breathing pattern change while I was sleeping.  Basically, I was Cheyne-Stokes breathing.  Since I was sleeping and couldn’t control my pressure breathing, my body was trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen.  When I woke up, she brought this up to me and recommended I take 1/4 pill of Diamox.  Read the link on Diamox for a better medical explanation of what it does.  Most people try just a small piece instead of an entire pill, which is why I took a 1/4 pill.  Shelley took a piece the day after La Malinche because she woke up with a headache and nausea, which was odd.  We didn’t even go higher than Rainier that day and neither of us had issues on Rainier.  Some climbers don’t like it because of the tingling side effects in your finger and toes.  Since this could also be cold, it can make you slow to react to frostbite.  It is recommended that you only take it at night while you’re sleeping since you can control your breathing during the day when you’re awake.

Even with the Diamox I did not sleep well this night.  I didn’t have a headache and my body felt okay, but the altitude was playing on me.  High camp was 15,500 feet and this is the highest both of us had ever been.  So the physical side of things was all new to me.  The blood in my head was pumping so hard that when I closed my eyes to sleep I could hear it pounding.  I couldn’t sleep.  I may have gotten an hour or two, if that.

Not to mention our little four-legged friend.  Yes, he started barking in camp.  It started around 9:00 pm or so.  But he did have reason to, I guess.  We could hear a second creature walking around us while he was barking at it.  In fact, we could hear it growling outside our tent.  We never saw what it was but assumed it was a coyote.  Later, we heard our friend barking from farther away from camp and we both figured the coyotes were luring it away.  Then a few minutes later we heard the celebration howling of the coyotes.  It was loud and was echoing all around the mountain.  We figured our four-legged friend was dead.  Lured away, surrounded and eaten by coyotes.

Jake woke us up around 12:30 am.  We had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and breakfast bars, packed up our gear and were on the trail by 2:00 am.  I don’t have any photos of the climb up to the summit.  It was dark most of the way and we were roped up.  When I’m roped up it is really hard to walk and take pictures at the same time.  The climb was pretty hard.  Lots of scree.  With the footing being so hard, it made trying to take photos nearly impossible, so I didn’t even try.  The first part of the climb was very steep.  We gained 1,000 feet in a pretty short distance and it was all scree.  It sucked.  Once on top of the ridge, we kind of just went up and down a little as we walked to the summit at the northern end of the mountain.

Near the end we came upon a glacier where we had to put on crampons which we kept on all the way to the summit.  Shelley and I forgot to bring a notebook to keep a diary, so I’m recalling this from memory and talking to Shelley.  I think we got to the summit around 8:30 am.

I did manage to get the camera out in time to capture this video as we approached the summit.  Our rope team consisted of myself, Shelley and Geoff.  Fernando is the the guide talking about the summit if Ixta.  Behind him in the yellow is Deigo.  You can hear me pressure breathing (and just breathing hard too) in the background as we reach the summit.

If you watched the video you saw that our four-legged friend did in fact survive the night/coyotes and came with us all the way to the top of Ixta.  Talk about a summit dog.  I have to wonder how many times he has actually climbed this mountain.  I also finally got my long-awaited answer to the various elevations of Ixta. Unfortunately, the GPS batteries died on Rainier before we got to the top so I can’t tell you how accurate the reading is.  Everyone knows Rainier is 14,411 (yes, there is some issues there.  Some say it’s 14,410), so it would have been nice to see how far off the GPS would have been on a known height.  Jake’s GPS said 17,161 and someone else got around 17,130.  So, we are pretty close.  I think those other two readings came from GPS watches.  We know it’s not the 17,500 that we have seen in many places, anyway.

Here’s a panoramic photo taken looking north.  We hiked in from the south.  I like this because you can see the shadows of us standing on the summit.

We stayed on the summit for about 45 minutes.  It wasn’t all that cold up there.  I mean, it was cold, but not that cold.  With the sun out it was pretty comfortable.  Especially with no wind.

So, after some rest and picture taking it was time to complete our journey and return to the camp.  I did manage to catch some action shots on the way down, but when I nearly dropped the camera on the glacier, I stopped.  That was close.  Here are a couple of action shots as we left the summit along the same ridge we came up (this is the ridge the video was shot on) and then as we re-crossed the glacier.  On the glacier photo, if you look to the top left of the photo you see a little dark line just outside the shadow running vertically in the snow up to the ridge.  That is the trail we are headed to.  Once up on that dirt ridge and off the glacier, we removed our crampons for the rest of the trip down to camp.

Here we are after arriving on the ridge and taking a short break to remove our crampons.  We arrived from the left of the photo and departed this break by walking up and over that rise in the background.

This is the view looking back at the glacier we just came across.  Basically, this photo was taken from the same spot the one above was taken from, just looking back behind me.

This was taken somewhere along the climb back down during one of our breaks.

Here’s Shelley just above high camp.

What do you do after climbing the 7th highest peak in North America?  You relax, what else?

We had a about two hours to relax back at high camp, get something to eat and get our gear packed up for the decent back to the trailhead.  The goal was to get back down and drive into Puebla before dinner.  We left high camp, if I remember right, around 2:00 pm.  The hike down was long, but not much trouble.  We didn’t carry the tents for the trip back.   Fernando and Diego packed all the tents down for us.

Once down at the trailhead we collected all our trash, including human waste, into garbage bags and caught back up with the rest of our gear we left behind at the Altzomoni Hut a couple of days earlier.  We also changed into some more comfortable shoes and clothing for the bus ride to Puebla.

A company sized unit of the Mexican Army had arrived this day at the trailhead as well.  Many of them were climbing up Ixta while we were coming down.  I befriended one of the soldiers at the trailhead and, using Shelley to translate, found out they were there as part of a mountaineering course.  They were trying to obtain a mountaineering certification badge.  There was no acclimatization either.  The soldier I spoke with didn’t make it as he got sick on his attempt and came back down.  I would have liked to talk to him more but we had to load up and head for Puebla.

The drive to Puebla was a long one.  But we finally arrived around 5:00 pm and checked into our hotel and took showers before meeting up as a group at 8:00 pm for a group dinner party.  Jake picked the place and it was really good.  Some of the group went out after dinner looking for dessert but I was really tired so Shelley and I turned in.  The following day was a rest day for all of us.  We were free to go where ever we wanted and do whatever we wanted.  We had some big plans set up for the next day and wanted to get some rest before our day off.  Here’s the whole group around the dinner table celebrating our summit of the 7th highest peak in North America.

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One Response to “The Top of Iztaccihuatl”

  1. TRexDad Says:

    Awesome write up and incredible pictures! You guys should feel really proud. That shot of the shadows of you guys on the summit is simply amazing.

    Like


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