A New Personal Elevation Record

On the morning of December 9th we met as a group for breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.  After breakfast we loaded up our bags into two vehicles and headed for the city of Tlachichuca.

There we would be staying at a climbers hostel run by a Dr. Reyes.  Dr. Reyes ran the local Red Cross in this area as well as the hostel.  The hostel was an old soap factory with many of the old factory parts still on display as museum type displays in the building.  At Dr. Reyes we would re-organize our gear and move up to Orizaba’s base camp in vehicles he provided.  The ground team that had been helping us were all organized by Dr. Reyes and his climbing company.  We would be using his vehicles to drive up to base camp.

Here we are arriving at Dr. Reyes’ place.  This photo was taken outside the courtyard, which was on the other side of that wall.  The next few photos are taken inside the courtyard.  The truck with the roof-rack on top was our ride to basecamp.

The downstairs of the main building contained areas to store gear and a little living room area with couches and tables.  The upstairs was the sleeping area with bunk beds.  There was no heat in the building.  There was a large dinning room where they served us dinner the night we returned from the summit and breakfast the morning we left.  The food was very good and the hospitality was great.  There was also a shower building.

Dr. Reyes had a great dog that we all befriended.  As you can see, he took a liking to Jake or just about anyone who happen to be eating a snack.

After getting organized and packed, we loaded up that truck and took off for the two hour ride to basecamp.  I don’t remember what time we got there, but it was still late afternoon.  We had plenty of time to set up tents, relax a bit and eat dinner.  There was another group on the mountain when we arrived, but they had not returned from their climb yet.  They arrived while we were eating dinner.  Like on Ixta, we didn’t sleep in the hut.  We slept outside in tents.  It was much quieter and I would eventually sleep great that night.

We went to bed pretty early.  Some time around 6:00 or 6:30 pm.  I was really starting to acclimate to the altitude now,as was Shelley.  Neither of us took any Diamox this night.  I went right to sleep.

Jake woke us up at 11:30 pm that same night for our summit attempt.  We had some hot chocolate, a breakfast bar and some oatmeal.  We were roped up and on our teams by 1:00 am.  On this day, Shelley and I were on Fernando’s rope.  Once again, I have no pictures of the early part of our climb at night.  The route up the mountain took us through some scree and rocks for the first few hours but eventually we came out onto snow and glacier ice.  That made the footwork easier.  About three hours into the climb, one of our teammates made the decision to turn back.  So Shelley and I were split up and I went onto Geoff’s rope team and Shelley went onto Jake’s.  Fernando took Demetria back to basecamp.

We left camp roped up and I never even attempted to pull the camera out till sunrise.  We were climbing up the westside (more or less) of the mountain so we couldn’t really see the sunrise.  What we could see was the mountain’s shadow as the sun came up.  Both of our rope teams stopped to take a good look and snap some photos.  I was also able to turn and get a photo of Shelley on her rope team about 200 feet behind us.  Shelley is in the blue jacket.

I’m sure some of you have seen Monty Python’s The Search for the Holy Grail.  In that movie is a scene where Lancelot is running across a field to go free the “maiden” from the castle.  The movie shows Lancelot running towards the castle, then cuts to the guards, then cuts back to Lancelot and so on.  Each time it cuts to Lancelot, he doesn’t seem to be getting any closer, then all of sudden…………..bang!  He’s there at the door.

That’s how the last three hours of this climb was.  It was nice when it was dark out because he couldn’t see the summit.  Once the sun came up, you could see the top but it never seemed to be getting closer.  There wasn’t much in the way of landmarks on the mountain to see.  It was just a tall slope of ice and snow.

Somewhere around 16,800 feet we took another break.  You can see the sun is up and pretty bright all around the mountain.  But because we are on the west side, we weren’t feeling any of the sun’s rays.  It was very, very cold still.  This is a photo of Shelley’s rope team next to us.  You can barely see Shelley in the blue jacket.  You can also see Popo and Ixta in the background.

Finally, we made it.  The last little bit seemed to come out of no where.  At one moment we were on the same, blank surface, then suddenly you could see more climbers around us then I realized we were on that last little ridge leading up to the summit.  Wow, all the soreness just vanished from my body.  I felt like I was at sea level. My GPS said otherwise.

We got so lucky on the weather on the summit.  There was hardly any wind.  Maybe 10 mph, but probably 0 or 5.  I could barely feel any, but we had quite a few layers on.  It was cold, but now that we were in the sun, we started warming up quick.  I really like this first summit photo.  It has La Malinche, Popo and Ixta all in the background.  Orizaba’s caldera was right behind us as well.  We couldn’t get too close as it was a long drop and pretty steep.  In the distance, if it was a clear day, you are supposed to be able to see the Gulf of Mexico.  Too many low clouds for us this day.

We were on the summit for a good long time.  Close to an hour.  Then it was one long decent off of Orizaba’s main snow field.  This descent is about 2,500 feet.  Since it was one push, I wasn’t able to get any photos.  No way to walk and pull the camera out at the same time.  However, Martin was able to stop and get a photo of my rope team coming down.  Geoff is the figure on the right (at the top of the rope) and I’m just below him, second from the right.  Once at the bottom of the snow cap I took a photo looking back up where we had come from.  It doesn’t seem that far, does it?  The second photo is our group at this first break after coming down from the summit.

Once we got off the snow, we got to take off the crampons and lose the rope.  Then we were set to descend at our own pace.  Here’s Shelley on the lower portion of the descent and then another one looking down at basecamp from the trail.

Once at basecamp, Geoff greeted us and took this photo of Shelley and I with Orizaba’s summit peaking over the ridge in the background.

I think we got back down around noon.  It was about an eleven hour summit day.  We had a few hours to relax at basecamp, get something to eat and re-hydrate.  Then we needed to pack up the equipment and the truck arrived around 2:00 pm to pick us up and take us back down to Dr. Reyes’ hostel.

We arrived back at the hostel to a welcome site……beer.  Yes, the crew there set up some tasty beverages for us to choose from and we took part.  After taking showers, straightening out our gear and setting up our bunks upstairs we had quite a bit of time to relax.  We had a group dinner then we went to bed.  The next day most of our group would be heading to the airport to head home or, in the case of Martin, he was staying in Mexico but flying to meet his girlfriend and her son at a beach resort.  Nice.

Shelley and I had made reservations to stay in Mexico City one extra night and fly back on Sunday.  We had more one stop left before wrapping up our vacation.


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