photo sharing and upload picture albums photo forums search pictures popular photos photography help login
Jonathan Yarak | profile | all galleries >> Travel >> Pico de Orizaba 2012 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Pico de Orizaba 2012

In early 2012, my brother Steven and I decided to attempt the summit of Pico de Orizaba. At ~5636m/18491ft, Pico de Orizaba, also known as Citlaltepetl, is the third highest mountain in North America (only Logan in Canada and Denali/McKinley in Alaska are higher). It's also the second most prominent volcano in the world, bested only by Kilimanjaro.

Neither of us had been over 17,600 feet before (that height reached nearly 13 years ago in the Andes, no summits), nor had we done any major summits in several years. I also had only minimal crampon/ice axe experience, and Steven had none. So this was going to be a serious attempt unlike anything we'd done before.

We flew into Mexico City and took the awesome bus system to the small town of Tlachichuca (~9000ft) at the foot of the mountain. It really towers above the city as you'll see from the photos below. The next day we were driven via 4x4 on a very rough road up to the Piedra Grande hut, which serves as base camp for the peak, and is at ~14000ft in altitude. We spent the day acclimatizing and resting.

The next day, after we'd both slept poorly due to the altitude, we got up early and went on an acclimatization hike up to ~16000ft. At this altitude it was seriously difficult to keep your breath while hiking, but fortunately our guide Javier took us up at a very reasonable pace with frequent short breaks. Steven felt okay, but I got a slight headache which got worse until we were back down at the hut a couple hours later. That hike accomplished, we went to bed at 7pm in preparation for our early start the next day and hoped for a good night's rest...

When the alarms went off around 1am, I had actually slept pretty well, though Steven said he hadn't slept very well at all. We got up, had a quick breakfast, and hit the trail at almost exactly 2am on the dot. Hiking by headlamp and moonlight in the cold, thin air was absolutely spectacular and made for a wonderful climb. After about three and a half hours, we'd reached the base of Jamapa Glacier. Our guides told us it would be about 3.5-4.5 hours from there, which seemed hard to believe given how it really didn't look that far away. They were, however, exactly right, as it wasn't until just before 9am that we finally reached the summit.

We'd struggled up the glacier for nearly four hours and there many points at which both Steven and I thought we weren't going to make it. All sorts of weird things start happening to your body at that altitude and I think we both suffered almost all of them! But we had made it. We spent about half an hour on the summit, which was supposed to be for rest and food, but I couldn't stomach anything (again the altitude at work), and was too busy snapping photos and video to really rest. Then we began the grueling descent.

It took us four hours to descend, and, just as the guides had warned us, the glacier seemed to go on forever while we were descending. Finally, we reached the end of the glacier and were able to remove the crampons, which were causing Steven major toe pain and had no doubt contributed to some minor frostbite I had gotten on my right big toe. The rest of the hike went well and we exhaustedly arrived back at base camp around 1:30pm. We were driven back down to Tlachichuca almost immediately and went to bed early, utterly beat.

The next day, our guide generously offered to take us to Cantona, which is a wonderful (and gigantic) site of pre-Hispanic ruins near Pico de Orizaba. We spent a few hours there and then hopped on a bus back to Mexico City. It was a relaxing end to a truly excellent trip. I hope you enjoy the photos!
Hand painted signs on a vet shop in Tlachichuca.
Hand painted signs on a vet shop in Tlachichuca.
Orizaba dominating the sky over Tlachichuca.
Orizaba dominating the sky over Tlachichuca.
We stumbled upon some sort of women's rodeo practice (maybe?).
We stumbled upon some sort of women's rodeo practice (maybe?).
Grazing sheep and their herder, Orizaba looms above.
Grazing sheep and their herder, Orizaba looms above.
Dust devils over Tlachichuca as Orizaba and Sierra Negra are in the clouds.
Dust devils over Tlachichuca as Orizaba and Sierra Negra are in the clouds.
The Piedra Grande hut, ~14000ft.
The Piedra Grande hut, ~14000ft.
Inside the Piedra Grande hut.
Inside the Piedra Grande hut.
The hut in heavy cloud cover.
The hut in heavy cloud cover.
Finally the crater rim is visible!
Finally the crater rim is visible!
Clouds rolling in from the east.
Clouds rolling in from the east.
Steven doing his Aguirre impression in front of the latrine...
Steven doing his Aguirre impression in front of the latrine...
Dinner time!
Dinner time!
Beautiful morning light.
Beautiful morning light.
The road ahead in the morning.
The road ahead in the morning.
We set out for our acclimatization hike!
We set out for our acclimatization hike!
First rest, the hut below.
First rest, the hut below.
Steven and Javier taking in the surroundings.
Steven and Javier taking in the surroundings.
Steep slippery area on the way up.
Steep slippery area on the way up.
Final rest for the day, ~16000 ft.
Final rest for the day, ~16000 ft.
The beginning of the Labyrinth, it looked daunting.
The beginning of the Labyrinth, it looked daunting.
Clouds at sunset.
Clouds at sunset.
New arrivals headed up to the hut.
New arrivals headed up to the hut.
Summit day, 2am start!
Summit day, 2am start!
First break, relaxing in the moonlight.
First break, relaxing in the moonlight.
The moon lighting up the sky.  It was so bright it obscured most of the stars.
The moon lighting up the sky. It was so bright it obscured most of the stars.
Another short break on the way up.
Another short break on the way up.
The Labyrinth lit by the moon.
The Labyrinth lit by the moon.
Crampons on, ice axes out, the hike up the Labyrinth commences.
Crampons on, ice axes out, the hike up the Labyrinth commences.
The Jamapa Glacier.
The Jamapa Glacier.
Sunrise beginning as we start out on the glacier.
Sunrise beginning as we start out on the glacier.
Hiking up the glacier near sunrise.
Hiking up the glacier near sunrise.
The mountain shadow is forming, here it is above the horizon still.
The mountain shadow is forming, here it is above the horizon still.
The mountain's shadow looms above the other volcanoes.
The mountain's shadow looms above the other volcanoes.
Sunrise light hits us!
Sunrise light hits us!
The mountain's shadow creeping across the valley floor.
The mountain's shadow creeping across the valley floor.
Getting steep!
Getting steep!
Long shadows on the glacier.
Long shadows on the glacier.
Starting to get rough now...
Starting to get rough now...
We're roped in now, given the steep angle of ascent.
We're roped in now, given the steep angle of ascent.
The valley below.
The valley below.
Our water was starting to freeze!
Our water was starting to freeze!
We HAVE to be almost there, right??
We HAVE to be almost there, right??
YES!  The crater rim.
YES! The crater rim.
However, we still needed to climb up that and beyond to the summit.
However, we still needed to climb up that and beyond to the summit.
Intense sunlight at 18000+ ft.
Intense sunlight at 18000+ ft.
The crater was spectacular.
The crater was spectacular.
Ice formations on the west face.
Ice formations on the west face.
Steven's Garmin watch tells us the elevation is 18520!
Steven's Garmin watch tells us the elevation is 18520!
Our guides, Javier Leyva (left) and Roberto Oso Flores (right).
Our guides, Javier Leyva (left) and Roberto "Oso" Flores (right).
Steven and me on the summit.
Steven and me on the summit.
Posing with my ice axe and my iris (the company I work for) branded Nalgene bottle.
Posing with my ice axe and my iris (the company I work for) branded Nalgene bottle.
My Nalgene froze!
My Nalgene froze!
Victory.
Victory.
Crater rim and the mountains below.
Crater rim and the mountains below.
The Large Millimeter Telescope on top of Sierra Negra, ~15000ft.
The Large Millimeter Telescope on top of Sierra Negra, ~15000ft.
The Volcanoes of Mexico.  From left to right: Popocatepetl (actively erupting), Iztaccihuatl, and Malinche.
The Volcanoes of Mexico. From left to right: Popocatepetl (actively erupting), Iztaccihuatl, and Malinche.
Our climbing buddy Chris chilling at the summit.
Our climbing buddy Chris chilling at the summit.
Steven relaxing at the summit.
Steven relaxing at the summit.
Clouds below.
Clouds below.
Beginning the descent.
Beginning the descent.
One final shot of the crater from the summit.
One final shot of the crater from the summit.
Descending the crater rim.
Descending the crater rim.
Final shot of the crater.
Final shot of the crater.
Descending the glacier.
Descending the glacier.
Awesome high altitude clouds above.
Awesome high altitude clouds above.
Taking a short break.
Taking a short break.
Javier looking tough.
Javier looking tough.
Steven descending the glacier above, he was... delayed.
Steven descending the glacier above, he was... delayed.
Oso descending off to the edge.
Oso descending off to the edge.
Steven descending.
Steven descending.
The Jamapa glacier during the day.
The Jamapa glacier during the day.
Anvil clouds forming in the distance, toward Veracruz.
Anvil clouds forming in the distance, toward Veracruz.
The trusty crampons and ice axe that got me to the summit!
The trusty crampons and ice axe that got me to the summit!
Javier looking badass while taking a break on the descent.
Javier looking badass while taking a break on the descent.
Almost there!
Almost there!
Success!!  L->R: Chris, Oso, Javier, Me, Steven.
Success!! L->R: Chris, Oso, Javier, Me, Steven.
What a mountain!
What a mountain!
Orizaba on the drive home.
Orizaba on the drive home.
A crater lake the next day.
A crater lake the next day.
Orizaba looms.
Orizaba looms.
A rattlesnake eating a lizard, what a thing to see!
A rattlesnake eating a lizard, what a thing to see!
Cantona ruins.
Cantona ruins.
A ball court in Cantona.
A ball court in Cantona.
The plains of Cantona. Pizarro peak on the left.
The plains of Cantona. Pizarro peak on the left.