Saturday, December 29, 2007

Down from Las Montañas

Climbing the Mexican volcanos was a complete success! Despite the heat and noise typical of much of the rest of the country, the high mountains were cold and quiet, as we have come to expect of them.

We warmed up on Nevado de Toluca (15,100´), a huge crater with two lakes in the center. A cold little alpine refuge provided shelter before and after our climb - a hike up to the rim and mile-long traverse to the high point. Beautiful with the lakes down below at sunrise.

Next was Ixtaccihuatl (17,400´), next to erupting (and therefore offlimits) Popocatapetl. The park has a much warmer hut to stay in, with beautiful views of both mountains. A long hike leads to a couple of benign glacier traverses, finally accessing the summit. The only bad weather of our trip prevented any good views and provided some snow for the way back, but we had the place entirely to ourselves and made it back just after dark, hiking down through snow and rock to grasses and scrub and finally trees again. Happy Christmas Eve!

A day of travel over Christmas, and on to the highest peak in Mexico, third highest in North America, El Pico de Orizaba (18,700´). The huge Piedra Grande hut at 14K´was all but empty when we got there, but quicly filled as climbing club groups from Mexico and Guatemala poured in. We ended up sleeping in a tiny falling-down hut nearby to escape the festivities... Hiking at 2am through talus and scree over hard ice to the start of the Jamapa Glacier at sunrise. Having hauled them all the way just for this glacier, we elected not to rope up and hiked the gentle volcanic slope to the crater, first ones up and enjoying the solitude and calm after a cold windy ascent. Perfect snow on the way down, and back in time to wait for our shared ride, inexperienced climbers who had bonked thinking they didn´t need many calories.

Despite the vehement warnings of our guidebook to avoid the Christmas season at all costs, we had almost no company in the hills, and transportation was never an issue, even on Christmas Day. We definitely hit a good weather window, looking back at Orizaba with its head in the clouds, but acclimatized well and enjoyed the people and places we encountered. Street food and cheap travel seem to have agreed with us, and we finished with all our extra days unspent!
Ironically, the hardest part of the trip was finding a nice beach to relax on, and we ended up going back to Mexico City and spending a day at the pyramids of Teotihuaca (or something like that), which was actually quite peaceful.
There´s always more mountains and places to climb in the world, but these particular ones were as advertised and expected, and an altogether pleasant experience, which is sometimes rare. Many thanks to Mary for the pictures (it´s not my fault that they´re all of me!) and climbing!

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