Pico De Orizaba

6:14 p.m. on November 17, 2007 (EST)
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Hi,
I am planning on going on a guided trip up Pico De Orizaba early next month. Wondering if any of you have done that and if you could share some of your experiences? Anything you can share with me will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks
RP

2:50 p.m. on November 18, 2007 (EST)
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Since you are going on a guided trip, your guide service should provide you with all the information needed. You might also want to look at RJ Secor's book on the Mexican Volcanoes (get the latest edition, since he adds a lot of updates to each edition). And, since you are going with a guided group, you won't have a lot of spare time (unless you go early or stay extra time - which means you will miss most of the Mexican culture, like the Pyramids, Guadalupe, and the really fascinating museums).

Presumably, you will be doing one or more smaller peaks before Orizaba, such as Iztaccihuatl, or maybe even La Malinche (smaller, but reasonable for acclimatization). And presumably you will be staying in or close to the Piedra Grande hut the night before. Hopefully you will not be sleeping in the hut itself (it's noisy, smokey, and has lots of rats and mice, despite the efforts of the guide services to clean it up). And hopefully, you will have an intermediate camp at 16,000 ft. The glacier has retreated a lot since my first climb of the peak, so you will probably have several hundred feet of climb before you need crampons. And it does get windy, so you may have a lot of the volcanic ash that passes for very fine dust, blowing into your tent. If you are lucky, it will snow, keeping the dust down.

You aren't likely to spend much time in Tlachichuca, but there are several internet cafes there (really cheap compared to anything in any other country I have been to). You will probably spend more time in Puebla. If so, be sure to visit the big cathedral - huge and gorgeous. Instead of having breakfast in the hotel, go to Vip's (this is a chain, like Sanborn's). Since you will probably stay in Mexico City, have dinner at least once at Sanborn's La Casa de los Azulejos ("house of the blue tiles"), though the touristy souvenir section is a bit much.

If you do stay at Joaquin Conchola's place in Tlachichuca, say "hola" to him for me - he is an old friend from many years back, though it's been 4 years since I have visited. Joaquin has been running one of the main 4WD runs up to Piedra Grande for many years. And be sure to admire the huge trophy he was presented by the State of Puebla for services rendered.

Experiences - mainly it is just a long slog from Piedra Grande, first from the hut at 13,000 ft up the trail, alongside the aqueduct (I would be curious if it has ever been repaired), then on the mostly rocky trail. There are a couple places where there is often ice in the couloir where the trail goes - use care there, and maybe use your crampons for that section (it isn't long, and the guides may not bother, but I have watched people take a long slide through the chute - depends on the conditions and how experienced at walking on ice in your boots you are). The area around the campsite at 16k is pretty filthy - there is no latrine at 16k, so you may find it hard to find a place to go between piles of "droppings". (the latrine at Piedra Grande is in the open, and people frequently just relieve themselves in the gully below the latrine). Hopefully, since you are going with a guide service, they will provide WAG bags, though you will probably end up tossing them into the "relief" area.

You will (or should) get up early (pre-dawn) to head up the hill. Again, it is a long slog, now on crampons, to the crater rim. Drink lots of water and eat frequent snacks. Once at the rim, you traverse around and up to the cross. Take lots of film or a big memory card (and keep your camera in a plastic bag inside your parka to keep it warm, or attach a handwarmer to it - batteries get weak in the cold and electronic cameras frequently fail in those conditions). Then it's down (time to use lots of care - I have caught a couple packs that people have dropped and watched people take slides due to being fatigued and suffering from AMS). Then you pack and head down to Piedra Grande (watch the ice on the trail, again), get picked up by your driver, then back to Tlachichuca, and probably on to Puebla or even back to Mexico City.

Not much to it. Typical glacier slog. Great views, though.

10:31 p.m. on November 18, 2007 (EST)
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Thanks a bunch Bill for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I find them useful and I know what to look out for now.

1:20 a.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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I climbed solo from Hildago at about 12,000 feet, to the glacier, at about 16,000 feet and turned there around a few years ago.

At my high point I wasn't able to think clearly nor move at faster than an extremely slow pace.

The conditions were unusually cold and icy/snowy... and I put on crampons half-way between hut and glacier. An ice axe, on this stretch, however, wasn't needed, as there were plenty of rocks to break a fall and slope wasn't terribly steep. Poles were extremely desirable.

I spent one night at the hut described above. I think it's just under 14,000 feet. Mostly I couldn't sleep because of altitude, snoring, and lots of noisy rats. If I did this again, I would skip the hut completely, and make at least one, or possibly two camps at a somewhat higher lever.

Prior to this, I had spent about a week acclimatizing and climbed La Malinche to nearly 15,000 feet.

But if I had spent a few more days becoming accustomed to the altitude, I assume I'd have done better with the altitude. It's well-known that individuals vary widely in there adaptation. I'd been frequently to 10,000 feet, with no ill effects.

At the hut, I was treated to the sight of a climber, descending, and staggering and vomiting, with helpful commentary (to me) of an American doctor, a paying member of a guided party, on the various possible medications that might potentially have helped this distressed climber.

The doctor concluded by saying, however, that going lower was the best advisable course for the afflicted climber.

On my second night, descending, I eschewed the hut, dropped a couple of thousand feet, and took some back-trails through Hildago and a near-by canyon, and was treated to the sight of many sheep, dogs and shepherds, along with buros, going home to Hildago after a day of grazing.

On the third day, I hitched a ride back to the bigger town, with the guided party. I had to pay a rather steep fee to ride the stupid jeep, but it saved ten miles of walking on a miserably dusty road.

Don't fail to see downtown Puebla's baroque churches, and also Cholula. These are great sights not far away. Some of the outlying villages are also very worthwhile and rather freaky for an American...

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7:06 a.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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Was there in '98(?). The trip to get to the Piedra Grande (MEX, Puebla, Tlachichuca (can be seen on Google maps now))was more interesting (and lots of interesting things to see) than the climb. So keep your eyes open & camera ready on the way to the hill. Don't be afraid of the locals, they're some of the nicest people I've met. Take note of what calamity wrote, it's about the same as what I would've wrote.

12:33 p.m. on November 25, 2007 (EST)
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Adam,Calamity & Bill,
Thanks again. I am planning on taking Diamox to help me breathe easier at the altitude. My current itinerary doesn't call for a summit attemot on Ixta or La Malinche; however, 3 days have been set aside for acclimitization hikes. I will be sure to point out to my guide about the PG Hut.
I will hopefully have a good time and I plan on posting my experience here once I come back.

12:55 p.m. on November 25, 2007 (EST)
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Diamox is different for different people. I adapt to altitude pretty easily and rapidly, and have never taken Diamox. But I know plenty of people who have. When I was first on Orizaba in 1996, we came across a party at about 17,000 feet, half of whom were suffering greatly from AMS, including a couple who were starting to show signs of HAPE. My party decided we should help them down as rapidly as possible (ended up not doing the summit because we ran out of time while getting them down. Most of those who were suffering had been taking Diamox. So it helps most people, but doesn't help others. Aside from not really needing it, I have always been leery of some of the side effects - the tingly fingers and toes, the fact that it is a diuretic so that you need to drink a lot more fluids, and some other things. Some people (like me) adapt well to altitude (I don't think I am anywhere close to Messner, though - oxygenless on all 14 of the 8000 meter peaks). Others, like Jim S who posts here from time to time, and my PCP aka "primary care physician" in HMO-speak, have a hard time adapting above 10,000 ft, sometimes even with the aid of Diamox (my PCP turned down a turn as expedition doctor for an Andean expedition, despite being offered all expenses because he doesn't adapt well).

If you haven't already, be sure to read Charlie Houston's "Going Higher" and Peter Hackett's books - they are the world's leading experts on high altitude.

12:17 p.m. on November 26, 2007 (EST)
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Not sure of how rigid your schedule is with the guide but we overnighted in the pasture above Hedalgo and then hiked the road up to Piedro Grande while the taxi service took the heavy gear ahead. There's a lot of beautiful views around the hut and if you can run your acclimatisation hikes for there you'd be doing better. I'd also try to overnight at the base of the glacier so when you start you can go with crampons all the way.

I can't remember if I was using Diamox on that trip but you must remmeber that it's not a gurantee or allows you to bypass the other rules to follow (drink, eat, time) to acclimate. Altitude will hit you different every time. Also remmeber that Diamox is a diahretic so more water than usual will be needed.

12:19 p.m. on November 26, 2007 (EST)
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and BTW, if you do get to spend some time in Tlachichuca the open air market is pretty interesting to see (I don't recala the day of the week). Lot's of sights, sounds & colors.

December 21, 2014
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