Saturday, May 22, 2010

Iztaccihuatl - Climbing a Volcano with Friends

Last weekend, I joined 10 friends from Guadalajara and Mexico City for a 2-day climb of Iztaccihuatl, Mexico’s third highest mountain.  Almost 16 years ago, a few of us had climbed the nearby Popocatapetl volcano before it became active again.  We said back then that some day we also wanted to climb Iztaccihuatl.

Izta is also known as the Mujer Dormida, or sleeping woman because its shape looks like a woman lying on her back with at least 4 main peaks sticking up out of the mountain:  her head, her breast, her knees and her feet.  Our guides took us up towards the “rodillas”, which is the 2nd highest of the peaks at 5048 meters or 16,561 feet above sea level.  What an experience! 

After spending Friday night in Mexico City at the Pink House, the group of us from Guadalajara met up with the others and made our way to El Paso de Cortez at the base of the mountain.  We took the cars a little further to La Joya (3940 meters), got our gear organized (35 lb packs each) and began the climb at 1:30 pm.  Within an hour it began to snow (my friend Lad from Colorado called it “corn snow”).  For about 5 hours we made our way up through beautiful and rugged country—through snow storms, wind, rocks.  The temperature dropped dramatically.  About 6:30 pm we arrived at a rustic shelter called the refugio—a small shed with wood bunks for 24 people.  The altitude here was 4870 meters or 15,600 feet.  We were wiped out…most all of us suffering at some level from altitude sickness—nausea, extreme fatigue, headaches, etc. 

We ate and rested there until our guide woke us a little after 3:00 am on Sunday morning.  Visibility was severely limited by a fog and snow, so we postponed our final push.  But by about 5:30 am, after having eaten and dressed for the ascent, we formed teams of 3 and 4, harnessed ourselves together, and left the shelter.  We used snow axes and crampons to climb the remaining 961 feet to the “las rodillas” peak.  We arrived after about 2 hours of climbing at 7:30 am.

It would have been cool to go further and see la panza and reach el pecho of Izta.  But because of the snow storm and danger of lightning later in the day, we followed our guide’s advice and considered our mission accomplished.  By about 1:00 pm, we were back at La Joya, eating the best quesadillas and soup I’d ever tasted and celebrating our victory.  

It was cool to test our physical and emotional limits against the mountain.  It was super cool to do that together with such good and strong men.  

My friend, James Henderson, made this great video of our experience together: 

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