Ixtaccihuatl and Orizaba

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Popocatepetl over Ixta’s ridges

A week full of sunshine, limericks, guacamole, and a little bit of climbing. What more can you ask for? Well for starters, the guac-to-chip ratio in Mexico seems to be much lower than it is in my kitchen. And the sunshine was a pleasant surprise. Even Mountain Forecast, the notoriously optimistic mountain weather predictor, was calling for snow up high every. Single. Day. Psych! We had perfect weather windows for both climbs. Man, I almost don’t want to write this entry, because once I’m done with it, the trip will officially be over.

Well let’s start with getting to Mexico. I’m not a traveler. I have left the country once in the past eight years, and it was with family, so I mostly ignored everything that was going on. I woke up on the plane to some vague Spanish forms sitting in my lap. Okay, these must be for customs. Got those filled out. Passed out all of my extra pens to needy travelers in the customs line (I was politely reprimanded by my boss for not having a pen at a meeting, and now there are like 15+ in my purse at any given moment in time) like a Customs Hero, and picked up my absurdly large canvas duffle bag that my boss lent me before running into Angie (yay!), Erin, and Kali, who had all planned to meet at the airport. We swapped dollars for pesos, hopped into a cab, and headed to the hotel.

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How weather was much of the time (featuring Angie’s Bottom)

The first night was quiet. Everyone was just getting to know each other. Erin was from Seattle, Dave was from Evanston (where I went to college), so there were a few connections. A few climbers already knew the guides, Dallas and Austin. Dallas knew our guide from our ridiculously fun trip up Shuksan well and had some funny stories about the two of them. Everyone was talking about their experiences: Denali, China, Aconcagua, treks well above 13,000ft, Ecuador volcanoes. And what did I have? I, uhhh, well, I climbed Rainier a few times, and some smaller peaks in the Cascades? And one time I ran 10 miles at 10,000ft in Colorado while looking at mountains, does that count? I passed out that time though, so maybe not. What does diamox feel like? When should I take it? Does 20 degrees feel colder at 17,000ft than it does at 14,000ft? Maybe I should have asked Angie’s dad if I could borrow puffy pants in addition to his soft shell pants. I glanced down, concerned at the number of chips left without guac on my plate. The other end of the table doesn’t like guac, maybe I can get theirs. They don’t know I’m a human garbage disposal yet.

We headed up for a light day hike at the base of Ixta the next day. Light packs, short mellow terrain. It’s crazy that there are trees and roads up to 13,000ft in Mexico. To reach that in Washington, you’re either on a glacier or a plane. I put Angie’s fancy Suunto in my bag, because I realized I didn’t notice the altitude until someone else pointed it out. Maybe if I just didn’t know what we were at, I’d never notice.

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Nassella Tenuissima (mountain grass!)

The hike was pleasant. A jeep engine overheated (not our group, just a Mexican family who kept honking the horn as if that’d fix it – turn the heat on full blast, that helps at least a little), a few runners were getting in some high altitude training, and the grasses were amazing. I asked what the grass was called, and got “mountain grass?” in response. Of course immediately after I post pictures on Facebook, my horticulturalist mother jumps in – “Nassella Tenuissima!! I just planted this in breezy!” Well, I’ll have a little taste of Ixtaccihuatl in Queens, NY next summer. Sweet.

We went back down to the town of Amecameca (~8000ft) to sleep low, climb high. We almost got nailed by cars crossing the street to get to dinner, but made it. Dramatic 20ft run. I ordered paella, which I knew had shrimp in it, but i wasn’t expecting it to also be stuffed with seashells with a whole fucking crab on top. For those who don’t know me, even the smell of seafood is enough to send me running to the nearest vomit receptacle (bathroom doesn’t convey the urgency involved). It was a brutal dinner. Luckily we had ordered an outrageous amount of appetizers, so I was pretty full anyway.

The next morning, we carried gear to high camp. I’m a chatty hiker, and frequently need to find ways to entertain myself. Like a 5 year old. But as a wise man once said (okay, dad) “only boring people get bored.” So I started writing limericks, and got Angie to try her hand at it too. The first one was about Angie getting sunburned. Spoiler alert: It was me who ended up sunburned.

Poor Angie is already burned
You’d think that by now she’d have learned
She’s whiter than flour
And fries in an hour
And soon the outdoors she’ll have spurned.

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The hut on Ixta

Those last lines are damn hard, every time. Soon enough I got Barb talking about lizards (she’s done all sorts of cool research in Baja) and that kept me occupied for a bit, and then Kali told us about some of her military training. I soon realized I would need a belt for the pants I had borrowed from Angie’s dad, and spent the rest of the hike mentally sorting through the few belongings I had brought to Mexico. Eventually I settled on a prussik and a runner, neither of which would be necessary on the climbs. I girth hitched them together to fit around my waist. I’ll refrain from making a fat joke.

We spent that night in a hut around 13,000ft. Dinner was quesadillas, more guac (enough guac this time), tortillas, man I don’t even remember at this point but it’s 7am and I’d freaking love that meal all over again. Popocatepetl poked out from the clouds a few times, and Kali pointed out a few constellations and navigational stars, which was pretty neat. We’ll see if I remember them. I think I’ll be relying on an app (I’m sure there’s an app for that) like the pleb that I am.

The next day was back up to high camp, where we relaxed for the afternoon and went to bed early. I suck at sitting around without something to distract me (a book, netflix, music, you get the idea), so I wrote another limerick as I demolished an entire 12oz box of Wheat Thins. Appetite: 1, altitude: 0.

No one is hungry up high
No cravings when you touch the sky
Just headaches and pee
Unless you are me

And could devour a whole goddamn pie.

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High camp on Ixta

Apple pie sounded amazing right then and there. But alas, no pie. Angie wrote a few hilarious haikus (you can read her full poetry collection on her blog here) which were ten times as funny because she made herself laugh so hard she couldn’t even recite them, she had to write them down and have me read them. Here’s a great example when I suggested we write limericks about “I dunno, rocks, we’re surrounded by rocks?”

Writing about rocks is hard
When you don’t give a damn about rocks
Shit that doesn’t rhyme
I guess I just need some time
To have an opinion on rocks.

Once she decided to nap, I just dozed in the sun and listened to some trance until it was time for dinner and an early bedtime.

Halfway through the night I realized my face was sunburned. It was burning against my warm zero degree sleeping bag. God dammit. I didn’t sleep much. You could hear Popo grumbling in the distance, which was oddly unsettling and fascinating both at once. I had taken a half dose of diamox for the first time and was dealing with all the tingliness that comes along with it. Luckily it didn’t make me have to pee constantly, which is apparently the other main side effect.

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Popocatepetl from high camp on Ixta

We got up around midnight, had a quick breakfast, and started off. Kali suggested playing “the country game” which goes like this: name every country that starts with A, then every country that starts with B, etc. I was fifth, and it was my turn. “Albania!” Already said. Hmm, Australia! That was said too. Armenia? Yup. AZERBAIJAN! No one knows that one, I thought proudly. Except everyone laughed, because Angie had just said it. Fine, uhh, Argentina. Fuckers. The morning was off to a great start. I suck at geography. We gave up at C.

Ixta is mostly a kitty litter filled scramble full of ups and downs and it would be pretty miserable if it didn’t have so many ridges to walk. There was snow for maybe a quarter mile if that, and the rest was just rock. Apparently the glacier used to be a large, crevassed beast, but what’s left of it is small and mellow. It was still damn cold, and Fozzy’s hot gatorade (it’s better than it sounds) was an awesome treat at every break. Much nicer to drink than ice cold water. I have a hard time drinking fluids, so I had made all my water bottle into raspberry lemonade hoping it’d make hydrating more fun. Should have made them all hot gatorade.

There’s a false summit, too, so don’t get your hopes up. Fozzy had warned us, so I was ready. He probably only mentioned it because I’m like a little kid in a car. Except instead of “are we there yet?” it’s “is that the summit?” I was trying to figure out how the body parts of Ixta worked and couldn’t just ask “where are the boobies?!” We weren’t on that level yet.

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Ixta summit selfie!

We actually beat sunrise to the top, so Angie and I took a great summit selfie in the dark. We were at the top I swear. Angie hilariously couldn’t get her goretex pants to fit over harness, and laughing kept me almost warm in the pre dawn morning at 17,000ft.

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Dallas and Austin’s rope teams coming down the ridge

The way back took longer than expected. We flew down the first section and paused to wait while I snapped more pictures of sunrise and the rest of our team coming down the ridge. Orizaba poked out in the distance. That’s where we were headed next! Clouds rolled in as we descended. Back to high camp to pack everything up and then to the vans down below, where beer, fresh sandwiches (mayo, avocado, cheese, turkey… oh man, amazing), and coke with real sugar(!) waited for us. Yeah, I ate the extra sandwiches.

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Sunrise on the way down from the summit

We shipped our gear off to Tlachichuca, the town we were staying at below Orizaba, and hopped into the vans with our casual wear. “It’ll take 2 hours to get to town” we were told. And by 2 hours, they meant 3 and a half hours down bumpy dirt roads, so don’t expect to sleep in the car. Austin sniffed his clothes and announced that he “had a certain stench about him,” so I took the liberty of writing a limerick. Anything to stay entertained on that damn dirt road.

Our guide smells like sweat and B.O.
We wonder “oh when will it go?!”
But we can’t give him shit
Cause we have to admit
Do we smell like roses? Hell no!
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Two climbers along one of the few icy sections

We spent the night in Puebla, which is a major city, not a small town like I expected. We checked out a few cathedrals, and got an amazing dinner followed by desserts on the house. Desserts were delicious, and so eloquently described by Erin – “sugary and the crust is just delicious!” Okay Erin, that’s about what we expect from a cookie, care to elaborate? You have such a way with words. The restaurant was also where we suffered the only injury of our entire trip: Barb tripped over a flower pot and got a sweet bruise. Orizaba and Ixta dealt no damage, but man those damn flowers were a hazard.

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The hut on Orizaba

The next day we went up to the hut around 14,000ft on Orizaba. This was one of the coolest parts of the climb. I’ve never climbed outside the Cascades. The hut on Orizaba had so many climbers from so many different countries! Spanish, English, Italian, and German were all being spoken, and probably a few others that I’m forgetting. It had been foggy all day, and we only got a glimpse of the peak for 15 minutes but everyone ran outside to look at it and was chattering in whatever language came to mind first (English because I’m a true gringo).

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Rainbow! Yeah baby!

There was even a rainbow! I had gone outside to use the bathroom and nearly fell over when I realized there was a rainbow and whipped around to go tell everyone. The Armenian team (I think) laughed at me but let’s be real they were just as excited about it. But besides those few brief moments, we were socked in by clouds.

Given the weather, we expected to leave camp in full goretex for the climb. Ugh. Just wait until I’m out the door. Even if it’s five minutes after we leave, just let me leave the hut in dry weather. I scurried up to my top shelf bunk (like the fine liquor right), popped another half diamox (please don’t have to pee please don’t make me have to pee) crawled into my sleeping bag and watched Fozzy, Dallas, and Austin cook. Angie and I narrated it like it was Iron Chef. That was hands down the best dinner we had the entire trip, in my opinion. Better than the place in Puebla, better than the steak restaurant we went to the last night. Orizaba Hut Kitchen was the best.

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Fozzy’s team (I think) with Orizaba’s shadow

After dinner I drifted in and out of sleep listening to a few other guides and teams chat. We woke up around midnight again, to clear, starry skies! Yes! And it wasn’t even that cold! Fuck yes! I had brought overboots for my Nepal Evos because I couldn’t track down plastics quickly enough (or cheaply enough) and I was hoping to not have to use them. What I didn’t say is that my crampons were so damn old and rusty that they’re almost impossible to adjust, and that’s the real reason I didn’t want to deal with overboots. I tossed them in my pack and hoped for the best.

I actually felt pretty crappy starting out. Dehydration, probably, knowing me. Just sluggish and unmotivated. I was a little psyched out for the climb since I had only heard how tired/dehydrated/destroyed I’d be on the way down, and how long/tedious/cold the glacier was. I mean seriously guys, the bar was on the ground at that point. My expectations could not have been lower. During the first break Steve asked why no limericks, and I recited the most recent one about Austin being smelly to a few chuckles. It actually made me feel way better. Everything is a mental game, I guess.
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Team above us on the way down, just before middle man tripped

Aaaaaand my feet were fine. As I was warned before the trip, they were uncomfortably cold, but they were fine. The rest of me was uncomfortably cold too, because we never really got moving fast enough for me to completely warm up, and breaks were miserably long and cold. And once we hit the glacier, the rope teams got a bit separated and I didn’t have Fozzy to pamper me with hot gatorade. I reverted back to my old distraction – taking photos. I suck at photography, but it kills time. So I have 50 pictures of the other two teams below with the mountain shadow in the background, and a team climbing above us. The team above us had one picture come out great, but what you don’t know is that the middle person is about to trip. He saw me taking pictures. He knows I documented it.

We took a long break just below the summit. Kali and I were bitching about being cold. “Put on your goretex pants!” Austin suggested. “Or just go faster…” Kali muttered, to which I perked up and added “or shorter breaks!” A few second later we saw something black tumbling down the glacier from one of our other rope teams. “That looks important…” Austin said. He was right. RIP Dave’s Camera. Hope we didn’t lose any awesome photos of me. I mean, hope you didn’t lose any great photos. Hopefully we took enough to make up for it!

After we got started again, I was laughing at how many switchbacks we had made and heard Kali exclaim behind me “What are we taking, the scenic route?!” and I burst out laughing and from there on out we were Team Scenic Route.

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Team Scenic Route on top!

We finally made it to the ridge along the summit, and holy. Shit. That crater is awesome. I was expecting a Rainier type crater, but this was way more dramatic. Deep enough you couldn’t see the bottom, and surrounded by jagged, icy alpine edges. Totally neat. We spent almost an hour up there, I think. Pictures, snacks, frozen goldfish, frozen maple butter, crystal light (it is more fun than water). Apparently it was a surprisingly warm day for Orizaba, and thank god it was. No complaints here.

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The awesome crater. Yeah yeah I know I need to fix the sun

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Austin with Kali about to do a handstand on the edge of the world

We went back down the glacier at a moderate pace with Kali leading the charge, and that was the only time I was warm that whole day. We got to the bottom and waited another half hour (at least, that’s how it felt) for everyone to regroup and have some snacks and water. By the time we were moving, I was cold again. Man. The rest of the way back down the rock (and through the labyrinth, which I still have no idea how anyone knows where they’re going) the clouds were closing in, and we heard a bit of thunder. By the time we were nearing the hut, it was completely foggy again. We had gotten the perfect weather window for climbing.

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Small section of the labyrinth

Back at the hut we packed everything up and loaded into vans to head back to the Reyes compound for the night. Their food is SO good. I mean I stand by my earlier statement (Orizaba Hut Kitchen was best kitchen), but the Reyes’s have some awesome food. And background music. We made a fire thanks to Austin’s boy scout skills, and sat around it figuring out what the hell to write in the guest book. We wanted a limerick, but I had to sleep on that one.

Bedtime was glorious. I slept so freaking well that night. The next morning we had a quick breakfast and piled back into the vans to return to Mexico City. I scrawled a limerick (okay, I made Angie write it because my handwriting is so bad) in the guest book. Barb had written a beautiful description about everyone’s efforts, the amazing weather windows we had on each peak, and the generosity of the Reyes family for hosting us in such a lovely place. And I followed that up with this:

Glaciers will stubbornly test
Whether you can get by with no rest
Put showers on hold
Just deal with the cold

And shitting in bags is the best!

Perfect contrast.

The way back to Mexico City was uneventful besides 1) the coffee place was out of the oreo mocha milkshake which was a bummer, so we got ice cream next door at 10am and 2) we thought the car’s air conditioning was broken until we were like 15 minutes from the hotel in Mexico City. We finally all joked about baking in the car and the driver was like “why didn’t you say anything?!” I just assumed the AC was broken! Jeez, it had gotten to the point where I got excited every time the car had to curve slightly right because it meant air from the front windows (back windows didn’t open) would reach the back row and blow in my face.

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Orizaba summit selfie!

We got there in the early afternoon, and us ladies went out to explore a nearby plaza. Instead we ended up with tacos, margaritas, and mojitos at a bar. And it was great. Round 2? Why the hell not? It was warm, sunny, and finally felt like a vacation! I have no idea what the guys did, but there’s no way they had as much fun as we did. We had a quick siesta back at the hotel before meeting up with everyone for dinner.

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The lovely bathroom accomodations on Orizaba (photo credit Steve)

That night was full of wine, steak, tequila (“…We… we need more!” was the immediate response to the waiter when he brought the first few glasses of tequila over) and general hilarity. At this point, everyone knew each other much better than the first night, and with a few drinks to fuel the fire, I think I almost cried laughing at several points. On the way back to the hotel we stopped off so everyone could get nice mescal with Fozzy’s advice, and back at the hotel… we decided to go to a bar instead. One last hurrah.

Sunday morning was a gloomy, sad-to-be-leaving affair. Angie and I ran into Dallas and Austin at breakfast, and later saw Barb with her friend Georgie as well. I was busy being mopey. The flights back were lame. Everything was lame. I got a crappy bag of cheesy chips that were overall disappointing. The security agent in the Mexico airport didn’t believe I didn’t have a laptop or tablet. I forgot to buy cheez its for my flight. I had a layover in Atlanta. The Entourage Movie was underwhelming. I had to pay to watch Amy, so I didn’t watch it. But I did get to watch Fast & Furious 5, 6, and 7 all in a row, which was nice I guess. And I got a huge beautiful SUV cab back to my apartment for the same cost as a regular cab because there were no regular cabs. Small miracles.

Oh, and then upon my return I threw everything into the wash, including my ipod. RIP tiny nano, you have served me well. Mexico was a great last hurrah.

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Group summit photo on Orizaba! Stolen from IMG’s blog, no idea who took it since it isn’t in our shared folder 😦

Seriously, awesome trip. Great people, great location, unbelievably well organized. That Orizaba Hut Kitchen meal will never be repeated but it’ll be in my top 5 meals for a while (with Ruth’s Chris in Seattle once, the big mac I had the other night, this restaurant I can’t remember in Barcelona that was near our apartment, and New Park Pizza after Hurricane Sandy). Everyone in our group was easygoing with a great sense of humor, and I couldn’t have asked for better company. Team Scenic Route, it’ll be a dream if I get to climb with you guys again! Congrats on two spectacular summits and a fantastic trip.

3 thoughts on “Ixtaccihuatl and Orizaba

  1. Pingback: Eldorado Peak & Dorado Needle | Have Tent, Will Travel

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