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| |-+  Sept.-Oct. 2003 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
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Author Topic: September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl  (Read 2069 times)
alpentalcorey
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Posts: 349


September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
« on: 10/06/03, 01:23 PM »

Well, here I am in Mexico City after our sucessful climb and ski of CitlaltÚpetl (Pico de Orizaba).  For those that might not know, it is an 18,400 foot volcano in central Mexico.  I decided to go for the turns-all-year this year after doing 9-10 months the last couple of years, and I've been a Mexico fan and a Spanish speaker for a while, so when the opportunity presented itself I jumped at the chance.  In Mexico the summer months are the rainy season, so that's when snow accumulates on the high peaks, and so we figured that towards the end of the rainy season (now) would be a good time to try and ski it.  And to be honest, we had mostly crappy weather and came very close to getting skunked!

I flew from Seattle to Phoenix where I met up with Peter & Annie, a couple from Reno (we had the same flight from Phoenix to Mexico City).  We were picked up at the airport by Steven Hatcher, who is currently living in Guadalajara (his wife works for the US consulate there).  We drove to the city of Puebla and stayed the night in a cool colonial-era hotel there.  The next day (Monday) we drove onward to the small town of Tlachichuca where Sr. Geraldo Reyes operates a 4-wheel taxi service to the Mountain and a climbers bunkhouse out of an old soap factory that has been in his family for several generations.  His operation is pretty smooth and included delicious meals cooked by a local Se˝ora.  We were taken in a WW2-era Dodge Power Wagon to the Piedra Grande hut (about 13,900', built by Mexican climbing clubs in the 50's or 60's).  I could feel the altitude already, just climbing from where the truck parked to the hut with my pack was enough to get me breathing hard.  But getting a ride and having a hut allowed us to bring massive amounts of food and gear, which allowed us to live pretty comfortably.  A major storm had ripped through the night before and there was some fresh snow down to at least 15,000', and the weather was still unsettled, foggy and without views of the upper mountain, not a problem at this point because we needed time to acclimitize, but hey it's Mexico so we did have hopes of seeing the sun at some point (we were scheduled to be picked up on Sunday, giving us 5 nights on the mountain).  After a night of some rain and some clearing we headed up with skis and some of our gear to the high camp at 16,000' (photos at the Reyes' compound showed clearly that the permanent snow line has receeded quite a bit un the last 50 years).  The weather was still mostly cloudy but we got a partial clearing and saw the summit area for the first time.  The Jamapa (North) Glacier seemed to be in great shape for skiing, so our spirits were high as we headed back down to the hut to further acclimitize.  On the way down however it started to rain and we got soaked.  The night was windy and stormy, and things didn't look good at all the next day, so we decided to wait a day at the hut (Thursday) for things to improve and to further acclimitize.  Friday seemed only slightly better, but since we each had probably over $1000 worth of gear up at 16,000' we had to go up.  This time we brought tents & sleeping bags and were hoping things would be better on Saturday.  Steven and I both spent an absolutely sleepless night in the tent, but it did look to be clear when we got (not woke) up.  However, within 15-30 minutes the pinche niebla (f'n fog/clouds) was back and depression sunk in.  Steven and I went back in the tent, toatlly bummed, thinking maybe we'd sleep a bit and honestly thinking that the trip was going to be a bust.  But Peter (the elder statesman of the group) said he was going to go up and see no matter what, so I got my tired ass up figuring that if he was going up I had to as well.  Steven stayed in the tent but we left him a radio just in case.  Annie was having trouble with her asthma and decided not to go up, but she walked with us up to the toe of the Glacier.  Then something amazing happened - it began to get clear and beautiful!  We radioed Steven and told him to get up and come join us, which he did.  The snow was soft enough not to need crampons, but I suggested we put them on anyways.  I was using a different pair of boots (the red dynafit TLT 4S, normally I use the blue dynafit all-terrain but they had a broken buckle and are heavier so I decided to break in the other ones), and my crampons would not stay on even though I tried tightening and loosening them in all kinds of different combinations.  During all this time Steven came up and was hot on our trail.  I led for a while and then let the other 2 go in front so I could use their bootpack.  After a bit I got in front of Peter so he could take a picture of the Steven and I climbing up.  The going wasn't bad without my crampons but eventually I pulled out my axe so I could be more secure along with my self-arrest grip.  During this time (which took me a bit) Steven turned on the jets and motored ahead.  With both the axe and the life-link self-arrest grip I felt very secure but as we ascended I definately felt the altitude, having to stop and gasp for air quite frequently.  The weather didn't stay perfect, but it wasn't horrible as clouds would come in but then we would get periods of partial sun.  I saw Steven up on the crater rim, and that was motivation to keep going, but the last few hundred feet were taxing as I had to stop and suck wind every 5 steps or so.  When I did arrive, the view down into the deep crater was amazing and well worth the effort (much deeper than St. Helens for example).  I took some Advil and tried to catch my breath as Peter came up the last rise.  At this point the clouds came back in and it started to snow some graupel.  We clicked into our skis (me on my dynafit AT setup with my Shuksans and the other two on tele gear), and were glad to see that it wasn't a total whiteout, we could see down to the big rock known as el sarcˇfogo, so we launched off.  The snow was a bit crusty up high, but certainly skiable.  As we got down towards the rock, it began to transform into corn, and soon enough it was excellent hero-type [/i]maize[i] that reminded us why we were there.  After all, Mexico is the birthplace of corn, right?  We ripped on down to the toe of the glacier with huge smiles, knowing how close we had come to utter dissapointment, truly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.  Finally we got to see some of the beautiful scenery that surrounded us, and we enjoyed a nice sunset and were able to sleep that night (except for Annie, who suffered the same sleeplessness that had plauged Steven and I the night before.  The next day we hiked back to the hut to be picked up and taken back to Tlachichuca where hot food and showers awaited us.

The drive today back to Mexico City was full of trials and tribulations (it could probably be a TR of its own) that included overturned trucks in the road, amazingly intense traffic and navigation, and an attempt by a Mexican cop to get over $200 from us for a minor lane change violation (you should see how the people in Mexico City drive - he just saw a car full of gringos and tried to get what he could).  We got Steven's wife (who works for the consulate office) on the phone and I negotiated in Sapnish as best I could, and eventually he let us go.

All in all, a great adventure, I got to make some new friends, and I always love coming to Mexico.  Hopefully I'll be back before the glaciers melt with some better weather, there's still a vot of lines left up there.  íViva Mexico!
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toby_tortorelli
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Re: September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
« Reply #1 on: 10/06/03, 01:57 PM »

Nice Corey!! Thanks for the great report...Orizaba and Popocateptl....(sp?) have sparked my interest in the last year, extending the "Ring of Fire Desire". Would be great to see some pics when you get back.
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Bill f
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Posts: 17


Re: September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
« Reply #2 on: 10/06/03, 02:13 PM »

Fantastic TR, Se˝or AlpentalCorey.  Its great to read CitlaltÚpetl has good ski conditions right after the rainy season.  I'm glad you caught the weather window.

I visited CitlaltÚpetl in late January, 2002 but without skis.  January was no month to ski en Mexico.  Though one could have skied down to just below the breakover at the bottom of the glacier even in late January (below 16kft), the snow would have been miserable - frozen wind-scoured ice.  There was even less skiable snow on Ixta, and Popo was closed due to eruptions.  At least in Jan-02.

The weather was generally good in January.  Citlatepl was fantastically clear on summit day, but due to high winds seemed like my coldest mountaineering experience ever.  I had seriously considered bringing skis but was glad that I hadn't while cramponing up and down the brittle garbage snow.

For other potential Mexican Volcano tourists:
-  Busses rock en Mexico:  I used the buses to get around down there (from Mexico to Puebla to Tlacichuca and back)  and never experienced any problems with either the bus schedules or the cops.  Riding the bus down there is an experience of its own too.
-  The Reyes family was lots of help for Orizaba.    
- Espa˝ol helps:  My little bit of pollo Espanisch went a long ways too.  I helped my me find out basics like bus schedules and even talk to the locals there.  The Reyes spoke great English, but few others out there did.  I felt the locals definately appreicated my attempts to speak Spanish and maybe even enjoyed the conversation?

think snow,
Bill f
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skykilo
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Posts: 711


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Re: September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
« Reply #3 on: 10/06/03, 03:13 PM »

Hasta la maize siempre!
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Pete Alderson
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Posts: 774


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Re: September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
« Reply #4 on: 10/06/03, 03:43 PM »

Great job Corey! I was wondering how the trip went for you guys..glad to hear that the rainy season provided the skiable snow you were hoping to get!  Hope you post some pictures soon....
And now you're back just in time to start enjoying the rainy season in the PNW.
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Paul Belitz
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Posts: 409


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Re: September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
« Reply #5 on: 10/06/03, 04:10 PM »

Nice! Sky and I appreciated having your jeep around, too.  Smiley
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ron j
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Posts: 2528


Re: September 29-October 6, 2003, CitlaltÚpetl
« Reply #6 on: 10/07/03, 12:47 AM »

Great report. Corey.
Eres un hombre muy macho!
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"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
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