Day 7 in Mexico (01/15) – We woke up to sunshine and could finally see Orizaba! I got in my 4 mile run early and at 9:30am we started the drive up to the high hut. The road was absolutely brutal, rutted, muddy and higher up snowy.
Our driver had done it hundreds of times and knew (and found) every bump along the way. We got to the hut (13,978’) by noon and were the first ones to arrive (staying this high for any amount of time is tough on the body). About 25-30 others arrived during the day, we also were visited by locals who arrived at the hut with Tequila in hand. I took a shot and it was fiery good.
Later in the afternoon we trekked up about 600’ above the hut to get me used to wearing crampons and testing me out with an ice ax since I’d never used one before. We also practiced some self-arrests and I felt a lot better about the coming day after this. We hung out for a bit and watched the three guys from Colorado test out there skis and snowboard nearby. They were planning to hike up in the morning and ski/board down! We had an early dinner and I was in my sleeping bag by 5PM. I didn’t really get much sleep but tried to relax as the hustle & bustle of other groups went on around me.
Day 8 in Mexico (01/16) – Groups started preparing after midnight. Al didn’t want to go until after 3am as he figured we’d be quicker than most groups. I watched headlamps heading up the mountain as I stayed warm in my sleeping bag. At 2:30 we were up and by 3:15 we were out of the hut and on our way up. The stars were blazing and the lights from the cities below could be seen. We could even see the outline of the Gulf of Mexico. I felt pretty good climbing and only had a little trouble getting my feet to go the right way on traverses. We hit a very steep spot and I asked about getting roped up. Al was getting cold standing around so he waltzed on up the slope. Our guide quickly got me roped up and we steadily got up the worst part (very steep!). I felt pretty confident with crampons, ax, and rope. Al had waited at the top of the steepest pitch and we headed off toward the glacier. The wind had really picked up now and I was getting knocked around a bit. We now bumped into a couple of small groups who were heading back down. They’d gotten onto the glacier but found the 60mph winds and the icy surface made it unsafe to continue up. My mind was made up at this point. I was cold it was dangerous, I was heading down. Al wanted to go a bit further and see how bad it was. The ski guys were also going up so he hooked up with them as I headed down with the guide.
About 15 minutes later Al caught us, he decided it was unsafe to continue. I had topped out at 16,695’ and Al had gone a little higher. It took me 3:45 to ascend 1.9 miles (2,580’) and 2:10 to descend back to the hut. No one reached the summit that day (Al went as high as anyone) as the winds increased and it just was not prudent to attempt it. We spent a few hours in the hut before our ride showed then a few hours driving down. I went out for my 4 mile run that after, despite wobbly legs from the drive and lack of sleep. We went out to a local restaurant (Casa Blanca) and had a heck of a time convincing the lady in charge that we BOTH wanted TWO meals. I got the Mexican Chicken and the Mexican Steak and crashed at the hostel soon after and got the best night’s sleep of the trip.