Pico de Orizaba

17 Nov 1999 - by Carl Wingquist

Bill Strand of Fort Collins, Colorado asks:

I am leaving for Orizaba the second week of January. Has anyone been there this season? I would appreciate any reports on the snow conditions on the Jampa Glacier and the condition of the Piedra Grande Hut. Even if it is just a short note please post what you know to this list. I will post a trip report after Jan. 15 for those who might be headed there late in the season.

Dianne Stiller of Colorado Springs, Colorado replies:

We climbed Orizaba Nov. 18 this year. We used the Reyes to get to the mountain and they said these have been the best snow conditions in 4 years. Usually it is a sheet of ice, but this year crampons bite perfectly. The guides were recommending the Espinoza (spelling?) route because the snow was so good. However, you still need crampons the moment you get to the snow...it isn't like what we have here in Colorado. The snow level is lower than usual, right at about 15,300ft. which is the first traditional campsite on the mountain. I have heard from those that know the mountain that it gets much icier by January. Even in November, you need an ice axe - ski poles will not stop a fall on the glacier. There are places even below 16,000 ft that a fall could be fatal without self arrest because the slope just keeps on going. Crevasses were nonexistent, not just from my opinion but from some local Mexican guides. One other thing, it was cold on our summit climb. I used my lighter double plastic boots - Koflach soft varios and needed my Koflach Artis Expedition boots. I do have very cold feet, but did not have trouble until the summit climb - it was probably around 0 degrees and the wind was blowing. At our campsite at 16,200, it was 25 degrees inside my tent at 3am (2 people), 15 degrees in our buddy's tent (one person Bibler tent).

One thing I had wished I had done - brought a tarp for putting my sleeping bag on in the hut - the platforms are real dusty. However, the hut is in good condition, and the other climbers were very respectful of people sleeping and of watching out for each others gear. You will need plenty of candles since there is no electricity. The water source was just like described in the guidebooks - outside of the smaller hut, by way of a trail, out of a pipe.

Have fun! The mountain is a lot prettier than the pictures. It is a much more vertical 'classic shaped' mountain than any of the guide book or web pictures show - really pretty. Clouds tended to obscure the summit around noon each day, so if you are in Tlachichuca and have a clear view of it, take a picture while you can.

Carl Wingquist & Kathy Pierce of Colorado Springs reply:

We climbed Orizaba November 17. The large hut was in pretty good condition but there was a fair size hole in the roof of the smaller one. We stayed in the big hut and I slept comfortably with a +15 degree Moonstone synthetic bag. Water was flowing freely from the spring below the small hut and we used it unfiltered with no obvious problems. The snow level was around 15,500'. There was nothing like a "beaten path" up the Jamapa glacier and the surface was pretty firm so it was "french" technique most of the way up. I think my ice axe shaft was penetrating between 3 and 5 inches most of the time. Toward the top of the glacier, it was possible to form usable steps with a couple of good kicks thus providing some relief for the ankles. It took us almost 10 hours to get to the summit. Our water froze up at some point above 16,000' (insulated hydration systems - never again!) so we were pretty dehydrated and I think that really slowed us down. My being 61 years old probably didn't help either. There could have been as much as 8 feet of snow on the summit itself. The big metal cross was either gone or totally buried but there were a number of smaller memorials such as crosses and flags showing above the snow. By the way, a couple of guys from Fort Collins (I think their names were Glenn and Dave) summited the day before we did. We were there at the same time as Dianne Stiller (see above message) and her group and I can personally relate to her comment regarding ice axes. I stumbled at about 18,000' and had to do my first ever "real" self-arrest.

Our transport between Tlachichuca and the hut was the Reyes Dodge Power Wagon - an adventure in itself.

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