THE MEXICAN VOLCANOS
Pico de Orizaba (Mountain of the Star) is the highest peak in Mexico at 18,409′, and it’s the third highest mountain on the North American Continent, following Mt. McKinley (Denali) and Mt. Logan. It’s one of three big volcanos within relatively close proximity to one another at the eastern end of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, the others being Popocatepetl (17,900′) and Iztacchihuatl (17,338′). Orizaba is a ‘stratovolcano’, formed in three main stages beginning in the mid-Pleistocene era. It last erupted in 1687, but is still considered to be semi-active. The steep sided cone at the top of the mountain is glaciated, but is known to be melting out at an accelerated rate in modern times. It is estimated that nearly 2000 climbers attempt to climb Orizaba each year and that 65 to 70% fail to make the summit due to difficulties coping with effects of high altitude as well as capricious weather conditions known to exist here. This mountain is ‘moody’ and can turn on you in an instant.
It was time to give it a shot, climbing with Jamie Pierce, owner of ‘Summit Expeditions’ . . . .
- Orizaba simply towers massively over the little village of Tlachichuka, the usual starting point for attempts at the mountain. When you first see it, it is so huge relative to the surroundings it is shocking.
- Street scene, Tlachichuka.
- While there is substantial meltout below the permanent glacier atop the peak, snowfields still do exist down to about 14,000 feet on its flanks.
- High camp at a small shelf underlying the beginnings of the glaciated top, roughly 15,400′.
- Jamie melting snow and looking very confident.
- A view out the tent door the evening before our summit bid. Although it seemed like clear skies and good moon, storm clouds were boiling over the rim.
- About 2/3rds up the wind scoured snow and ice of the Jamampa Glacier, moving towards the summit in the early morning light.
- Oh not another poser…. about 400 feet from the summit looking up the summit ridge. The weather was with us.
- Jamie on the summit with pictures of the family…. and profiles of Popo and Izta showing on the far horizon.
- Looking down into the deep crater…. the mouth of potential evil.
- The old Piedra Grande hut is falling into disrepair…. still a landmark of past history at the base of the mountain.
- The road ends right here at the ‘newer’ hut. We chose to ‘tent out’ …. a little more exposure but considerably more privacy.
- Memorials and markers to departed climbers populate the lower flanks of the mountain. The ones who ‘didn’t make it’.
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