Pico De Orizaba

In the spring of 2014, a small group of us decided to climb a volcano surprisingly not far from Mexico City. Pico De Orizaba stands at 18,500 ft.. It’s the third highest peak in North America after Denali and Mt. Logan. Out of the three, Orizaba is definitely the most bang for the buck, especially for such a significant mountain.

Piedra Grande (basecamp) has a hut designed for climbers to crash the night before going for the summit. I took my own tent because it does tend to get crowded, and I wasn’t crazy about the idea of rats running around me as I slept.

Outside was windy, so I found some boulders to set my tent in between. I quickly realized I had just set up camp in the middle of the memorial that paid tribute to all of the climbers that had fallen on Orizaba. Things got even creepier when I was reading the different names and on the rock right next to my tent was a plaque dedicated to a climber that had my same last name: “Zuniga.” Yikes. Maybe a bad omen?

At about 12:00 am, with basecamp sitting at 14,000 ft., it was below freezing and time to put in our summit bid. There were two other climbers in my group. Three headlamps ascended the mountain, starting along the old aquaduct on the “normal route.” The moon was bright and gave some headway as we entered a section of the mountain called the Labyrinth (a rock maze that some claim is easy to get lost in) at about 16,000 ft. above sea level.

One of the climbers decided it wasn’t his day and that the altitude had gotten the best of him. He turned around and descended to basecamp. Two of us pushed on and ascended the icy couloir. The top of the couloir was at roughly 17,000 feet in altitude, with roughly 1,500 ft. of vertical left to reach the summit. At this point the second climber in my group decided the summit wasn’t in the cards and also retreated back to basecamp.

At that moment, I was completely alone. All I had to do was cross the moraine and then the last 1,000 vertical ft. of glacier to the top.

My surroundings had turned completely black as I was encased in the bubble of my headlamp, with the only sound coming from my lungs, as I hadn’t quite adjusted to the altitude. Then I looked up…

With the moon having set, I finally ascended above the thick Mexico City smog – the universe unveiled its anatomy to me. It was alive. The stars had a pulse like a beating heart. They sparkled as if led by an orchestra conductor.

I was left in awe. I couldn’t believe the vividness of it all. The glaciated white summit of Orizaba was well defined in the contrast of the black background. Then just above it was the Milky Way stretched across the sky, with endless shooting stars rocketing across the horizon.

After seeing the 10th or so satellite streaking across the sky, I decided it was my day. This sense of euphoria and confidence overcame me. I checked the tightness of my crampons and gripped my ice axe tightly, then I stepped off the moraine and steadily began ascending the glacier.

Pico De Orizaba

I summited somewhere between 6:00 – 6:30 am. 18,500 ft. on Pico de Orizaba, the third highest peak in North America. It felt amazing. The orange rising sun brought feeling back into my toes and fingers. After a quick look in the crater, a selfie and a glance out in the direction of Vera Cruz – I descended.

The cost to climb Denali and Logan with a guide company ranges in the neighborhood of $8,000. Then you have to consider three weeks on the mountain.

Orizaba cost me roughly $800, including flights to and from Mexico City from San Diego, CA. If you have some experience, there is no need to hire a guide. The route on the mountain itself is pretty straight forward.

Servimont is a company located in Tlachichuca, Mexico. For a very reasonable price, they can take care of your transportation to and from Orizaba basecamp, food, drinkable water, any fuel for stoves, a hostel for your stay in Tlachichuca and even a guide, if you wanted to spend a few extra bucks. Not bad at all. $800.00 even left me with a budget to relax in Puebla for a day to sip margaritas (a must do after a long climb). All of this can be done in 5-6 days.

We had taken a rope for the climb. We figured if the upper mountain got a little steep, we could rope up. But, since I was alone, it never came into play. My only regret is that I had forgotten about it at the bottom of my pack and hauled it all the way up to the summit and back down again. Nonetheless, that amazing mountain and climb will always be embedded in my memory.
Pico De Orizaba

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