Peak(s):  Pico de Orizaba - 18491
Matlalcueitl - 14636
Iztaccihuatl - 17160
Date Posted:  01/24/2014
Date Climbed:   01/14/2014
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   PKelley
 Orizaba Glitters, Ixta Sleeps and Popo Smokes   

Crew: CMC HAMS group - 12 people. Leaders: Dave Covill & Tom Chapel
Time: January 11 - January 19, 2014
Peaks climbed: Pico de Orizaba on 01.14.14, Sierra Negra (some) on 01.15.14, Matlalcueitl a.k.a La Malinche on 01.16.14, Iztaccihuatl - 01.18.14

Day 1 - Travel from Denver to Tlachichuca

Our group took an early Saturday flight out of Denver and after a brief layover in Dallas we found ourselves in Mexico City around 3.30pm. Being a fairly large group (12 people) we arranged for 2 vans to pick us up at the airport. It is feasible to get to Tlachichuca by bus, but I have to say that having a transfer proved to be very nice and may as well be worth the extra cost. After some time spent in horrendous Mexico City traffic, the drive through the countryside went faster (one lane highways, speed bumps and all) and were dropped off at the Cancholas some 3 hours later.

Mexico City traffic

Maribel showed us the rooms, bathroom facilities and fed us dinner. We were in bed by 8.30pm.

At the Cancholas

Days 2-4: Acclimation hike 1 & 2 and summit of Pico de Orizaba

Orizaba makes its first appearance

The next day being Sunday, we went to the city market with Maribel where we picked up tortillas, cheese, fruits and vegetables.

Sunday market in Tlachichuca

After shopping, we repacked the bags, stored some unnecessary items at the Cancholas, climbed into high-clearance jeeps and were driven to the Piedra Grande hut (~14,000 ft), which took about 2.5 hours.

Acclimation hike 1
Elevation gain: ~1,400 ft, Distance: ~1.9 miles, Time: ~2.5 hours

Most of us felt the effects of the altitude upon arrival at the hut and while setting up the tents. The hut was empty, so I decided to stay there, since I generally prefer huts to tents anyway. After settling in, most of us did an acclimation hike to about 15,300 ft (just about 1.3k ft of elevation gain and 2 miles RT). I don't know how else to describe it, but it felt like torture. My head felt like it was made of a cast iron and I tried to do some math problems in my head to assess if I still have any brain cells left. I moved as slowly as I possibly could while others passed me as if I was standing still. Some reported that they didn't feel any difference from a 14er, while others developed a splitting headache for the rest of the day. I had a mild but nagging headache and was borderline nauseous. I concluded that unless my condition improves (and fast), I realistically won't have a shot at the summit. After swallowing some Mountain House food mixed up with some real food bought earlier at the market (that did cause a few upset stomachs), we retired to our respective shelters with somewhat uneasy feeling. I don't think anyone slept well that night. Generally a sound sleeper I woke up about 10 times feeling very thirsty and still with a headache. A full bottle of Nalgene was gone by morning. The morning brought some bad news: one of us developed an AMS and was in and out of the tent all night. That and another AMS incidence from another party was the last straw for me for deciding to take Diamox. With another case of AMS from another group (making 3 cases in 3 days across several climbing parties, all had to descend), I am more than comfortable with my decision.

Acclimation hike 2
Elevation gain: ~2,300 ft, Distance: ~3.0 miles, Time: ~5.5 hours

Soon after breakfast, most of us departed on the 2nd acclimation hike (2-3 people stayed with the sick climber waiting for the Cancholas' truck to arrive). With or without Diamox, and despite getting little sleep, most of us felt much stronger on the 2nd day. We packed 35+ lb packs with extra water and gear (crampons, ice axes, pickets, ropes, helmets etc) and made our way to the bottom of the Labyrinth where we made our stash. We were moving as fast with the heavy packs as with light packs the day before. The spirits soared once we entered the Labyrinth. It was in great shape. Patrick (pkelley) led the pack and found a very straightforward route through the Labyrinth.

2nd acclimation hike - the packs are heavy

The glitter of Labyrinth

I don't know about anybody else but it felt SO NICE to be walking in crampons again. The snow was sticky and supportive.

Patrick in the Labyrinth

L=>R: Tom, Jorge and Kelly in the Labyrinth

Finding a good snow line

Top of the Labyrinth

The visibility was limited, so the group stopped near 16,300 ft and I wanded the route on the way down. With the heavy gear stashed near 15.5k feet, we booked it down to the hut where a nice surpise awaited us - the Cancholas arrived and Maribel was setting up a dinner table. A homemade meal at 14k? That definitely helped our sore and tired bodies. If the weather holds tomorrow, we'd have a shot at the summit.

Maribel is getting dinner ready

Although I was already feeling stronger than the day before, I took another doze of Diamox before going to bed. The wakeup call was set at 2.30am.

Summit Day
Elevation gain: ~4,600 ft, Distance: ~6.2 miles, Time: ~12 hours (including 1.5 hours on the summit)

After eating hot breakfast at the hut, the group got ready and departed the camp at 3.50am, behind a couple of other parties. There was a small complication: new snow. Just an inch or two fell in the late evening, but it was enough to obscure the tracks. Still, working slowly and meticulously, we didn't have any major issues and found our gear stash at 15.5k feet intact. Patrick and I made a transition to crampons fairly quickly and were off. The Labyrinth with fresh snow and under headlamps looked a bit differently than a day before, but I could still recognize the wands I placed in the gullies we scouted. In one case the track of the earlier parties went left, but we stuck with the route we already knew, but had to re-break the trail obscured by the snow. The dawn was breaking, so I doubled the effort to reach the top of the Labyrinth to catch a sunrise. I got to the saddle near 6.30am and Patrick joined me soon thereafter. We took a long ~40-50 minutes break to take in the views and wait for the rest of the group.

Nearing the top of Labirynth at sunrise

Getting ready to go

After a long refueling break, several of us starting hiking up the glacier around 7.20am. Once above the Labyrinth, we immediatedly noticed how cold and windy it was - a sustained wind of at least 25-30 mph which would accompany us all the way to the summit.


Starting on the glacier

Natalie - photo credit James

The snow was a wind-blown hardpack and probably wouldn't be fun to ski

Our group is coming up

Dustin - the angle near the top increases

Because of the wind direction, I kept angling to the left, and topped out on the crater rim, where I was rewarded by the views.

Worth a short detour

Summit ridge

Dustin on the summit

I got to the summit about 10.45am, with Dustin reaching it 10-15 minutes before me, with Tom, Keir and James joining us soon thereafter (Patrick had to turn back earlier because of cold feet). Because of the wind, I dropped just behind the summit to find an almost windless spot, where I stayed for the next 1.5 hours soaking in the views.

James (Fletch) is glad to be out of the wind

Natalie, Kelly, Tom and James on the summit

Our group

Around 12.15pm Kelly and I started heading down.

Kelly (moonstalker) on the descent



Kelly and I reached the top of the Labyrinth in an hour or so to find the 4 amigos waiting.

Just some 2.5k feet left to go - L=>R: Dustin, James, Tom & Keir

Myself and a few others were anxious to get down, so we continued. Suddenly, we were in a cloud which added some mystique to the descent.

Wanded Labyrinth

Of course, as soon as we approached our gear stash, the weather cleared - Keir, James, Dustin on the descent

Last close look at the mountain

The hut appears

The last few steps - I reached the hut around 3.30pm for a roundtrip of just under 12 hours.

We packed our stuff and headed down to the Cancholas, eagerly anticipating hot shower and dinner.

Day 5: Rest Day or Sierra Negra

A few people hiked Sierra Negra, a 5th highest mountain in Mexico (~2k elevation gain), while several of us and Maribel headed over to Puebla for a day of sightseeing.

A day to relax - Natalie, Margaret, Laurance, Keir

Hitting the market with Maribel (Keir, Dave, Maribel)

Days 6-7: Matlalcueitl or La Malinche and transfer to Amecameca

Peak elevation: 14,636 ft (GPS 14,574 ft)
Elevation gain: ~4,400 ft
Distance: ~8.7 miles
Time: ~8 hours

After early breakfast we piled up in the Cancholas vans and departed for the La Malinche TH, which is roughly at 10,000 ft. We started hiking by 9.20am. La Malinche is a 14er, so the air felt pretty thick and we were making great time. This would be a nice acclimation hike. The hike seems to be pretty popular due to its relative proximity to the Mexico city and easy TH access. We also encountered quite a bit of trash on the way up and Dave suggested we do something about it.

La Malinche

It is also a volcano

The top of Matlalcueitl is a bit of scramble

Dave distributed some trash bags on the summit and we tried to pick up as much trash as we could on the way down - plastic bottles, candy wrappers, etc. It felt good to be able to contribute to the cleanup and give back to the mountains. Because of the cleanup we didn't get back to the TH until 4pm. The drive back to the Cancholas went quick and soon we were enjoying our last dinner in the compound.

Our Mexican guide, Vincente with the trash bag

Day 8: Iztaccihuatl (17,160 ft)

Elevation gain: ~5,100 ft
Distance: ~9.7 miles
Time: ~11 hours

Rather silly, I wasn't expecting much from this hike, with Orizaba behind us. In the end, it turned to be another highlight of the trip. On Friday, 01.17.14 we said our goodbyes to the Cancholas, got into the vans and were driven to Amecameca. There we reserved the hotel for the following night and had a nice dinner with the expansive view of Iztaccihuatl. We could clearly see the outline of the woman's body. The Legend of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl

Ixta sleeps

After dinner, we got to the La Joya TH and established the camp in the parking lot with the wake-up call set for 3.30am - given the elevation and vertical, Dave wanted us to have plenty of time to hike the peak, as none of us were feeling "fresh" towards the end of the trip. He also arranged for drivers to watch our stuff while we were gone. In addition, we had Mexican guides to accompany people who may want to go slower or turn around. Having learned from experience (I ran out of water on the summit of Orizaba) most of us and the accompanying guides were carrying extra water, so the packs were heavy again. As compared to Orizaba, which was a snow climb, most of us went light on footwear (leather boots and such), which worked out well. I didn't bring crampons, just microspikes.

Popocatepetl at sunrise, past the "Feet" of Ixta

Mexico City's pollution makes for some impressive colors: La Malinche (left) & Orizaba (right)

We reached the "feet" by sunrise ~6.30am, and I stashed my extra water there making sure to mark the spot with waypoint, while the rest of the group carried their water a bit higher. Iztaccihuatl makes for a very scenic hike with Popocatepetl dominating the view. We were very fortunate to have a clear and almost windless day on this hike. There were a few class 3 sections, but most of the route is pretty straightforward. With several parties around us, Patrick and I pulled ahead and enjoyed solitude from the "Knees" to the summit.

"Feet" as seen from the "Knees" section

Some of the ups and downs on the long ridge hike to Ixta

Ixta's "Chest" ahead

When the snow finally started ~16k, we put on microspikes and started using ice axes. About 0.5 miles from the summit we encountered strong sulphur smell, which was pretty cool.

As soon as we got to the summit of Ixta (around 11am), our predicament became apparent - the summit wasn't marked and we couldn't tell if it were the "true" summit. Being consummate peakbaggers, we decided to tag all three "bumps" on the ridge.

View of the 1st summit from 2nd summit

Natalie on the 2nd "false" summit. Photo credit: pkelley

Popo looks inconsolable

Off to the 3rd summit we go

We were really glad we made the trek because we saw something unusual: the Face of Ixta

Ixta's face

Popo is still upset

View of the 1st summit from the 3rd summit

On the 3rd summit of Iztaccihuatl. Photo credit: Guatemalan team

Without lingering too long, we headed back to the 1st summit (apparently the highest and thus the true summit by just a few feet) where we were joined by the rest of our group.

HAMS group on the summit of Ixta

Patrick and I started heading down around 12.15pm.

La Malinche and Orizaba can be barely seen in the smog

I really enjoyed the views and the weather on the descent, so I took my time (and many photos).

The loose scree below the "Knees" on the descent

Approaching the hut below the "Knees"

Volcanic soil

I reached the TH around 3.30pm for a roundtrip of about 11 hours. Patrick got down an hour before me. We took a nap and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive.

Our camp in the very busy parking lot of La Joya TH

Day 9: Pyramids and Adios, Mexico!

After a comfy night in Amecameca motel and a sumptuous breakfast in Mexico city, we hit the tourist attraction - Pyramids. Personally, I was glad they were not any higher and then it was time to head over to aeropuerto.

Adios, Orizaba!

All in, it was a great trip (and now I am motivated to learn some Spanish). Thanks for reading.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
Felicidades a todo!
01/24/2014 17:14
This looks like a great trip and I love your photos. Great work by you and the team! I love Mexico so much and can't wait for my own Orizaba attempt.

Scott P
01/24/2014 17:17
Nice report.

One minor curiosity though. I have never seen a map that says Sierra Negra is higher than Nevado Toluca. Nevado Toluca is generally considered to be higher than Sierra Negra and considered to be the 4th highest mountain in Mexico. Do you happen to have a map that says Sierra Negra is higher? If so, I'd be interested in the source of the elevation that says it is higher. Thanks and much appreciated.

Brings back great memories
01/24/2014 17:26
Wow, looks like a fantastic trip you all had. Amazingly, it appears the snow cover(glacier)on Orizaba is the same as it was in November of 2004. That was good to see. Great report and enjoyed the pics. (for some reason a few pics did not post in the report) Congrats to you all. Looking forward to seeing a report from the upcoming March 1-9 group. Upward.

Scott P
No problem.
01/24/2014 17:39
No problem. I was just wondering if the map elevations had changed again. In Mexico, it happens frequently.

Great trip!
01/24/2014 17:43
Well done, Natalie!

Can't wait for the O2 trip.
01/24/2014 17:58
Well done! Thanks for the write up. I think I will get my Diamox script and pack my micro spikes. 8)

Great Job
01/24/2014 18:49
Looks like it was an awesome trip, Natalie!

01/24/2014 19:47
Great read and pictures.
Thank you for sharing.
I'd like to do that trip, too.

Is that...
01/24/2014 20:19 duct tape on my ice ax? Haha. Congrats to Kelly, Natalie, James, Dave and the rest of the team on a successful trip! And to my ice ax for her second summit of Orizaba. I believe there are still a couple spots for the second CMC Adventure Travel trip heading down there in March for anyone interested.

Great job
01/24/2014 23:21
everyone! Nicely written trip report and good pics. I'll be reading this a couple more times before my attempt(s) with the second group in March. FYI, I got an email a few days ago saying the trip is now full at 12.

Congrats on the summits!
01/25/2014 01:22
Looks like a great trip. Beautiful photos and a nice write up.

I love the part, ”I started doing math problems in my head to see if I had any brain cells left.” Made me laugh

01/25/2014 03:17
For writing this up and for being a good hiking partner! Sorry my feet were so cold on Orizaba. I'm still ironing out the details of how to heat my boots better.

Good work!
01/26/2014 23:29
Reminds me of my CMC/HAMS trips down there in 1991 and '96.

01/27/2014 01:28
Nice job. I need to get back there for that unfinished business...
Love those shots against the clear blue sky.

Nice shots!
01/27/2014 05:04
I shared your uncertainty on the Ixta high point so also did all three! Do you have a high res version of that Ixta trailhead sign with the map being readable?

Matt Lemke
Well done!
01/29/2014 11:02
Way to get all the peaks and an awesome TR!

Nice report, Natalie!
01/29/2014 16:03
Heck of a way to spend a birthday week. Congrats on the summits!

Summit Lounger
Fun place
02/04/2014 16:50
Looks like all of you had a great time. I might have to get down there some time. Different cultures are always great to experience.

Steve Climber
Great report!
05/09/2014 12:26
Congrats on a big trip! Looks like great climbing...can't wait until we're down there in a few weeks

Nice report!
05/21/2014 19:06
Nice trip report and loved the photos. One quick question. . . what was your reason for doing Orizaba first? I wonder if doing La Malinche and Ixta beforehand would have helped with a few in your party who were battling AMS. Just curious.

04/02/2015 19:45
Scott P - you are totally correct. In terms of elevation, according to guidebooks it is Orizaba -> Popo -> Ixta -> Nevado Toluca -> Sierra Negra -> La Malinche. I'll make a correction! Thanks for your comment.

Jeff - good eye! I did cover the (worn out) orange duct tape with the matching color (silver). What can I say? It is all the mojo of the lucky ice tool. I really like having it around

Brandon - thanks for stopping by. It was nice to see what peaks outside of Colorado might look and feel like

Kay - I can see how it may seem funny to a math major/tutor

Patrick - I am just so glad that trail runners worked for you on Ixta! And it's pretty funny that we both chose to celebrate our birthdays on this trip.

Ian - doing all three was the way to go, although apparently the 1st one is considered higher by just a few feet (can't really tell). I do have a hi-res photo, I'll be glad to send it to you.

All - thank you very much for all your kind comments and the ”likes”.

peak order
04/02/2015 19:45
CorduroyCalves - I believe logistics was an issue. It was easier to arrange a car shuttle from the airport to Tilachachuca and stay there a few days, and then hit La Malinche from there as a day trip. Then we were picked up to do Ixta before getting to the airport the following day. Two different groups of drivers drove us, so that's how it all worked out. In the ideal world, for acclimation - La Malinche first, maybe Sierra Negra 2nd, Orizaba/Ixta next. Hope it helps somewhat.

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