Front Range Mountain Guides of Colorado
Pico De Orizaba : 18,401 '
Pico De Orizaba : 18,401', Iztacchuatl : 17,343 '
North America's 3rd highest summit and Mexico's highest peak
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Mexico's highest peak, Pico de Orizaba is the third highest summit in all of North America, and is the ideal peak for those who wish to learn about high altitude mountaineering. Reaching its summit requires physical fitness, training, attention to detail, and experienced altitude climbing leadership. It is a beautiful mountain in a very scenic setting and has seen ascents by some of the most famous climbers from around the world.
Orizaba requires some basic snow climbing skills on terrain that varies from 25-45 degrees in steepness on packed snow and patches of ice and several days of acclimating before launching off.
We have guided this mountain for over two decades (while maintaining a perfect safety record and high success rate) and have seen many companies that hurry the process of acclimating for this climb and the poor results that many have with getting all their group to the summit. We in turn, spend several days acclimating by doing the climb in stages, first with a couple days camping in the beautiful forest below, around the 12,000 ' level, so when we arrive at 14,000 ' we are already somewhat acclimated, and the time needed to acclimate for the ascent is well under way, making us feel more comfortable at 14,000 ' the first 24 hours and increasing our comfort level and performance on the climb.
At 14,000 feet we choose to camp in tents about 100 yards from the hut rather than stay in the hut for several reasons that others may not mention. The hut is run down and there are rodents living inside. If that isn't enough, it can get crowded with people getting up at all hours of the night to start stoves, eat, dress, or relieve themselves. With all the clunking around of plastic boots, you don't get as much undisturbed sleep, which is vital the two nights before you climb. Tents are much more pleasant than this!
It is important to understand that because of the barometric pressure change in altitude, the oxygen that is delivered to you at 14,000 ' is about 12% less than at sea level, and from the 14,000' to 18,000' elevation the deficit nearly triples to about 34%! So, you can imagine how important it is that you are well acclimated. This is especially important for people coming from sea level or lower altitudes and greatly increases their chances of success on this mountain. Yet many climbers and guide services underestimate this mountain for reasons we still don't understand. Our success rate is extremely high because of your extra two days spent at 12,000' camping in the forest and then 2 more days camping at 14,000'. In addition, we get started very early to allow the group to move slowly, and not have to hurry due to time constraints and weather that could come in and cause whiteouts in the afternoon, making the descent more difficult.
We include an extra day in case there is too much wind to climb on our scheduled day, which is not common but can happen. The climb is very enjoyable ranging from broken rocky trail at the bottom and low angle gullies with ice or packed snow meandering upwards and requiring some route finding skills leading the way to the upper main snowfield which gets steeper the higher you climb.
The ascent can be done in one day from the hut elevation or in two days with a high camp at 15,600'. This camp is nice in that it makes the summit day 1,200' shorter ( from the hut it's a 4,400' gain and that makes a difference at this altitude ). With the added days of acclimating below in the forests and two nights at 14,000' moving to a high camp with just the essentials for one evening is a great experience and probably for many a chance to break their high altitude sleeping record!
Because we are not rushed on this day before, we can take all the time we need to move the 1,200' gain to this higher camp. We begin at 9-9:30 AM. This also gives us the advantage of sleeping late that night before the ascent. We get up at 3:30 AM instead of midnight or 1 AM which means more rest and a shorter summit day with a spectacular evening view from our high camp. ( Some groups start later from the base but this increases the chances of getting caught in whiteouts, or windy weather decreasing the chance of success ).
The experience of getting up and heating our breakfast under the stars at over 15,000' is something you will remember. From our high camp we head into the couloirs that require some low angle climbing of packed snow and patches of ice to reach the upper snowfield. This snowfield will take hours to climb and is quite an experience. After 5-6 hours of ascending the snowfield we reach the crater rim offering a spectacular view into the crater. After a brief break for photos and rest, we continue around the rim to reach Orizaba's summit at 18,403'. From the summit it is possible to view Popocatapetl, the 17,887' volcano that has been erupting on and off steadily for many years. Often, we can see clouds of ash coming from its cone!
Pico de Orizaba. A beautiful mountain with a great view and a truly memorable experience.
Join us here in December, January or February for your taste of high altitude adventure.
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