Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba

Citlaltépetl (Star Mountain)

and return to San Miguel de Allende

18,491 ft.

February 5, 2018

Wes Chapman

Pico de Orizaba

I spent several months putatively studying in Mexico in the autumn of 1974, enjoying the charms of the country – with an emphasis on sampling local cerveza and beaches. Along the way (when the smog lifted in the Valley of Mexico) I caught a glimpse of one of the other great volcanoes of Mexico, Popocatépetl, and the hook was set. I knew I’d come back and do some climbing –  but I suppose that I did not anticipate it would take 44 years to get here. Better late than never.

Martha proposed coming down for a 70th birthday party for our friend Steve, taking place in one of my favorite towns in Mexico – San Miguel de Allende. A little cyphering, and I figured that I could get a climb up Orizaba in and still make it on time for the party – if the busses stuck to their schedules; I know, a risky assumption, but it worked!

Orizaba is a big and dangerous mountain – the third tallest mountain in North America and sports the largest glacier in the Mexico. Orizaba is a major stratovolcano, with a peak that maxes out with a slope between 50-60°. This is no big deal in snow but becomes a very different beast when the mountain is covered in ice, which is what greeted me.

Pico de Orizaba from the nearby summit of the Sarcophagus


The glacier is very peculiar, there is no ice fall at the terminus, no visible terminal moraine, few notable crevasses, and a maximum depth reported of 150 feet. It struck me more of a frozen snow field than what would normally be considered an alpine glacier.

I climbed with Orizaba Mountain Guides (OMG), owned and operated by Roberto (el Oso) Flores Rodriguez. Oso (the Bear) is aptly named – a burly veteran of over 450 climbs of Orizaba, and numerous climbs all over the world. The OMG climber’s hostel is a classic – great food, lots of climbers, bunk beds, and a mixture of anticipation, elation and exhaustion. I am a fan.

Courtyard of Orizaba Mountain Guides

Gardens at OMG

I arrived in Mexico City and was greeted by Roberto personally at the international arrivals area, followed by a 4 hour drive to his hostel in the village of Zoapan. I did an acclimatization hike on the flank of the mountain the first day, including some spectacular waterfalls coming off the Hill.

Under the waterfall, Under the volcano

The following day we did a transfer to the refuge at the base of Orizaba, a brief hike and a night in a tent outside the crowds of the refuge itself.

Refugio on Orizaba

View uphill from the Refugio

Tribute to fallen climbers

View up the mountain from High Camp – the back of the Sarcophagus

Ricardo preparing dinner at High Camp

We spent a short night at High Camp, before a 12:00 wake up and 1:00 AM start to the climb. The trip up was straightforward, but increasingly steep and scary towards the top. We were climbing on solid ice in the dark and cold.

The light improved considerably on the way down with sunrise and afforded a spectacular photo of the shadow of Orizaba out across the flat surrounding countryside.

The shadow of Pico de Orizaba at Sunrise

Sarcophagus at sunrise

We climbed the Sarcophagus on the way down, and it afforded a terrific view.

Ricardo making a call and enjoying the view

We came off the Hill exhausted but exhilarated and headed back to OMG for a meal and a good night’s sleep before a cross country bus ride to one of my favorite Mexican cities, San Miguel de Allende, and the 70th birthday party of our friend Steve.

The view of San Miguel Cathedral at dinner

I was on a post-climb high when I arrived at the party, and shared a few of the photos with friends. The funniest comment of the evening had to have been, “that is an impressive mountain, but taking the bus across Mexico is a real adventure”.

Adios, from Pico de Orizaba

Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

1 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    April 02, 2018

    GORGEOUS! Great photos!