My adventure to ski Pico de Orizaba in Mexico began at 5am with a quick, hazy eyed drive to the SLC airport. I was to meet Jason McGowin, from Boulder, CO, in Houston before connecting to Mexico City. Both of us had quick connections and Jason kept me on edge showing up just minutes before final boarding. I would have been lost without him. My initial goals at the beginning of the trip were not to get sick from the food or water, as well as not to get ripped off, like many of the stories I had heard before leaving. If the weather cooperated, climbing Orizaba seemed like it was gong to be the easy part.
Mexico City is home to around 200 million people and its urban sprawl extends for miles and miles. Virtually none of the buildings are over a few stories high and would range from colonial architecture to primitive shacks, with nearly everything protected by gates and cinder block walls. The smog was some of the worst I’ve seen and in an attempt to control car automobile traffic, you’re only able to drive your car on certain days of the week. The phone book was two volumes and 6000 pages. The surname of Gonzalez occupied 130 pages, at 200 people a page, that’s a lot of Gonzalez’s! There where only 5 Romeo’s living in Mexico…maybe I should have looked them up.
We grabbed a quick taxi, being careful to not get pick-pocketed or kidnapped, and proceeded to the bus station…which was it’s own adventure in and of itself. They were often crowded and confusing. As the only gringos to be seen…not to mention the ski bags, we stuck out like sore thumbs. Neither Jason nor I spoke much Spanish, but we did what we could to communicate and found the right buses. Some nice views of the Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl volcanoes greeted us on the way to Puebla, where we transferred buses and continued to Tlachichuca, where we would spend the night. Popocatepetl is still an active volcano and is closed to climbing, but at 17,000′, Iztaccihuatl can be climbed in a day from nearby Mexico City.
I got a little nervous as darkness came upon us on the bus and we traveled further and further into rural Mexico. People would get on and off the bus, and we were noticed by all. Tlachichuca was the last stop of the route and the intensity of the situation increased since the streets were crowded with people celebrating the Day of the Dead. Our mission was to find Servimont and Senor Reyes, who runs a hostel and guide service, and is also a surgeon. We had no idea where it was located. Since we didn’t speak Spanish, Reed Finlay suggested I “let my skis do the talking”. In this instance I felt like they were saying, “look at all the money I have”.
We wandered around for about an hour, and finally, with some gracious direction from the locals, we found our way to Servimont. It was close to 9:30 pm when we arrived and it felt like the gates of heaven were opening when Senor Reyes let us in to his compound. The climber’s quarters was an old renovated soap factory and was decorated with lots of old climbing equipment and was beautiful in its own way. Many clues to people who have come and gone were seen throughout the building and I couldn’t resist leaving the mark of TetonAT. It’s always fun to read entries in the registries at huts and hostels and like I had known before we left, Senor Reyes comes highly recommended. A nice green courtyard and bathhouse, as well as a fully staffed kitchen and eating area rounded about the amenities, and we instantly felt at home.
We laid our heads down and had no trouble falling asleep even though music was blaring from the revelers in the streets. After some quick shopping in the morning, we would take the 2 hour 4X4 drive up to 14,000′ and the Piedra Grande Hut at the base of Orizaba.