Photo Dave Shackleton
After a great Mexican breakfast we made a quick tour of the town of Tlachichuca in search of some supplies. Some of the locals were still enjoying the Day of the Dead and it seemed like you could buy everything from CD’s, to cowboy hats, to a side of beef on the sidewalk. My needs were simple, as I had brought much of my supplies from home, and all I needed was some TP. We loaded one of Senor Reyes 4X4 Jeeps to head up to the Piedra Grande hut. Reyes has cool collection of vintage Power Wagons, but we rode in the back one that by my guess was from the mid 80’s. The bars on the windows reminded me of days past, but this time I didn’t mind them.
The road started off pretty tame, passing some washed out sections, and we turned off towards rowdier terrain near the town of Raices, at 11,500′, the highest populated area in North America. As we gained altitude, it was amazing to see how tall the trees were growing and it looked like a great place to do some trail running. About halfway up the road, there was a loud noise and it turned out one of the leaf springs had broken. I’m not much of a mechanic, but it looked like there were a few more, so everything seemed OK.
We both got more and more excited as we got closer to the hut and the welcoming committee was waiting for us when we arrived. You could hear the chatter as we unloaded our skies from the back of the rig. Not surprising, but skis are rarely seen in this area. The other climbers seem amazed that we were here to ski, but to us, it seemed like just another day skiing the backcountry.
Already it looked like there were about ten people staying at the hut, and we hoped that no more would arrive. The group was diverse, ranging from some from the nearby towns, to three guys from SLC…who seemed to have their doubts about being able to summit. We hired a local, Alfredo, to watch our stuff while we were on the mountain and he seemed eager to help us get situated. Having been cooped up in airplanes and bused the past few days, we strolled up to 15K’ as clouds moved in from the east and created a cool atmosphere.
Our plan was to head up the mountain the following day and see how we felt in relation to the altitude. Though we thought we could probably hammer it out all the way to the top, we wanted to be able to enjoy it and didn’t mind if it turned out to be just an acclimatization day. The trend in the hut was to start hiking at 2 AM. We weren’t in any big hurry to get going, but after all the commotion of the others getting ready, we were on the trail at 3:15. It seemed as thought the wind had picked up overnight and I wondered what it would be like at the more exposed elevations.
From the night before, it looked as though we would be on snow after about 1200′ and an hours worth of hiking. We opted to go Teton-style and hiked in our ski boots on the loose and steep trail. We passed some higher camps as we made our way up the mountain and we both quickly put on extra layers as we moved into windier and colder temps. The crampons went on at about 15,500′ and we moved through and area called The Labyrinth as the eastern skyline began to glow. By about 6:30 both of us were pretty chilled, and yearned for the warmth of the sun. We tried to find a spot sheltered from the wind, without much success, to wait for it’s arrival at close to 16,500K’.
I was pretty chilled by the time the sun was fully up and I could defiantly feel the lack of oxygen in the air. Though I didn’t have a headache or stomach pain, I did feel a bit tired. I was hoping the wind would subside with the rise of the sun, but it continued to blow and Jason and I both questioned whether the snow would soften up today. We had come here to ski corn-snow (though we would have taken powder too) and by the time we got to 17,000′ it didn’t look like it was going to happen today. The forecast was for continued clear skies, so rather than skiing boilerplate today, we decided to descend and get a later start the next day, giving the snow more time to soften up, as well as putting us in better shape, altitude-wise, to enjoy the descent. We stashed our skis behind some rocks on the way down.
The reality of the hut showed itself as we killed the rest of the day down at camp. Many people seemed to visit the hut throughout the day. Some were on their own on motorcycles and others came in groups crammed in the back of pick-up trucks. Honestly, it was a little unnerving to have all the visitors. The most interesting was the guy who pushed his mountain bike up the 4X4 road (not sure where he started, but I had a feeling it was pretty far away) and then continued up towards the mountain. Not a big deal really, what was interesting though was the stack of Dixie cups strapped to his backpack. He came down while I was curled up in my sleeping bag, trying to warm up my still boned chilled body, but I think he only continued up about a thousand feet.
There where much less people in the hut for the second night, but a couple of nice guys from the UK arrived and we started to get acquainted. Dave Shackleton being one of them, who sent me the photo at the top of the page from their hike up to the hut. (Thanks Dave!) We went to bed after dinner and were no hurry to start up the mountain in the morning, as the wind picked up again and dusk turned into night.
One more part to go…and finally some ski photos! I promise! 😀