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(Left): El Pico de Orizaba (Aztec name Citlaltepetl) is a big volcano located about 120 miles east of Mexico city, in Veracruz, 60 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. At about 18,800 ft., it is the third highest in North America, after Denali (Alaska Range) and Mt. Logan (St. Elias Mountains in Canada). The view here is from Tlachichuca, the traditional starting point for those climbing Orizaba from Mexico City.
(Right): El Pico de Orizaba, as seen from the rough, unpaved roads leading to the spartan huts at 14,000 ft. from where most climbers would start their ascent. One passes little villages located as high as 12,000 ft. on the way to the huts.
The faces and features of inhabitants in this area reveal their Aztec ancestry, a striking contrast to the mixed blooded, lighter-skinned "mestizos" of Mexico's bigger ciudades.
(Left): At 1:30 AM, I left the comforting presence of other climbers sound asleep in the hut to try my luck climbing solo (to my dismay Brian, with whom the night before I had agreed to climb the mountain, came down with altitude sickness and can't go). He and I were the only ones going to attempt the summit today. Getting up wasn't easy. Although I was zipped in by 6PM the night before, I didn't get much sleep and spent the night tossing and turning. What motivates people to crawl out of their sleeping bags at 1 AM into the cold, dark and scary yonder? (I don't know, but I do remember an argument raging inside my head as I reluctantly zipped up my parka and laced my boots: should I stay or should I go?--I must have come up with a dozen reasons for deciding either way...)
After 1,800 or so feet of climbing, one reaches the tongue of the Jalapa glacier (left, as seen at dawn).This usually marks the beginning of the climb's ice/snow section. On the way down, careless and exhausted from fatigue and the altitude, I slipped on a similar surface about 200 feet higher from this spot. I slipped and spun helplessly, inadvertently letting go of my ice axe. Fortunately, after 15 feet, I collided, knee first, on a rock (ouch!), arresting what would have been an express trip down.
(Left): I got to these frozen waterfalls at 16,500 feet just as the sun came up at 6:30 AM, lifting my spirits considerably. I now realize that, in all likelihood, I have Orizaba all to myself today. Old Man and the Sea? Moby Dick? At this point, I didn't feel as if I'm fighting the mountain. Orizaba all of a sudden looked friendly and inviting despite my heart beating at 160 beats per minute and my lungs trying to suck in what oxygen it can find....(continued next page)
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