The day after our three failed attempts on Iztaccihuatl we headed further east to Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico [and 3rd highest in North America], topping out at 18,491. This beauty was originally the only mountain I planned to summit while in Mexico. I had whittled down my packing list to make room for glacier gear, borrowed ice climbing weaponry and had high hopes for an epic sunrise summit.
None of that happened.
Instead, I got my ass handed to me by the altitude. Apparently I am not invincible…even with six months of living at nearly 10,000 feet in Colorado. After our final descent off Iztaccihuatl my entire body was off. I blame it on the double dose of “get you up the mountain faster” energy supplements Jeremy gave me — they may have worked for him, but they wrecked havoc on my body. My heart did weird racing beats, then it’d skip a few beats. My stomach was constantly rolling. My mind would not shut off, to the point that my head hurt from the racing gibberish.
It was weird. And it lasted two days. In the 48 hours leading up to our Orizaba attempt I slept all of four hours — two of which were just before the 12:45am alarm that signaled the start of our hopeful sunrise summit. I wanted this summit, damnit. When the alarm went off I slunk out of my sleeping bag + started pulling on my layers.
Leggings. Puffy pants. Mountaineering boots. Hat. Gaiter. Pack.
My movements felt weird, almost numb to me, as my brain pushed me through the motions. We left the empty refugio just after 1am and started our trek up. The sky above us was stunning, clear with a mini moon staring down at us. We trotted our way up the first stretch of the trail, along a concrete barrier. I kept repeating “you want this, you can do this, you want this, you can do this” in my head with each step I took.
Once we veered off the easy trail and onto the scramble things went downhill. My heart rates was mostly back to normal [when we went to bed at 10pm it was beating really strong, then really weak, then it’d skip a few beats – very abnormal for me] but I couldn’t regulate my body temperature. We were only 30 minutes into our hike and I would go from shaking with cold to cold sweats in a matter of seconds. Something was wrong.
At this point, I hadn’t told Jeremy much about what was going on. I was abnormally quiet and I’m sure he could tell my motions were “off” but I hadn’t explained what was really happening. I wanted to keep going. But…deep down, I know if I kept going neither of us were going to make the summit. The next time I started shaking I forced myself to call it…there would be no summit for me.
In my mind I had two options — continue on, hoping my body would fix itself but probably jeopardizing Jeremy’s summit + myself or call it now by going back to the refugio + bandaging up my broken ego while Jeremy snagged his second Orizaba summit. I picked the latter. I’ve had enough experience with the brutality of altitude to know that up is never the right answer.
Back at the refugio I grabbed my sleeping bag + bivvy bag out of the car to set up my little cocoon outside the building. If I wasn’t going to climb the mountain I was at least going to sleep under it, literally. I watched Jeremy’s headlamp disappear up the mountain, finally falling asleep around 3am.
…my sunrise vs Jeremy’s sunrise…
Aside from a few “what was that” wide-eyed, panicked moments it was a beautiful night. I named the little mouse [we’re still just going to stick with the delusion that there was just one] Herman and convinced myself it was a rabbit [Jerry] making all those random sounds. Oh, and I definitely kept my headlamp tucked in my hood…and turned on. You know, just in case. I have a very healthy imagination, thank you very much.
The sun lite up the sky around 6am, finally rousing me from my little bubble of sleep around 7am. I snapped a few photos then made plan — at 8:30am I would get up + put on just enough layers to start the trek up toward Orizaba, hopefully getting to the labyrinth. I sort of fell back asleep + woke up to running footsteps as Jeremy came trotting down the mountain, at 9am. A 12 hour trek, my rear…he pulled off a summit [sans crampons!] in under 8 hours.
I was still bummed about my missed summit, especially on such a massive mountain, but Jeremy got his elevation training + his summit with a silly grin on his face so my decision to wimp out was the right choice, for both of us. Plus, I started my morning feeling 100% better than I did when I called it on the mountainside. I think my body just desperately needed sleep! Needless to say, I’m avoid anything but plain ol’ caffeine for impromptu energizing from now on!
We cleaned up the refugio then made our way back down the muddy, rocky 4WD road…in our 2WD rental Jetta. That car is a beast! And the descent was easy after all the excavating we did on the way up! Once back in town we snagged tacos and started our drive back toward Mexico City. But we didn’t make it all the way to Mexico City that day. Instead, we decided to make the most of our last bit of time outside the city and found ourselves another mountain to climb before camping out with a random stray dog…more to come on that.