6 out of 7 or how I climbed Pico de Orizaba


Me and my dad after reaching the summit

Me and my dad after reaching the summit

I do not know where to start, so I’ll start with the end: I already have six of seven volcanoes – Volcanic Seven Summits. On May 21st, along with my dad and Catalin, at 6.30 AM I’ve reached the summit.

As I said last time we all met again on the 17th in Hidalgo –a little village of just 50 households at the end of a forest road at 3400m. 5 of us have stayed overnight in Tlaciciuca, where we rented an old 4×4 car to take our equipment to the base camp, while Radu and Dana came in a car directly from La Malinche.

Here the 4×4 trucks and cars are very popular in certain areas; you only see this kind of vechicles. In Hidalgo the only decent place to live was where we were staying, made especially for climbers who go there and need acclimatization. I was surprised by the difference between the building where we were staying and where the owner lived, right on the poverty line. However, people were very friendly, always trying to help us and solve any problem that we had. And whether we thought or not that these people are very poor, it didn’t seem to mind them

On the 18th we went on foot to Piedra Grande – the refuge / base camp at 4300m. Me and my dad, we took this path once more the previous day, to help with the acclimatisation. The path is very nice, is going through a rare pine forest with a strong odour and then reaches the alpine pastures. Upon arriving, we climbed a ridge above the refuge, a very good place to study the south side of the volcano.

Nobody was at Piedra Grande besides us. We were the only climbers on the mountain probably due to being extra season. We thought this is much better: we avoided the crowd of the so called season and we had more snow on the glacier to cover the penitentes. The weather was changing often, but with a fixed schedule, like the tropical one: every day around three in the afternoon it started to rain, until 7-8 pm. We knew the rainy season hadn’t started yet, and we hoped for the rain to stop early, so we could use the daylight. At night the wind blew very hard and the refuge had some broken boards that made a hellish noise.

The first victim of altitude sickness, as usual, was Radu. He got in the sleeping bag and layed there until the next day. This time was better than other times, he had only headaches. And he improved his technique – don’t eat anything 24 hours before climbing, so he didn’t have to take any pills this time.. After we made plans for the next day and prepared the equipment, we all went to bed early.

In the tent

In the tent

On the 19th we’ve set both altitude camps: the 4500 and the 4900m. Dad, Catalin and I have climbed to 4900m on the glacier base, and we raised our Bask tent. Radu and Dana went up to 4500m and put up their North Face tent. Dad mounted a fixed rope on a waterfall that had a crevase and a stream on one side. IT wasn’t very difficult to pass over but we had to climb and descend in the dark and this way it was just safer for everyone. We spent the night at 4500m while Radu and Dana descended to Piedra Grande, where they slept one more night together with Cristian and Tudor. Even though the height difference is  not very big, the climbwas exhausting: we all had to carry equipment up and over the slopes with debris and on an unclear route – the famous maze – we were very tired in the evening.

In the morning, on the 20th, the weather improved considerably: no rain, just fog and clouds, so we all moved a camp higher. Me, Dad and Catalin, we climbed all equipment in high camp on the edge of glacier (4900m). Radu, Dana, Cristian and Tudor moved with all their equipment and supplies to 4500m then they did an acclimatisation tour to 4900m. Cristi decided to remain in the 4900m tent. He felt good and planned to climb the peak along with us.  We squeezed 4 people in a tent designed for 3, and prepared for the big test. It was cold and crowded and with all the excitement I could hardly sleep, so I listened to some music during the nightt. It is so good to have your MP3 player with you on such moments, even if Dad does not agree with it.

At 2 am, dad woke us up. It was a very cold night – rather normal for 5000m, with strong winds and no moon.
In just 30  minutes we prepared the equipment, we’ve equiped our harnesses, down jackets, torches and we tied the rope. We knew that the upper slope is very steep, up to 50% and there are some crevasses. Although an accident was not the real peril, the perspective of losing in 2 minutes what you’ve climbed for one hour is very demoralizing so tied in rope is the best way to go. Also it helps us keep pace, very important in a team. Cristi is not coming: the huge level difference of yesterday finally hit him, he is very weak and has a headache.

And we left. We do not know which is the best route, we take the straight forward one. Catalin was the leader and he started doing broader serpentines and dwell less. Time passes very slow and climbing the ridge, not knowing the exact route in the cold is not bliss, I tell you! On the other hand we moved pretty well and I felt very motivated. I have acclimatised well – I knew I followed all the steps and the program was good. After 3 hours we arrived on the ridge – the crater rim. Still we do not see how deep or where the other side is, you can just feel the abyss and that gives me the creeps. The crest is a large cornice of snow; we do not know if they are suspended or not so we decide to go a few meters below in a very long cross lateral, upward.

Four times we thought we’ve reached the top: there was no summit, was just another corner. Going for a few meters, climbing the ridge and looking anxiously for the iron cross: there was none, so we kept on moving.  A bright red line showes itself on the horizon: sunrise. Wind intensifies as we make mor use of ourl ice axes. At 6.30 we reached the summit! We are on the top! We have no time to lose. We tried for 10 minutes to shoot something – all batteries were frozen. Dad’s camera takes only five pictures with flash and then dies, although he kept it on the interior of his jacket. I do not take mine out because I’ve put the batteries separately in an inner pocket and it would take too long to assemble it. Catalin save the  situation, he’s the broader professional and thanks to him we have the best pics from the summit.

Happy

Happy!

We are tired but very happy and excited. I climbed Pico de Orizaba, the sixth volcano of the  Volcanic Seven Summits. In 30 minutes we descend quickly at 4900m. After passing the crevasses we make ourselves like sledges, descending faster this way. We are using the ice axes for brakeing. This makes the situation suddenly very funny and familiar at the same time. We don’t linger: we gather all equipment and descend further. We just leave the tent behind for our friends. Cristi descends too, still not feeling good. After another hour and a half we are in the middle camp at 4500m. There we meet Radu,Tudor and Dana. We hug and take a few minutes to rest. Radu gives us a few cups of tea, brand new and clean, very out of place here: he borrowed them from Air France, along with ear plugs and eye envelopes.

We continue the descent and after another hour, we arrive at Piedra Grande. I’m done. I am very pleased. Also tired, but more pleased. 6 out of 7!

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