Rising more than 5,600 meters above sea level in south-central Mexico, Pico de Orizaba is the tallest mountain in the country and third highest in North America. Also known as Citlaltépetl in the region’s indigenous language, the peak is a dormant stratovolcano which last erupted in the 19th century.
Due to both its location —it can be seen all the way from the Gulf of Mexico— and unique shape, the mountain has various different microclimates and terrains along its slopes.
The volcanic crater at the top is asymmetrical with its eastern end rising steeply and casting a shadow over the rest of the mountain during the hottest part of the day. This natural phenomenon has allowed a glacier to exist on the northwestern portion of the summit, which is also the least steep and therefore the most popular route taken by mountaineers.
It is widely considered an excellent challenge for people getting into mountaineering. Due to its altitude and topography, it also makes for an excellent training mountain for more experienced climbers eyeing a trip to Denali or the Andes in the near future.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know before planning your own mountaineering adventure to Pico de Orizaba’s summit.
There are two primary climbing routes to the summit of Pico de Orizaba, Ruta del Sur and the Jampa Glacier route. The Jampa Glacier route is a bit longer, but is technically less challenging and the preferred route of most guides. The Ruta del Sur is shorter, but far steeper and technically more difficult.
For climbing trips to Pico de Orizaba, guides will either meet you in Mexico City or Puebla. Both have airports, so where you meet often comes down to your preference.
After meeting up with your guide, you will either drive to Tlachichuca and then take a 4×4 to the Piedra Grande mountain hut. This is where you begin your ascent for the Jampa Glacier route.
For those taking the Ruta del Sur, you will drive from the meeting point to either El Ciudad Serdan or Atzinzitla, then take a 4×4 to the Fausto Gonzales hut.
Most ascents of Pico de Orizaba will take about 15 hours from the mountain hut to the summit and back. You will usually wake up and begin climbing by 1 a.m. in order to reach the summit by 10 a.m. and return to the starting mountain hut by 4 p.m.
Many guides will add a day of hiking before the trip in order to get everyone properly acclimatized. Depending on your skill level some guides may also add another day in order to review the necessary mountaineering techniques.
From starting point back to starting point, most trips take two or three days.
The Jampa Glacier route is perfect for beginners with some previous mountaineering experience. The Ruta del Sur is tougher and better suited for more advanced climbers and intermediate climbers training for more difficult future ascents of Denali or the Andes.
Regardless of route, it is important to be fit before signing up for this trip. You should be able to hike with a fairly heavy pack for 15 hours at a time with only short breaks. Many guides recommend both endurance and core training as appropriate preparation.
Due to its altitude and unique location, Pico de Orizaba experiences several different climates.
The mountain itself is located in a subtropical zone, but becomes more temperate and eventually alpine, the higher up you go. The top is generally below freezing year-round. For this reason, it is advisable to dress in layers.
Many guides offer trips to the summit all year, but the best time to go is during the dry season, which runs from November to May.
The following equipment is highly recommended for this climb. Most guides will provide you with the technical climbing gear such as a helmet and harness; ice axe; crampons; cooking and camping equipment; ropes kit; and GPS.
Before catching your flight to Mexico, be sure to pack the following personal items: water purification tablets; comfortable and waterproof lightweight boots; a 30-litre backpack; headlamp with extra batteries; sunscreen and sunglasses; thermal underwear; comfortable and athletic pants (no denim); breathable long-sleeve shirt; thermal sweater or sweatshirt; waterproof jacket; hat or cap; liner gloves and thick and waterproof ones; thermal socks (preferably one pair cotton and two pairs wool and one pair polypropylene).
Depending on the guide and type of trip you have signed up for, prices start at $500 per person for a small private trip. This will generally include the guiding fee, personal climbing equipment and some camping equipment.
Larger group trips usually cost a bit less and prices also vary depending on whether they include transport to the start of the trip and entrance/permit fees.
Some guides incorporate climbing Pico de Orizaba into a longer itinerary that also includes sightseeing in Mexico City and/or mountaineering expeditions up other nearby mountains. These trips can cost anything from $850 to $3.300 per person.
Pico de Orizaba is located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, which is where you will find the best mountaineering peaks in the country. Other frequently climbed mountains in the area include Nevado de Toluca, Iztaccíhuatl and La Malinche.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your epic mountaineering experience up to the summit of Pico de Orizaba right now!
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