Monday, October 29, 2007

Header Image

The above header image you have seen now for a week of my high camp on El Pico de Orizaba at 16,500ft was taken by A. Picard on my last adventure on that mountain in 2005. Here is a picture of A.P. that I took of him 7,000ft below, three days earlier in the tree line(off to the bottom left of the tent pic on the opposite ridge the clouds are pouring over) El Pico is an 18,511ft volcanic cone in southern Puebla Mexico at the bottom of the Sierra Madre range and is North Americas 3rd tallest mountain. I first learned of this mountain when my friend Euro Nate suggested it as a potentially good place to get in an alpine climb with altitude and glacier travel with a very fair budget.

The first trip I planned in 2002 was a self written 8 day itinerary that lead to a day 6 summit try. On that morning Ballsberry, R.J.(R.J R.J), Domras and I left out of high camp at 0400hrs though the hummocky petrified lava flow up to the glacier. A foot of new snow had fallen over night and our headlamps made the surface look like it was covered in diamond dust. The way upwards through the flow is a little confusing, it is about 800ft of climb with all these chutes and steps leading up to an exit on the plain that the glacier meets the mountain on. R.J. and I led out and within 20 minutes stopped on a step and looked back and down towards our high camp. It was cold, the air crystal clear and we could see the headlamps of Ballsberry and Domras approaching. It was so quiet up there we could only hear the axes against the hard lava and our breathes. We wound up being in that flow longer than expected because the new snow in the gullies changed the way the route had looked to us just the day before. We were an hour behind some sort of internally dictated schedule when we made the glacier, cramponed up and started the last 1,500 feet up a 47-52 degree ice slope for the summit. Even though the sun had been up for 2 hours the sky was dark grey, the clouds were at the same height we were, the wind began to pick up and it started snowing tiny little snow pellets. After two hours of slow upward plodding we were 400ft from the summit but could only see maybe 30ft in all directions. I remember looking down the slope towards Balls and Domras who faded in and out of the thick grey cloud. The four of us were together at 18,000ft at the base of the final summit cone for about an hour when I realized that the only choice was to go down.

R.J. looked at my face through his ice covered goggles and talked over the wind, "Billy, you think this is stupid enough yet?" As we descended off the glacier I realized I would come back one day, I just did not realize that I would come back more than once. I have been there twice since that original trip and will post the highlights if those trips in the future.

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