March ’91. We’d relocated to Mexico a year before. I worked at an Ad agency, and had decided to “brush up” my scant German. (No relationship whatsoever). So I took classes at the Goethe Institüt. During breaks we talked between classmates. I told about my climb of Mont-Blanc in ’89. As it turned out, Manuel was a mountaineer. He said: “Why don’t we climb the Popocatepetl?” See above.
Training. L. to R. Manuel, yours truly, Carlos. The “Popo” is an old volcano (24,000 years) and the second highest mountain in Mexico, at 5,425 Meters or 17, 800 ft. Always more impressive in ft. Mexico city is at 2200 meters or 7,200 ft. Starting from Mexico city altitude meant a good 3,000 meters climb. Whatever it is you decide to do, you can probably do it. BUT. Never forget training. We trained for several week-ends before the climb, on nearby hills. Trai-ning. Trai-ning!
The “Popo” has, or had snow on top during winter. There were two ways of access. Left, via “Tres cruces”, which is basically a long hike. Right, see the pointy ridge with no snow? That is the Ventorillo. Lots of semi-rotten volcanic rocks. Technically much more difficult. Casualties every year. We chose left. No point in being stupid. Mont-Blanc had been enough for me. (See the White Mountain)
4 AM, at the Amecameca refuge. Part of the Mountaineering theatre is getting up at 4 AM. After a bad night in the refuge. Makes you feel the “Adventure”. Also avoids the later blaring sun… Left, Carlos. Centre, in a red sweater, Federico. Amecameca is about 70 kms away from Mexico city. You drive the night before, have a light dinner, try to sleep at the shelter. And off you go. 4 AM. Way too early.
The Moon at dawn. Mountain top is to the left.
Two mountains at dawn. In the centre, the Ixtaccihuatl. Name means the “White woman.” Plenty of snow in the winter. The shape as seen from the side resembles a sleeping “Princess”. The “Ixta” is slightly lower than the “Popo”, but much more difficult technically. Our “own” target summit is to the right. The sensation that day was unique. The silent mountains. Not a noise. No city rumble. Peace. And watching the sun rise. Back on your feet folks. Still a few thousand meters to climb.
There’s our volcano. The Popo, seen from Tres cruces. Look at the three crosses to the right? It is said that Cortes crossed here on his way from Tlaxcala to Tenochtitlán, today’s Mexico city. That snowy peak was our destination. A good hike.
The Ixta again, later in the day. To the right on the horizon is the peak of Orizaba, Mexico’s highest mountain. And up we go. Again.
Now the “fun” begins. It is daylight. Climbing in volcanic sand. “Sand” for lack of a better word. Basically grey pulverized lava. Slope is fine, one just zig-zags up the mountain, but the terrain is treacherous. The sand is soft. Mountain boots sink in a couple of inches. And sometimes you feel you go up two steps, and back down one. Keep breathing steadily. Breathing is the key. One step at a time. Going up to the right.
And to the left. And to the right. And to the left.
And the wind started to blow. Lifting the tiny particles of grey sand. Blowing in your face when you go left. In your back when you climb right. Obviously you cover your nose and mouth on the left hike. Can’t wait to turn right and breathe. Here we took a short break, behind rocks. I ended up with sand in my teeth.
“Captain oh my Captain”, is that the end?”.
“Nope, we’re going around to the left.”
(Scheize!) (We weren’t taught that at the Goethe but it felt appropriate to the situation)
Well, we made it to the top. L. to r. Carlos, Federico’s girlfriend whose name escapes me (my apologies), and yours truly. What lies down below?
That, my dear friends, is the volcano’s crater. With a small lake at the bottom. Green with sulphur. The mouth of Hell I guess. Sulphur gasses emanated form the crater. Not enough to be dangerous, but we all went home smelling of the Devil. Literally.
That sight is unique. None of us expected it. There were no aerial views of the crater then. Too risky to fly a plane above maybe? So this view is our very own personal treasure…
We made it to the top and back. Safely, the entire team all in one piece. 5,272 meters high on that side. My highest ever. (I have no interest in “doing” Everest”. 17,000 feet plus change is fine for me.)
I did go back “solo” to the “Popo” a coupla times, but that, “Best beloved”, is another story. A few years later, the sleeping volcano erupted and is now fully alive. Can’t climb the Popocatepetl “no more”.
This is what the “Popo” looks like now. Taken from the Ixta. (c)ourtesy Karen. I didn’t climb the Ixta. She did. With my mountain boots. (At least my boots did the climb) 🧗♀️ . Ashes from the “Popo” sometimes reach Mexico city. One gets them on the windshield
Thank you for hiking with Equinoxio Travels… Thank you to Malcom Lowry for the title. What will your next mountain be?