“At first an ordeal and then an accomplishment, the daily run becomes a staple, like bread, or wine, a fine marriage, or air. It is also a free pass to friendship.”
~ Benjamin Cheever, Strides

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pico de Orizaba - Guest Post

As many of you know, my Dad recently climbed to the summit of Orizaba in Mexico with RMI.  What follows is his recap of the climb and some pretty awesome pictures.
Climbing Pico de Orizaba 18,701'
High camp is set at ~13,800'. We set up our tents, eat an early dinner and head to bed at 6 PM. 

My Dad at High Camp

The guides wake us at 11:30pm. We have one hour to get ready for the climb. Getting ready consist of packing your pack, eating breakfast, drinking water and getting dressed. We begin the climb wearing avalanche transceivers, climbing harnesses and a rock helmet with a headlamp. Crampons and ice ax are tightly strapped to the outside of the pack. We hit the trail at 12:30 am.

The first stretch of the climb is a broken steep trail over mostly rock and scree, with a little ice and snow. After 2 hours and 15 minutes we arrive at the base of the labyrinth.The labyrinth is a series of steep gullies filled with ice, snow and rock.  It is time to put on our crampons, get out the ice axes and rope up. We set up in three four man rope teams. We carefully work our way up through the labyrinth gullies. We do our best to maintain efficient foot work work, alternating between crossover step, goose step and rest step techniques. However the difficult terrain makes efficiency difficult for us less experienced climbers. It takes about one and one half hour to clear the labyrinth at which point the climb levels out for a very short period. We are now somewhere around 16,000' elevation.

After the labyrinth, comes the Jamba glacier. The Jambo Glacier is relatively straight forward, and there are no crevasses, but it is very steep.  I have heard estimates ranging from 30-45 degree slope for the glacier, either way it is steep and a slip not properly arrested could turn into a long fall.  
Rest stop on the Jamba Glacier - note that the ice axe is planted to keep the poles from sliding down.
There is no established route up the glacier, so we just make our own little switch backs up the glacier. It seems pretty simple (unless heights bother you), just keep 'rest stepping' up the glacier, but it goes on for hours and hours. 
Making their way up the glacier
We see a rock that is supposed to be about one hour from the summit. I swear it was getting no closer after three hours. 
On the glacier with the elusive rock
The rock not getting closer is one thing, but the oxygen keeps getting scarcer and catching your breath is much harder. At least one pressure breath per step is needed now. A pressure breath is a forced exhale through pursed lips to help take deeper breaths and get more oxygen into your system. At sea level, atmospheric pressure is higher and your lungs naturally breath deeper. At high altitude, the lower atmospheric pressure requires extra focus to get the limited oxygen deep into your lungs, The higher you go, the more you need to pressure breathe.
A view looking back down the mountain
Finally after almost 10 hours we reach the summit ridge and the short traverse to the summit. 
My Dad's rope team approaching the summit, he is the second from the left.
The scenery is amazing. The skies are clear and even the winds are light! It was simply an "oh wow" moment.
My Dad's rope team on the summit
Entire RMI team on the summit
We are not done yet. We must descend. The real objective of a climb is to safely return, the summit is always optional. Most mountaineering injuries and deaths occur during the descent. It is more dangerous to descend and you are tired. Staying focused after a long day is critical. The guides like to move to the back of the rope team for the descent, so they can see any problems. I am leading the rope team now and trying to carefully maintain a steady pace and route. At one point, I hear the dreaded "falling" shout from one of my teammates.  I drop to knee, plant my ice ax and set feet in the self arrest position.  Fortunately, it was just a little slip and my teammate fully arrested on the fall and I felt no tug on my rope. That was the only excitement on the descent.  Before long we are off the glacier and now must work our way back down the labyrinth. Once down the labyrinth we remove our crampons and hike down the rock and scree. We arrive back at our tents almost 13 hours after we left. Mission accomplished.
My Dad enjoying a bagel on the summit of Orizaba
Here is a video summary of the climb shot by one of the guides:

Orizaba Summit from JJ Justman on Vimeo.

Thanks Dad for writing up this recap!

So, who wants to climb a mountain now???


  1. OMGosh DAD!!!! way to go :) those photos were like something out of K2 ;) and you should be so proud of yourself. I'd love to climb something one day but I hate the cold. Although I imagine in those huge survivor suits you hardly notice. YAY!!!! great guest post and super awesome parent!!!

  2. PS: that video was awesome!!!!!! 19.000 feet!!!!! WOW

  3. WOW!! Those pictures are gorgeous, and what an adventure! It makes me want to do one, although when he talked about hearing someone yell "falling" my heart started racing! :) Congrats to him, what an awesome accomplishment.

  4. Simply Amazing!!! It ALMOST makes me want to climb a mountain.

  5. Beautiful photos! Way to go to your dad! AWESOME!

  6. Oh my goodness this was amazing to read! I love the 'oh wow' summit pic and can just imagine how tired yet jubilant the climbers were. How long does one hang out at the summit before descending? Fascinating!

  7. WOW! I want to climb a mountain now! I had not idea they would start climbing in the middle of the night! Crazy?! Looks beyond words! I can't wait to see your pictures and recap after your climb!! ~R

  8. Wow, your dad is amazing! I don't really like cold & snow so I'd have to say I still don't want to climb a mountain but I can hardly wait to hear how it all goes for you guys! It'll be awesome! Amazing video & photos! Awesome.


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