After our encounter with the corrupt police the day before, we ended up making camp in a small clearing off a dirt road along the national park road that lead to Iztaccíhuatl (heretofore referred to as Izta). If you're curious about our campsites check out this handy dandy map!
In order to get on the road faster, we decided that I would make breakfast while Kelly started organizing our gear at the parking lot for the volcano. After getting off the paved, winding road leading to the park headquarters, we were on a rutted, washboarded dirt road for about an hour, which made Kelly feel a great deal of pain on behalf of Savannah.
The parking lot was at 13,000ft, which is just as high as I've ever hiked on my own (to read about that, check out this post), and Kelly, who used to live in Colorado, has only hiked to a bit over 14,000ft.
As I cooked breakfast (more like brunch at this point) and Kelly organized all our gear, a stray dog captured our hearts, but wouldn't let us get too close. As I cooked I chatted with a porter named Rogelio, who was waiting on a group of americans who had spent three days on the volcano. Apparently the dog had been abandoned by a bad man, and there was no fresh water for him, so he had to rely on the kindness of adventurous strangers for subsistence. Kelly was able to give him a bar, but he wouldn't come close enough for us to give him any water, sadly.
As soon as we were ready, we blasted off! Then, about 10 minutes later, we slowed way down after hitting a steep hill, the first of many. The altitude was intense, with any uphill effort making our hearts race wildly.
The trail was not forgiving, providing only rare, brief sections of flat trail. Most commonly, we were heading straight uphill on gravel, or picking our way up steplike boulders. The views on the way up were stunning, though, which gave us amazing views to take in on our numerous short stops to catch our breath.
At one point, just after a quick water break, we continued on... in the wrong direction. I led us straight up the hill, as I had come to expect from this route, and I saw a small trail and cairns that confirmed to me we were on the right track. The actual, well worn trail, however, continued flat for a short time from our break spot, then wrapped around a cliff band and then up to a saddle in the mountains. I led us up the hill that goes on the top side of the cliff. Eventually we realized my mistake when we could see the trail about 60 feet below the cliff, but we hoped the cliff would provide a weakness higher up that we could use to regain the trail.
In the backs of our minds, we both worried that might not happen and we would have to turn back and all the effort of taking this direction would be lost. I sped ahead, taking fewer breaks than Kelly, so that if that were the case she wouldn't have quite as far to go. I finally made it to the top and saw the trail, far below, wrap around the next slope. Shit.
I shouted to Kelly to stop at a spot with three medium sized cairns to wait for me, as I had seen there might be a gully we could scramble down to at least not go all the way back to our old break spot. After another quick water break at the cairns, we were able to pick our way down the class II-III gulley back to the gravely trail.
As we hiked ever higher, the wildflowers gave way to bear grass, which soon gave way to bare rock.
We made slow but steady progress up the seemingly never ending trail. Sadly there were small pieces of trash every 10-30 feet, and at flatter sections even toilet paper tucked away between rocks. We passed other parties every so often, many of whom seemed to be day hikers, a demographic we hadn't expected to encounter on this intense trail! One day hiker we encountered at one of our rest spots was particularly talkative, emphatically describing to us a red and white object we should look out for (the reason remains to be seen) and a hole in the rock we can climb through later on.
We continued on, and eventually solved the mystery of the red and white object. It turns out at a scrambly section up higher, there are two metal stakes painted red and white to denote the route where the trail might not be sufficient on the bare rock.
It was starting to get later than we had expected to be hiking with still no sign of the hut for high camp. We knew it must be close, as we could see high peaks ahead that had no business housing a hut, but we simply did not have the knowledge of when it would appear. Finally, however, we rounded a hill and saw the silvery hut a few hundred feet below with a GLORIOUS down hill trail to reach it.
We dumped our packs in the hut, which could sleep about 12, then sat on my thermarest outside the hut to warm up in the sun with some quesadillas we'd prepared for meals on the trip. We were so exhausted by then that we ended up just laying there for about half an hour before we could summon the energy to set our stuff up to sleep for the night.
By then we were both rocking some decent headaches from the altitude, so despite having packed playing cards and drawing materials, we ended up just crashing at about 8pm. As we were heading to sleep, we saw a mouse playing about on one of the lower bunks, which we had read was a thing in this hut. We stashed all our food in one of our day packs and kept it in between us to make sure mice didn't get into it!
It took us about an hour or two to finally get our heartrates to slow down, as they were still in overdrive from the altitude. It felt like our hearts were beating at the rate they might for a brisk jog, except we were laying in bed trying to go to sleep. It was pretty messed up. As soon as it felt like I could finally go to sleep, the mouse we had seen apparently decided it was time to practice his gymnastics routine, as he started making a ton of noise rocketing about the area we'd seen him in earlier. Despite that, we managed to fall into fitful dozes.
At about 1:30am, a group of three climbers arrived at the hut, a woman and two men. They hung around inside for a bit chatting, mentioning us a couple times (we kept quiet and pretended to be sleeping), then the woman and a man left the hut, leaving the second man inside, who settled in.
Then at 4:30am, another group of more climbers, all men, arrived. There were probably 4-6 of them, and they stayed perhaps half an hour, loudly talking about gear in spanish before heading out as well.
Kelly and I finally started getting moving at around 7am, and got started up the trail at 8am. While we were getting our gear for the climb packed in our day packs and our overnight gear tucked away in our bigger packs in the rafters of the hut, we chatted with the lone climber left behind from the group that arrived at 1:30am.
He was a guide, but he was forced to stay behind because his headlamp had run out of batteries. His co-guide and client had gone ahead. He gave us advice on where we should hit next on our travels, like Sumidero Canyono in the state of Chiapas, or the Yucatan Peninsula. He also told us that in the night, he had apparently been woken by the mouse including his forehead in its gymnastic routine, which put a swift end to any attempts he was making at sleep. We were glad we picked the second level bunks!
After chatting while getting our stuff together, we were finally on our way. The trail started off hard with a steep, gravely uphill for about 600ft of gain to the class II+ scramble section, marked with yellow blazes to denote the easiest route ahead. Before tackling the scramble we had a quick water break where we were passed by the woman and her guide on their way down. Apparently she had succumbed to altitude sickness and turned around at the knees of the sleeping woman. Undeterred, we picked our way among the rock from one false summit to the next until we finally reached the ridgeline, marked by the remains of an old hut. We took a quick break there before moving along the ridgeline with one down hill quickly followed by another uphill as we snaked from one summit to the next, each one higher than the last.
At one of our breaks, we discussed the time. It was growing a little late, and we had told the rangers we would return by 4:00pm. We decided our turnaround time should be 11:30am to ensure we had time to get back down by 4.
By 11:00, we made it to one of the lesser summits of the volcano at 16,850ft and could see the entire remaining route to the true summit. We estimated it would take us at least two hours round trip from where we stood, and concluded that, while we were certainly physically capable of reaching the summit, it would be foolish to run out the clock. We turned back and headed the way we came.
While we were disappointed not to make the true summit, we noted that we still did very well for our first real taste of mountaineering and that we should be proud of our accomplishment!
The way back proved to be remarkably fast going, likely due to a combination of knowing the route and landmarks and moving downhill.
Once we reached the hut, day hikers had had time to reach the interesting 15,000ft landmark and had swarmed the place, taking pictures and milling about. We stayed just long enough to repack our bags with our sleeping gear and a quick snack before heading off. It was quite comforting being able to know exactly where and how intense the few uphills would be on the return trip; it put a bit of pep in our steps!
I soon realized that my choice of gear was severely lacking. I wore La Sportiva boots I'd gotten well used from a webforum for $15, and the treads were now nearly nonexistant. About 70%-80% of the trail was on loose gravel on top of rock or hard packed dirt. This was all find and good coming up, but on the way down I would slip and slide all over the place if I wasn't careful. I had two wipeouts where I seemed to warp through space and time from standing up to laying among the rocks, and countless instances of leaping catlike from slippery stance to slippery stance until I could regain my footing. Lesson learned: Retire gear when it needs to be!
After only about 2 1/2 or 3 hours we made it back to the parking lot. We just hucked our bags into Savannah and headed out, dreaming of beer, a hot dinner, and a cheap hotel room. We made it to the ranger station/park headquarters just a few minutes before 4:00pm!
Upon reaching the gate (which someone from the station across the ample parking lot had to open for us), I hopped out, ducked under the gate, and headed for the station to fetch someone to let us out. Just as I was reaching the building a ranger was coming out and gestured for me to get on the back of his 4-wheeler. I got on and hung on to the bars for dear life as he bumped and bucked along the extremely rutted parking lot.
After Kelly and I made it through the gate and breathed a sigh of relief upon reaching smooth pavement again, we beelined for a $16USD hotel room that seemed like a 5-star resort to us after the last few weeks.
Next up: The Yucatan Peninsula or Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas!
Hike from the parking lot at 13,000ft to high camp in the Grupo De Los Cien hut at 15,000ft, spend the night there, then make a bid for the summit of Iztaccíhuatl at 17,159ft.
Kelly and I make our first stab at real mountaineering objective, a volcano called Iztaccíhuatl, or the Sleeping Lady, with the summit at just over 17,000ft. We make it to a sub peak (the knees of the sleeping lady) at 16,850ft before we need to turn back due to reaching our turn-around time.
If there's something I wrote too little about, make a comment or reach out to ask to hear more, I'd love to answer any questions!