Reaching the Peak
A Trip report from pico de Orizaba
with STEVEN REINHOLD & Lee Trebotich
STEVEN REINHOLD & Lee TrebOTICH 〡 May 5th, 2022
COSMICis the word that comes to mind in describing that moment when you first lay eyes on your mountain objective. That first glimpse sets off a mixture of emotions ranging from “What was I thinking” to “I got this". All of our dreams, all of our hard-work, and all of our hours spent training lead up to this moment and this one gut reaction.
Orizaba (aw·ruh·zaa·buh), known as Citlaltépetl to the locals, is the highest peak in Mexico at 18,491’ which makes it the third highest summit in North America behind Denali (Alaska) and Mt. Logan (Canada). It’s the 7th most topographically prominent peak on the planet and the world’s second most prominent volcano behind only Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania).
Bottom line - it's a BIG mountain!
Getting to Orizaba was an adventure in and of itself for our team. What was supposed to be an easy travel itinerary turned into an epic agenda. Severe weather delayed our first flight for hours which caused us to land right in the middle of Mexico City’s notorious rush hour. This delay turned our three hour ride to San Miguel Zoapan into a six hour crawl. After resting up overnight at the Orizaba Mountain Guide hacienda we loaded up a classic Jeep Wagoneer — wood panels included — and slowly made our way up the 4x4 road to Camp Oso at 14,000’.
Our acclimatization hike quickly turned into an impromptu scouting trip for future ice climbs — such is life when you travel through the mountains with true ice fiends. Once we were done exclaiming our ohhhhs, ahhhhs and whoaaa bros our guide, Max, let us know about the disappearing ice routes on Orizaba. He explained how only a few of the epics remain and showed us where the glacier came to when he was a child, hundreds upon hundreds of feet below where we stood. This story seems to be repeated on our travels and solidified our sentiment that the time is now to visit the great, glaciated peaks of the world.
Scouting the best routes in preparation for the mornings mission.
The ever-present anticipation of summit day created an intrinsic need for us to prepare for the accent. We sharpened our crampons, double-checked our climbing gear and shook down our bags, one last time, to ensure that no unnecessary weight would be carried to the summit. After our gear was dialed-in the feeling of amped up anticipation faded into an energetic joy. We shared coffee and climbing stories, amongst other things, became fast-friends and planned numerous far-flung future expeditions together!
Lee sharpening this crampons and getting dialed for the next morning.
Max and Lee enjoying the morning at basecamp.
Max showing off his gifted base layer from Lee.
We climb for the cultural experience.
In truth, we had no idea that Mexico had such majestic mountains and was home to such a robust climbing community. As we climbed with Max Alvarez, one of the shining stars from this community, our world-view expanded exponentially! One particularly poignant moment came when Lee felt compelled to give his base layer to Max.
The night before the accent.
The surreal hours surrounding an alpine start are normally quite dreamy but this time I woke up to a nightmare.
As I woke to the sound of our midnight alarm an internal alarm began to drown out everything else — I was sick and I had to throw up. This wasn’t your typical throw up, either. This was one of those full body exorcism type vomits where you momentarily lose a part of your soul.
Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end for my day and after a somewhat stubborn, somewhat valiant attempt I practiced a rare moment of self-care and turned back toward camp just before reaching the halfway point. That was a tough decision, it was my first retreat on a mountain objective but it was the right call. It allowed me the opportunity to rest up and give Lee and Max an unimpeded attempt at the summit.
The crew started their accent at 1AM. Climbing into the sunrise.
Reaching the peak!
Pico's shadow during the sunrise.
As Lee put it, “It was a grueling 2.5 hrs up the glacier. As we neared the top I could definitely feel the altitude and every movement required 5-7 deep breaths. The last five steps, in particular, were so hard and exhausting. When Max and I finally reached the top the view took away what little breath we had. As I stood on top of Pico de Orizaba, the pain went away and my body gained a boost of energy and confidence! We hung around for 15 minutes, put our heads together one last time on the summit and began the long descent back to basecamp. Later on we were greeted by our now basecamp manager, Steven, with coffee and the best cup of agua I have ever had".
Lee and Max returning to basecamp after 9.5 hours in the field.
I estimated how quickly they would descend and sat, steady watching the Notch leading into the Ricardo Direct — knowing Lee and Max would be the only ones taking this alternate route which we had explored the day before and named for a friend. Finally, the moment I had been patiently waiting for came to fruition. Lee’s ultra bright red hoodie exploded into view! I shouted out an echoing holler and began waving them in. In that moment of excitement I was set free from my ailments and rambled around basecamp preparing for their welcome.
From out in the distance I barely perceived a raspy request from Lee for “agua.” I grabbed my camera and rushed out to meet them with what he would later describe as “the best cup of water I’ve ever had!” For the rest of the evening we celebrated like mountaineers and openly dreamed about climbing the disappearing ice routes together.
And then, like typical Mountaineers, we started planning the next climb before we ever even departed.
Steven Reinhold has worked in the outdoor industry for over a decade. He has traveled the world in pursuit of adventure. Steven is a mountain guide, turned owner of The Appalachian Adventure Company.
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