This long term travel is the occasion to try new things, to self-experiment, to do things I wouldn’t do otherwise, to push the doors that most people wouldn’t. To push my limits and in doing so, learning about myself, finding my way, my lifestyle. And when I find good things, I want to inspire people to do the same things. Here I just followed my crazy dreams, my intuition and can only recommend you to do the same. When you have something ahead of you that excites you and is close to your heart but just few things slow you down in taking the decision to go for it, just go for it !
PICO DE ORIZABA – HIGHEST PEAK IN MEXICO
We were in Mexico D.F, made a friend from Orizaba who invited us. So our Mexican trip was starting to the East of the Country. Once again, going without expectations, in the unknown. Like my Kung-fu instructor was saying “Just go, see what happens”. I was doing a minimum of research on the nice alternative places to visit and activities to do in Mexico . On this really cool travel blog in French called “Voyageurs du net“, I found an article “Pico de Orizaba : une ascension vers les neiges volcaniques du Mexique” (an ascent to the volcanic snows of Mexico). It describes a volcano, the highest peak of Mexico, third highest in North America with 5675m of altitude! Not too technical to climb, with a stunning view of the landscapes around… Now hold on ! Orizaba, that’s we’re I’m going ?! At this point, zero thinking, but I knew that was an adventure for me. There was no way I would miss such an opportunity.
So we’re on our way to Orizaba, hitchhiking there was amazing. I give myself the weekend to prepare for the climb. Time to gather some information and ask around for help. I know there’s some minimum equipment required and I have none of it. The temperature up the summit is around -10°c and I only have summer clothing. I find some really useful informations on this website : www.summitpost.org/pico-de-orizaba/. It tells you that it is a very popular peak to climb, not very technical, but very high. There is all the information required for equipment, guides etc. Personally, I don’t like it so much because it is all too touristy to my opinion. It all looks like it is shaped for the many adventurers from the US who come with a big load of USD, fly to D.F, get a taxi all the way to the refuge, climb it with a guide, take a picture and go back home.
This is not really my style, I like it authentic, I like it cheap. I ask around for advice. A friend of mine from Quebec had been there few month earlier. He tells me a 25 year old guy from the US had died there in January and him and his brother turned around at 5000m because of altitude sickness… This is a little worrying. I quickly look up on the web for accidents on the pico… It’s not a good idea to look up accidents on the pico!
Personally, in terms of fitness I feel like I have a reasonable level, but recently I hurt my calves running too long with my LUNA sandals . It is recommended to go for around 3k on the first runs, I went for 10k because I didn’t feel tired. Despite doing good stretches and massages, my calves have been hurting me for two weeks. I played touch rugby which didn’t help as well…
GO JOJO GO!!
It’s Wednesday, I’m ready! I packed enough food and water. I have some just warm enough clothing. I am well determined, I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know everything will be just fine. I take a bus in the direction of Tlachichuca (the nearest village to the pico). The bus driver forgets to drop me at the right stop, I end up in Serdan and hitchhiked to Tlachichuca. I only waited 5 minutes and I get a ride. Once at the village I ask for the “Conchola” family. They have a very good reputation. I haven’t had such a good experience at an outdoor store in Orizaba. The lady couldn’t give me a smile, I don’t do business with people who can’t give a smile. At this village people give me various indications to get to this family. Finally an old lady sees me with all my gear, she’s a neighbor of the family and will take me there. She must be quite a local star as all the people we cross are very nice to her.
I finally meet Maribel Conchola, she is nice and knows how to give a simple smile. She looks at me, alone, wanting to climb the pico with my Salomon trail running shoes… She gives me some proper mountaineering boots, with crampons and ice axe for 500 Pesos ($38.5 USD). I chose not to take a guide as I imagine it is way beyond my budget. Also most people take a 4×4 ride to get to the refuge which is 500 pesos more. At this point I thought walking to the refuge would be a good warm up for the climb. She advices me to go now as it is quite a long walk to the refuge. I have two maps and a compass, all’s good. The second topographic map shows the refuge in the middle “Albergue alpine”. I only have to go East…
DAY 1: HIKE TO THE REFUGE
It’s 1pm, the sun is shinning. I have about 20km with an elevation of 1200m to walk. My backpack with the rented gear must now weigh around 20kg. It’s going to be a long and very lonely walk. I hitch two rides to get to the nearby village. Rides in very authentic pickup trucks of local farmers. Then starts the walk through the fields to get to the next village. The air is very dry, the ground is only dust. Dust that goes everywhere, in my mouth, in my nose, in my eyes… Walking up with this backpack is very exhausting, I have to drink a lot. On the way, I encounter few nice locals. They are very poor, like many people in Mexico, they see white people as a source of money. And here I literally had nothing, I gave everything to rent the equipment and there was no ATMs in Tlachichuca.
Now I am past the last village before the refuge. Following the 4×4 tracks, all alone, hoping one of these 4x4s would go by and give me a ride, as it starts being tough to walk up. With the altitude, the lack of oxygen, the sun, the weigh of the backpack, walking uphill all the time is very tiring. My heartbeat goes crazy all the time. I very often have to stop to rest and drink . Here my “reasonable” level of fitness is seriously being challenged!
This walk seems to never end. At one point, I am in the forest and can’t see the Pico, which is quite something as this Pico is huge! I have been going North for a while now, and I should be going East. The different tracks on the way can be confusing. I decide to follow the same track, after some time I realize that I am on the right track, it’s just that it’s a very long walk! Finally I am out of this forest, the sun is setting, the track is going South/East in the direction of the Pico. This walk really shows me how much this Pico is a GIANT!!
Now it gets dark and cold (between 5 and 10°c). I get my headlamp and a hoodie out. I have no idea how far I am from the refuge. At this point, my energy level is at a very low level. It reminds me when I walked the OXFAM trailwalker, 100km in 28 hours. I’m on the reserve of energy, my nerves are driving me, I feel very weak. Still I can’t find this refuge. I am in a complete darkness and I feel cold. I don’t want to sleep outside. I have no other solution but to keep on walking, hoping to finally find that refuge. I am all alone in the dark, giving it all. But somehow, even if it never seems to end, I feel like I’m going to make it to the refuge.
At last, I see a light! Some people, somewhere in the dark. It must be the refuge. I flash my headlight in their direction, blow my emergency whistle. I start to cry, thinking that they would come to help me. My body is empty. Finally, nobody comes to help me, I am so disappointed. I push a little more and finally make it to the refuge. There I see three guys, they are guides for this company that I really don’t recommend HG Mexico. They look at me like I am crazy to come here on my own in the dark. But still they didn’t think about helping me. I get inside and start feeling very bad. I have a headache from the altitude (4200m) and I am cold. They are making tea, don’t even think about proposing a cup. I don’t even feel like eating. I just want to rest. I try to write a message to Anne-Laure, but there is no network. She must worry a lot…
They are actually five guides who are here for a German guy. He has the thickest sleeping bag I have ever seen. I have no mattress and just a standard blanket. I struggle put all my clothing and use my emergency blanket. Despite all of this I can’t find any sleep. I’m cold, sick, can’t find a confortable way to sleep. It’s a nightmare.
At this point I think there is no way I am going to make it up the summit.
DAY 2: HOPE HAS COME, TIME TO REST
I haven’t slept, still I get up and make some food. I go outside to enjoy the day. I think that this challenge was just too big for me. I am not a hero but at least it has been an interesting challenge to walk up the refuge. I just hope that I can get a ride back down to the village, because I really don’t feel like walking down. The guys from HG are not any nicer to me. The German guy had left for the Pico at 1am and arrives at 10am at the refuge with his guide, “ARF, IT WAS VERY EASY!” What a show off…
Next to the refuge, there was a tent. From that tent comes out a guy who comes talk to me. He’s cool. Then his girlfriend comes out, they speak French, they’re from Quebec! Yay, friends from Quebec!
They explain me that they had put their tent at 4800m the last night, hoping to climb up the summit the next day. But Mathilde felt very bad and they’ve had to go down. She wants to go back down to the village and he would like to find a partner to go up. At this point, I am still a wreck from the last day and the awful night. But there I see hope, I see an opportunity. I see that my little protecting fairy made the magic and made this really cool guy appear, to make me fulfill this crazy dream.
I can’t let this guy down, we share the same dream, we have the same determination. It’s time for adventure, let’s go for it!
Joaquin Canchola arrives with his 4×4, we decide to stay at the refuge and say goodbye to Mathilde. We spend the entire day resting at the refuge, getting accustomed to the altitude. We talk about life, travel, adventure. We have a siesta. I start feeling better, Guillaume feels good too. We head to bed early around 6pm because we have to get up at 1:30am to go for a big adventure!
DAY 3: THE CLIMB
We leave the refuge at 2am, we have to leave so early so that the snow doesn’t melt too much when the sun will shine. It’s on average a 7h climb up the summit. Most of it is done in the dark, with headlights. We walk at a slow but steady pace. I realize how important it is to be two to do this. We are alone and far from everything. It’s a fairly straightforward climb. The trail is well indicated and we can see the tracks of the people who previously climbed.
The more we go up and the tougher it gets. Every single step is a real effort. Surprisingly we’re not that cold, walking keeps us warm! But the altitude is felt. There is a constant light headache that never goes away and makes you want to turn around. But we are together and we motivate each other to keep going. We get to the “Labyrinth”, a more technical part of the climb at 4800m. There it is a little harder to follow the correct trail. We get lost but quickly find our way and get to the glacier.
The glacier “Jamapa” is the last part of the climb. It’s where most people turn around. The altitude is around 5000m, we are higher than the Mont Blanc, the highest and legendary peak in Europe. We don’t even ask ourselves whether we want to turn around, we’re going for it! The body feels a little funny, but the legs are there and the motivation is here more than ever. We put our crampons on and it’s glacier climbing time!
Like mentioned earlier, this Pico is a giant and it is no surprise that this glacier is Huge as well! It’s another never ending part of this challenge. Slowly the sun starts to rise. The view up there is magic. We don’t have the dream weather, it’s a mix of clouds. But the behavior of the clouds at this altitude is very strange. They move very fast.
Half way up the glacier, I feel a little weird. I tell Guillaume to stop and I vomit… this didn’t question my will to continue. It was just part of the experience I guess. Once I was done, we kept on going. We were laughing at how long this was taking!
We start to see the top of the volcano. Only “few” steps and we are there. Finally, we give our last effort and arrive at the top. It is hard to describe the feeling here. We give each other a big hug. I lay down and we laugh at the fact that we will find my vomit on the way down. That makes me vomit a second time, right in the crater!
We see that there is a “very top” and decide to go there. This place is unreal, it is a different world, above everything, unlike anything we have seen before. It is not a human friendly environment. Despite that we are very happy to be at the top. Guillaume’s GPS says we’re at exactly 5627m.
5627M HIGH, THE VIEW IS PRETTY NICE
From this altitude, everything seems very small. We are above the clouds and the horizon is very very far! We can see everything around, it is gigantic. It was also impressive when it was dark and we could see the lights in the villages. At this point, I almost realize that I walked all the way from back down there all the way to where I am now! But this is not the end of the effort, we now have to go down. Which everyone would think is the easiest part…
Going down is actually the most dangerous part! The body is tired of going up, going down is still an effort and the level of oxygen is still very low. The glacier is not too hard to go down, it is just long and tiring. The difficult and dangerous part is the labyrinth. It is very slippery. The snow is now melting which makes some very dangerous mud, icy mud, icy rocks… Despite the clear vision, it is hard to find an easy path. We have to go through some actual rock climbing. Our legs are tired so we try our best to find an easy trail through the labyrinth. We can clearly feel the danger here, the adrenaline goes up. Once we get out of the labyrinth, it gets easier. And we think that we are almost there. We have no water left, our mouths are dry…
But after all the effort, we make it back to the refuge!!
There is nobody to welcome us, so we held each other’s arm and simulated an epic arrival:“Here they arrive, the great adventurers Guillaume and Geoffrey, went all the way to the top of the Pico and back down safe and sound! Woop woop!”
One last hug to the man who helped me get through this amazing adventure. The emotion is there. It was for both of us, the toughest challenge of our lives. But together, we went through this and can now proudly say that we climbed “El Pico de Orizaba”.
In this attempt of an adventure, I accepted my limits, I then found the motivation through a nice guy who now is a friend and went past my own limits. I can only encourage you to follow you dreams and do the things that you love. No matter how hard the challenge in front of you is. Adventure is an ultimate life hack and the connection with the nature always makes you feel better. Adventure can be found anywhere, so go out there find an adventure and go for it! Believe in yourself and be positive. This way you will succeed in the craziest challenges that you never thought you would be able to take up.