Month: November 2011

Cotopaxi (5897m/19348′), Ecuador November 20, 2011- Perfect Snow Conditions, Big Crevasses, and Cool Views

Cotopaxi (5897m/19,348') is the 2nd highest active volcano in the world.

After a great climb of Illiniza Norte our team was ready to head to Cotopaxi.  Upon finishing our descent from Illiniza we spent a night close to Cotopaxi National Park in one of the beautiful haciendas Ecuador is famous for.  Showers, comfortable beds, and a couple good meals were welcomed by the entire team.  The food in Ecuador is always a delight.  From a wide variety of fresh fruit to their ají salsa made with a red pepper that goes by the same name there is something to tempt every part of the palate.

Following a restful evening the team drove over dirt roads to Cotopaxi National Park.  The road takes us to 4600m/15,091′ dropping us off within a 40 minute walk to the José Ribas Refugio at 4810m/15,780′.  Reaching the hut at lunchtime gave us plenty of time to hydrate, snack, and get settled in preparation for our summit attempt the following morning.  An early dinner of pizza with fresh vegetables was followed by one last hot drink then to sleep.  We woke in the middle of the night to begin our ascent in anticipation of a 7+ hour climb to the summit.  Weather was cool and calm.  Under a blanket of stars we strapped crampons to our mountaineering boots and left the refugio with headlamps on to aid in navigating the terrain.  60 minutes of climbing brought us to the entrance of an unnamed glacier.  Here we divided into rope teams and began carrying ice axes.  The heavily glaciated terrain normally has large crevasses that require careful navigation.  Snow conditions under foot were as good as we could ask for offering solid purchase for our crampons.  Picking our route through the glacier made for fun and exciting climbing.  Taking breaks at regular intervals to hydrate and refuel we found ourselves well over 18,000’/5500m as the stars above gave way to the approaching sunrise.  We put our headlamps in our packs, put on sunscreen, and continued picking our way through the icy glaciated terrain.  We crossed over large crevasses with depths of over 100’/30m and surmounted steep ice walls that reached 45+ degrees.  The upper reached of the route had us climbing on the west side of the peak keeping us in shade.  As we climbed atop Cotopaxi’s crater rim we were treated to the warming rays of direct sunlight for our final steps to the summit.

With a warm calm morning we took time to relax for a few minutes before taking pictures, hydrating, eating some food, and enjoying the incredible views that Cotopaxi offers from its summit.

A few pictures from our climb are below.  The entire photo gallery from our Ecuador trip can be found here:  Ecuador’s Volcanoes November 14-24, 2011

Hacienda in the foothills near Cotopaxi National Park.

Llamas grazing near Cotopaxi National Park

The team at the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park.

The team en route to the José Ribas Refugio.

Team members arriving at the refugio.

Sunset from the refugio.

The team geared up and ready to climb Cotopaxi.

Climbing at 18,000+ feet as it became light enough to not need headlamps.

SMI guide April Mayhew high on the route.

Gary Maxwell surrounded by big crevasses and cool views!

Jairo and April climbing around a crevasse on the route.

Gary Maxwell topping out on Cotopaxi.

Jairo taking the last steps towards the summit of Cotopaxi.

April topping out on Cotopaxi with Jairo close behind.

Kurt, Gary, Jairo, and April on the summit of Cotopaxi.

Cotopaxi's double crater as seen from the summit.

Inspiring views and fun climbing on Illiniza Norte (5126m/16,817′), Ecuador November 18, 2011

From left to right: April Mayhew, Gary Maxwell, Kelly Tucker, Kurt Wedberg, and Jairo Marin pause for a photo on the foothills below Illiniza Norte, Ecuador.

After finishing a great trip to Mexico’s Volcanoes SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg flew from Mexico City to Quito, Ecuador to guide climbs on the volcanoes located within this beautiful equatorial country.  Gary Maxwell, Jairo Marin, and Kelly Tucker rendezvoused in Quito, which is at an elevation of 2800m/9186 ‘.  Acclimatization was the first order of business.  The team took a couple of hikes on peaks outside of Quito where we were treated to beautiful vistas of the Ecuadorian countryside.  We also attended an intense soccer game between the national teams of Peru and Ecuador.  After a couple good days of acclimatization we then headed to Illiniza Norte.

The climbing on Illiniza Norte is mainly scrambling over rocky terrain.  Ropes are used for safety.  Negotiating the upper reaches of the mountain required picking our way up excellent hand and foot holds on steep terrain with moderate exposure in spots.  The route was fun and offered a great sense of accomplishment.  After this climb the team would be well set up for climbing Cotopaxi in a couple days!

A few pictures are below.  The entire Ecuador photo gallery can be found here:  Ecuador’s Volcanoes November 14-24, 2011

It's always nice to stretch the legs after international flights. The team enjoys their first day hike in the hills above Quito, Ecuador

The team hiking towards Rucu Pichincha (4698m/15,413').

The Chuquirahua flower grows between approximately 3000-4000m in Ecuador. This beautiful wildflower is the symbol of mountaineering to the Ecuadorian "alpinistas".

The team on an acclimatization day hike to Pasochoa (4200m/13,779').

The team traversing along the crest of Pasochoa where the dramatic difference in vegetation is proudly displayed between opposing exposure to the elements.

The team starting up the rock scrambling on Illiniza Norte.

Gary, Jairo, and Kelly enjoying the climb of Illiniza Norte.

Gary, April and our good friend Romulo from Ecuador high on Illiniza Norte.

Gary, Jairo, and Kelly on the summit of Illiniza Norte with Illiniza Sur behind to the left.

April and Romulo on the summit of Illiniza Norte.

Summit Success on Mexico’s Volcanoes!

Orizaba team summit photo at 9:30am on 11-11-11. From left to right: Rick Piette, April Mayhew, Mickey Jojola, Lloyd Charton, Miriam Diaz, John Baer, and Kurt Wedberg

Our annual trip to Mexico’s Volcanoes was another big success with 100% of the team reaching the summits of both Iztaccíhuatl and El Pico de Orizaba!

Our team met in Mexico City on Friday November 4, 2011.  After a nice dinner and a walk around the center of the city on a clear warm night we were ready to depart on Saturday for Iztaccíhuatl.  We stayed true to our successful acclimatization schedule we have been using in previous years.  After spending three days taking hikes to increasingly higher elevation we found ourselves at the high refugio along the “La Arista del Sol” route at 4780m/15,682’.  We bedded down after an early dinner in preparation for our pre-dawn start for summit day.  Waking in the wee hours we were greeted to a pleasantly calm windless night with mild temperatures.  With headlamps aiding us in our route finding shouldered our rucksacks carrying warm clothes, ice axes, crampons, climbing helmets, harnesses, ropes, snacks and water for the day.  Several hours of climbing brought us high on Iztaccihuatl’s flanks as we were greeted to a beautiful sunrise to the east.  We applied sunscreen and sunglasses then kept a slow steady pace up the beautiful ridgeline offering stunning views that leads to the summit.  The crisp calm air on the summit afforded us the opportunity to take a few minutes to relax and enjoy the views before taking summit photos and starting our descent.  We were back to the refugio 10 ½ hours after we set out for the summit.  Here we took a break to rehydrate then packed up our gear for the descent back to the trailhead.  Another three hours of walking led us to the base of our route where we were picked up and whisked off to the city of Puebla to clean up and celebrate a successful climb with a good meal.

On November 9 the team organized gear and traveled to the town of Tlachichuca.  This quaint village sits at the base of our next objective; El Pico de Orizaba, which at 5611m/18,410’ is the 3rd highest peak in North America.  We had the afternoon to reorganize our gear and take a walk around town while sampling local food including local fruit and fresh guacamole.

On November 10 we loaded our gear into a 4×4 vehicle for the drive through the rural Mexican countryside that leads us to the Pierdra Grande hut at 4260m/13,976’.  SMI guide April Mayhew cooked pizzas for dinner while clouds swirled outside.  Weather had changed from the calm and clear conditions we had on Iztaccíhuatl to cloudy and cool here on Orizaba.  We packed the same equipment we needed on our previous climb and got a few hours of sleep in preparation for our summit attempt.

Clouds had partially dissipated revealing stars and an almost full moon.  The team made a final check of equipment then began with headlamps on.  The route begins by picking a way through a trail lined with volcanic rock.  After a couple hours of climbing we reached continuous snow that required ice axe/crampons and divided into two rope teams led by SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg.  Our route continued through a labyrinth of snow and volcanic rocks that led to the final 2000’/610m of climbing.  Here the route opens up to the Jamapa Glacier that wraps around Orizaba’s flanks of this classic cone shaped dormant volcano.  Above we saw evidence of high winds as cloud banks repeatedly swelled and shrank over the summit crater.  Temperatures dropped significantly as we climbed into a steady cold wind that the open glacier offered no protection from.  Adding windbreakers, heavy gloves, goggles, and eventually our puffy down parkas our team took careful deliberate steps in the crunchy snow.  Conditions on the glacier made for secure footing with our crampons as the sun rose and cast a shadow over the rural Mexican farm fields far below.  We would stay in shade until reaching the crater rim which presented the challenges of keeping our feet and hands warm.  Cutting switchbacks for our route offered is the opportunity to continuously switch which hand held our ice axes, which helped us warm each free hand since the cold from our ice axes was conducting through our gloves.  Each team member did an excellent job adjusting to the challenging conditions and as we crested on to the crater rim we were greeted by the warming rays of direct sunlight.  Here we took a food/water break and applied sunscreen before traversing around the crater rim to its highest point.  The location of the summit gave us a respite from the brunt of the wind which allowed us a few minutes to take pictures and enjoy the view from the 3rd highest point in North America that we reached at 9:00am on 11-11-11!

Temperatures warmed for us on the descent and we were back to Piedra Grande by 11:40am.  Our drivers took us back to Tlachichuca for showers and a nice meal.  On Saturday we drove back towards Mexico City by way of the Teotihuacan pyramids.  It is always nice to learn about the history and culture from these exotic destinations we visit on SMI international expeditions.

A big congratulations to the entire team on two great climbs on Mexico’s Volcanoes:  John Baer, Lloyd Charton, Miriam Diaz, Mickey Jojola, April Mayhew, Rick Piette, and Kurt Wedberg.

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here: Mexico’s Volcanoes November 4-13, 2011.

The National Palace on one side of the Zocolo (Main Plaza) as seen from the Catedral Metropoliana in the center of Mexico City.

Shopping at a local market before climbing Iztaccihuatl.

Lloyd enjoying the local market in the town of Amecameca.

Fresh fruit and vegetable medley for breakfast.

The team psyched and ready to climb Iztaccihuatl.

John Baer on the approach the the high hut on Iztaccihuatl.

Mickey enjoying the approach on Iztaccihuatl.

The team on the approach to Iztaccihuatl's high hut.

Sunrise high on Iztaccihuatl.

Climbing Iztaccihuatl's beautiful ridgeline offering stunning scenery.

Rick Piette stepping out on the summit of Iztaccihuatl.

April, Mickey, John, and Miriam topping out on Iztaccihuatl.

Team summit photo on Iztaccihuatl.

El Pico de Orizaba from the town of Tlachichuca.

The team geared up and ready to climb Orizaba.

Sunrise from high on Orizaba.

Taking a break on the crater rim of Orizaba.

The team nearing the summit of Orizaba.

View of the crater rim on Orizaba.

Team photo on the summit of Orizaba. Congratulations team!!