It was getting late in the day when we started the climb up Iztaccihuatl. This mountain is the third highest in Mexico and the climb would take us alongside the active volcano Popocatepetl (Popo for short). There is a refuge cabin at about 4700 m elevation (15,400 ft) that mountaineers use as an overnight stop on their way to the peak. That was our target for the night. Although we were leaving late, the friendly staff at the visitor’s centre assured us that we could make it there before sundown. So off we went.
Unfortunately, the late start and the effects of altitude meant that we didn’t make it in time.
With headlamps on we tried our best to follow the red dots on the rocks that marked the trail, but after an hour or so of this we decided it was time to stop. The steep climb, the uneven terrain and the high altitude meant that we could hardly take five steps before we needed a break. We knew that we must be close to the cabin, but it was getting too dangerous to keep going, so we found a flat spot to sleep for the night. The night time views of the city Puebla in the distance were really incredible from our vantage point. And the nearby volcano, Popo, was clearly visible, it’s smoke plume glowing red due to the lava in the caldera below.
It was a bitterly cold night and we hadn’t carried our tent because we were planning on sleeping in the cabin. So after brewing a pot of tea, we huddled together and waited for the morning, hoping to get at least a little sleep. Awake for most of the night and unable to get my feet warm I remember thinking, “Screw this, it’s time to get back to the beach as soon as we get off this mountain.” Cuddle puddle at 15,000ft
It’s amazing what a sunrise can do to boost your sprits though. As soon as the sun peeked over the horizon we were up trying to bask in it’s warm glow. Everything was more beautiful in the light of the new day, and with a fresh pot of tea on the boil and some cheese quesadillas in the pan we were a lot happier and once again able to enjoy the beautiful views and laugh about our horrible night. It’s amazing that all of this is only about 70 km as the crow flies from Mexico City.
With breakfast in our bellies and some warmth returning to our bones we decided it was time to head back down to the van instead of continuing further up the mountain.
We said our final farewells to the smoking Popo and set our sights for the beach, and some warmer weather.