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"That was amazing! Five lead changes to climb 40 feet of rock! How can they say this route doesn't look good? This was MORE than a route - this was an EXPERIENCE!"

- Larry D.

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Happy 34

Yesterday was just another great birthday spent in the mountain. This year I went with Fabiola, Aaron (who was also celebrating his birthday) and Armando to Pico de Orizaba. For Fabiola and Aaron, it was their first climb of the volcano but, since they’re very good multi-sport athletes (Fabiola is an elite actually), their way of doing it was not going to be an average mountaineering trip…

The plan was really simple: arrive to Tlalchichuca on Friday afternoon, spend the night at Joaquin’s place and wake up very early the next morning to ascend the volcano, starting from there. If everything went well and we shall made the summit, we should repeat the morning feat but all the way down in the afternoon.

At 3:15 a.m. our cozy sleep was interrupted by my phone’s alarm. While Armando and the others put their mountain biking clothes on, I jumped into my running outfit. We had some quesadillas and coffee for breakfast, then at around 4 a.m. they rode their bikes and started pedaling their way towards the mountain.

Meanwhile, Joaquin and I rode his truck and headed to the small village of Hidalgo, where he dropped me so I could run uphill towards Piedra Grande hut. It was a short but strenuous 9-km steep dirt road, which took me about 1 hour and 30 minutes to cover at a moderate pace. I arrived to Piedra Grande about 15 minutes before Joaquin and the rest of the team with their bikes.

Around 7:30 a.m., we quickly changed clothes and grabbed our gear to start the climb. The volcano has a lot of snow nowadays due to the recent winter storms, so it was really easy to walk up the first steep hills and reach the infamous section known as El Laberinto. Once there, we stepped onto our crampons and the real fun began, taking the most direct way through those couloirs to reach the base of Jamapa glacier.

We arrived to the glacier just to find that the two existing paths diverged greatly sideways instead of following the most direct/natural line in the middle of it. Armando and I agreed to climb our own path to avoid covering unnecessary distance, besides snow conditions were mostly safe despite having to break steps into it. Fabiola and Aaron were roped to Armando, while I climbed solo as I usually do. Armando and I switched leads while zigzagging across the steep ice field.

We got to the summit at 2 p.m, barely 6 hours after leaving the hut. We exchanged hugs, sipped water, ate some bars, took some pictures and immediately started the descent, which we managed in exactly 2 hours, having lots of fun along the way.

At 4 p.m we were back at the hut and changing clothes, then left our climbing gear with Joaquin and continued the descent. Fabiola, Aaron and Armando quickly vanished once they rode their bikes, while I comfortably flew downhill along the steep dirt road in my Hoka’s. After 50 minutes of somewhat fast running, I stopped at Hidalgo and waited for Joaquin to pick me up with his truck.

The total time for me was 12:08:27 (including transitions), for 30.5 km of running/climbing and 2,300 of positive altitude change. Definitely a memorable way of celebrating my 34th birthday! Oh, but that wasn’t all, because Maribel (Joaquin’s daughter) received us with a birthday cake to continue celebrating by end of the day!

Rest of the photos are here or in the slideshow below:

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