Ten Great Days Climbing Pico de Orizaba, the Highest Mountain in Mexico

At Outdoor Research, we believe life gets better the moment we head out on a new adventure, no matter how big or small. When we step out the door, we breathe more deeply, think more clearly, and we’re better people when we return. And while it can sometimes be tricky to find the time, having those adventures is important — they make us who we are. It takes many parts to make the whole, and though family, career, community and other passions are the foundations of a life, it’s the adventure that makes it Complete.

Dealer Services Specialist Ellis Bennett recently traveled to Central Mexico to climb Pico de Orizaba, the country’s highest mountain.

Here’s her story of the adventure.

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Below: Descending via the crater rim and back down the Jamapa Glacier

Pico de Orizaba

Until fairly recently, I lived a life of transience, stringing together winter and summer jobs with two months off on either side to travel. As a recent convert to the 9-to-5 lifestyle, the luxury of time is no longer on my side. Thus, I am slowly learning how to perfect the craft of the perfect weekend adventure, or in this case, one week of PTO.

How do I do it?

In October, my boyfriend Scotty and I headed to Central Mexico for a week of exploring the local culture and climbing Pico de Orizaba, the Highest Mountain in Mexico.

This was our trip Itinerary:

Day 1-3: Celebrate Dia de Los Muertos in Oaxaca and surrounding areas
Day 4: Small local bus to Teohuacan  bus to Serdan taxi to Tlachichuca (not Plan A- all buses were sold out that day so we re-routed)
Day 5: Acclimation Hike to 14,000 feet
Day 6: Pack and take 4WD track to Piedra Grande
Day 7: Hike with packs to High Camp ~ 16,000 feet
Day 8: Sunrise Summit Day of Pico De Orizaba (18,701 feet)
Day 9: Bus from Tlachichuca to Puebla Spend the day eating Mole until I pass out
Day 10: Back to the USA

My boyfriend Scotty and I arrived in Oaxaca to a warm welcome of a traditional Oaxacan feast and salsa dancing. The following two days were filled with the vibrant colors of marigolds, elaborately dressed skeletons and the smells of seven different types of local mole.

Below: Ellis gets to know the locals of Oaxaca

Outdoor Research Employee Ellis Bennett at Dia De Los Muertos

After imbibing for three days, we crawled our way north to our next destination of Tlachichuca, piecing together local transport and a taxi to finally arrive at Servimont, our climbing hostel for the night. Senior Reyes, the owner and the third generation of the Reyes family to operate expeditions on Pico de Orizaba, advised us to acclimate by hiking up to 14,000 feet the following day. After resting up post day hike and gearing up for the climb, we fueled our bodies with corn tortillas and Indio, a local beer.

Feeling good, we set off for Piedra Grande, a several-hour drive on a four-wheel-drive road to an old rustic stone hut at 14,000 feet. What seemed like it was going to be a quiet evening with just my boyfriend and I was disrupted by a deranged looking climber who collapsed outside the hut.

Below: Camp Two, just below "The Labyrinth" boulder field

Camp 2, just below

After claiming altitude-induced hallucination among other things, he eventually calmed down and we got him into bed. This being a bit of an unsettling interaction, we decided to get up early and give ourselves plenty of time to make it to our high camp to allow time to acclimate. In the morning, we loaded up our gear and 10L of water — there is no accessible water until about 16,500 feet — and slowly made our way through the never ending scree field.

Below: Approaching the crater rim at sunrise

Ascending the crater rim before dawn

Camping at a higher elevation gave us a chance to feel that we were truly in nature and away from any other climbers, while also putting us in a good position to summit that evening. At dusk, we crept our way to the top through the boulder field section called the The Labrynth and onto Glacier de Jamapa in the wee hours of the night. Keeping a consistent pace, we crested over the rim of the crater as the sun rose; an image I had seen many times during my pre-trip internet research was quickly trumped by the real life experience. A quick ascent allowed us plenty of time to rejoice on the summit at 18,701 feet and take photos.

Below: The shadow of Pico De Orizaba from the summit at dawn

The view from the Pico de Orizaba at sunrise

The descent always feels as long if not longer than the ascent, at which point this was the only part of the trip that I thought to myself, “Wow, I really wish I had my skis right now.” (Reports actually show that with increasing temperatures, the Jamapa Glacier on Orizaba is retreating and there are fewer viable ski options and water sources available.) But without skis, we continued over loose rocks and boulders back to Piedra Grande to meet our ride out.

On the bus ride to Puebla the next day while looking out at the scenery, I reflected on what a unique and beautiful place Mexico is both culturally and scenically. Having it so close is such a privilege. Although it was not the main motivation for the trip, the food and drink really topped off what felt like an already perfect adventure.

Below: Delicious Mole Poblano!

Delicious Mole Poblano

Salud!