PART 3: El Pico de Orizaba summit attempt 10/28/2009
-members of group: Jeff Kenney, Paul Stumpf, and Zach Taylor
-ascent and descent route: Jamapa Glacier
photo- A look at the lower Jamapa Glacier from the top of the "Labyrinth". photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
Day 5: 10/28/2009- The alarm went off at 1:30am. I got up and started to move around. Amanda was not feeling well. She had trouble breathing through the night and was having some mild chest pain. We all discussed the situation and decided that we did not want to leave her alone. Craig offered to stay and me climb solo but I wasn't to hot on that idea so we decided that today was not the day and went back to sleep.
Two climbers from Vail had showed up at Piedra Grande the night before. At sunrise they got up and began to get ready for a summit ski attempt. It seemed late for a summit attempt but I figured why not give it a shot? I asked them if I could tag along and they said yes. We made introductions. Paul was on ski patrol at Vail and Jeff was the manager at Christy Sports in Vail. It is funny how small the world is. I am from Avon and work in Vail and we all live within ten minutes of each other. Yet we met each other on this volcano in Mexico.
photo- Jeff Kenney(left) and Paul Stumpf(right) climbing in the Labyrinth just beneath the Jamapa Glacier. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
We left Piedra Grande at 7:15am and began the 2000' scree slog to Campamiento Alto at 16,000'. We arrived there pretty quickly. I was surprised at how strong I felt. The day before when I got up to Campamiento Alto I was a bit short of breath and had a slight headache. On this day though I felt great. I was becoming even more acclimitized.
Jeff and Paul kept up right behind me. I was quite surprised since they had just arrived the night before and had not had much time for altitude adjustment. We stopped here and took a bit of a break to discuss weather and how everyone was feeling. The clouds were in and out pretty heavy but we kept getting brief views of the upper mountain. Everyone felt good and we figured we would watch weather closely and keep climbing.
Above Campamiento Alto is an area called the Labyrinth. It is a section of cliff bands bisected by several small chutes/couloirs that block easy passage from the scree slopes of the lower mountain to the Jamapa Glacier on the upper mountain.
Many people get lost here and occasionally cliffed out. We were able to follow wands and old tracks through the snow easily in this section. I could see this section being confusing and sketchy in other circumstances though. This is the routefinding(and probably technical) crux of the entire route.
We came out of the Labyrinth and onto the base of the glacier. The wind picked up and it got considerably colder here. We took a brief break to put on warm layers and rearrange gear for the upper mountain.
The glacier sat somewhere between 16,400' and 16,700'. We climbed on to the glacier and began the long climb up the glacier. There was some nice soft powder on the lower glacier but as we gained elevation it turned to hardpack quickly. We were in and out of clouds the entire time.
We climbed for several hours in worsening conditions. After a while we were having trouble picking each other out of the clouds. Ice was forming up on all our clothing and we could not see the way back down. We did have compass and GPS to help but it was still making us a bit nervous.
As we got to 18,000' visibility was nil and all our gear was coated in ice. The wind picked up a bit more. We decided that conditions warranted a retreat.
Using axes we hacked out a platform on the glacier wide enough for everyone to stand on. All our boards had been coated in a layer of ice that took us about ten minutes
photo-Jeff Kenney(left) and Zach Taylor(right) in the Labyrinth. photo by Paul Stumpf, 2009
photo-Paul Stumpf(left,foreground) and Jeff Kenney(right, background) on the Jamapa Glacier. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
photo-Zach Taylor standing at the base of the Jamapa Glacier on El Pico de Orizaba. The summit is obscured in cloud here. photo by Jeff Kenney, 2009
of hacking with our mountain axes to get our board's edges and bases clean enough to ride down the steep glacier. Our last altimeter reading said 18,036'. We were somewhere within 100'-200' of the crater rim. It was hard turning around here but it was the best decision.
We dropped in close together trying not to lose sight of each other in the heavy clouds and snow. After descending about 500' the clouds moved out a bit and our visibility improved drastically. We were able to spread out and take some great photos of each other descending the glacier.
We felt like the mountain was rewarding us for making the right decision to turn around by giving us brief respite from clouds to enjoy the riding and get some cool photos and video of the descent. At this altitude we could only make about ten turns before stopping to catch our breaths. We returned to the base of the glacier tired and happy with our descent.
photo-Paul Stumpf(left) and Jeff Kenney(right)scraping ice off their skis at 18,036'. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
photo- Zach Taylor getting ready for his descent of the Jamapa glacier at 18,036'. photo by Jeff Kenney, 2009
photo-Zach Taylor descending the lower Jamapa glacier. photo by Jeff Kenney, 2009
photo-Jeff Kenney free-heeling with style high above the clouds on the Jamapa glacier. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
photo-Zach Taylor riding high on the Jamapa Glacier. photo by Jeff Kenney, 2009
photo-Paul Stumpf descending into the clouds on the Jamapa Glacier. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
We downclimbed and hiked back through the Labyrinth and emerged back at Campamiento Alto as the sun was going down. We saw two climbers camped just beneath us. We waved and changed from ski/snowboard boots to standard hiking apparel. We hiked back down in the dark and clouds to finally show up back at Piedra Grande at a bit after 7:00pm. It was a long day. There were quite a few people at the hut and we talked and told them all the day's stories.
I got ready for bed fairly early. I was happy with what we had done this day but it was still in the back of my head, we had not quite summited. We were still at least 300' from the top. Jeff and Paul had to leave the next morning because of other commitments but I still had several days in the area. I resolved to return with Craig and Amanda the next day and have another go at the mountain. I had put too much time, effort, and money to come this far and not make it all the way to the top. I made plans for another summit attempt on the 30th...