Part I: Getting There
The climb to the 3rd highest peak in North America, began in Orizaba, Veracruz (1200m).
The morning I was set to leave I went to rent an ice-axe to the only place for such equipment. It turns out they only rent at 2 day intervals, at 150 pesos per rental, and I needed 4 days. I have never heard of such a thing – a 2 day rental for climbing equipment! Even when I’ve taken a 3 day rental, and brought it back on the 4th , I was never charged over. It is just not how the community works. I lost 2 hours finding this out and decided not to rent. The southern slope has no snow anyway.
After buying food for the mountain I went to Miguel’s (my host) house where his mother fed us an enormous and delicious breakfast of Eggs, beans, chilaquiles and coffee. Then, as I was packing Georgia a neighbor came up and asked where I was traveling. He had a pretty heavy gringo accent, so I switched to English. It turns out Dave came here 14 years ago, found a girl, married her, and has been here ever since. He is now the father of 2 beautiful daughters. The ice-axe incident at the store came up and he offered me his! The playa provides – even when far from it. He then invited me for a beer upon my return.
All of this delayed my departure more than it should have so I decided to see if Google had a more direct route than the one normally taken – which it found. However, what looked like a large road turned out to be a farmer’s road – made for horses, trucks and tractors – full of sand, rocks, ruts and holes. I ended up off-roading for almost 3 hours! I can’t believe this road was even on Google.
After a few hours, and yet another dump of poor Georgia, I arrived at the park. The first thing I did upon arrival was go the wrong way – I took a horrific road which lead nowhere. I spent an hour navigating the most off-road and difficult riding in my life. It alternated sand, deep sand, boulders, rocks, mud, ruts and gravel. At one point I had to stop and clear boulders from 200ft. of road – which in itself is not the most difficult thing to do, except at 3900m, where it is hard to breathe for lack of oxygen, the activity takes on a whole other light. I can’t count how many times I almost dumped the bike as the wheels slipped on stones, stuck between boulders or in the sand, or simply due to my in-experience with off-roading. But miraculously I didn’t drop Georgia once. I eventually came to an impassible part and heard a whistle from behind. I stopped and saw some people on the slope to my left. I wasn’t sure if they were hikers and I had found the path, or if they were workers. It turned out to be the latter and they proceeded to inform me that I had made the wrong turn at Albuquerque. All I just went through I had to do again, and I had to do it without thinking or groaning because the sun was setting. So I rode back, almost crashing the bike and smashing my head against boulders yet again. By the time I made it to the workers hut at the actual start of the trail, the sun was below the mountains, and Georgia had officially reached 3905m!
As I was unpacking I realized the ice-axe had fallen out! I quickly dumped my gear and started to ride back again! It was not my ice axe to lose. About a quarter mile down the road, before the tough parts began, I saw the workers walking toward me. One of them had my ice-axe in hand!
I rode back to the workers hut where I had left my gear. I asked the two older guys if they would not be bothered by me pitching my tent next to their hut. Instead of consenting, they invited me to sleep inside the hut. I hesitated at first, not wishing to cramp anyone’s sleep, but it turned out that there was room for at least two more. The night was getting bitter cold, and only promised to turn to freezing, so I gladly agreed. Shortly, the workers I had met on the trail arrived, and we all crowded around the fire. They put on a couple of kettles to make a punch from dried fruit and we talked and joked – huddling very close to the dancing flames. They offered me some punch and bread, and later when they heated a pot of meat and potatoes with some hand-made tortillas, they offered that to me as. It never fails that those with the least are always willing to share what they have. We then had a smoke and played cards. They taught me Hispaniola (a game similar to hearts or spades), to which I caught on, but still lost. By 8:30, as it was pitch dark and freezing, we retired to the hut where a fire was desperately trying to heat up the unsealed and un-insulated hut.
As usual I had a hard time sleeping and only managed a few uninterrupted hours. The rest of the time I spent going from sweat to cold, tossing and turning and going out to take a piss at midnight – always an adventure in the mountains. Never the less we all got up at sunrise – they went to work, I heated a cup of tea on the remnants of the fire, and wrote, before packing up and heading for the Albergue hut (my high camp before the summit bid the following day).