It is not necessary to understand things in order to argue about them.
– C. de Beaumarchais

Mexico’s Other Volcanoes

Hola! Jennifer and I spent a week in Mexico over Christmas break 1998 and climbed 8 peaks other than the Big 3. Leaving from the office party, we arrived in Mexico City late on December 18th. Rodulfo Araujo met us at the airport and whisked us to his home in the city. We were electronically introduced to Rodulfo by George Bell Jr., who is working on a comprehensive list of North America’s 14ers. We had carried on a lively email conversation with Rodulfo for two months prior to our trip. Rodulfo is one of Mexico’s scholars for peak names, altitudes and mountaineering history.
With only a few hours rest, we rose early Saturday and joined Rodulfo’s friends from the Grupo de los Cien for a climb of Teyotl - Izta’s hair. It was like a CMC trip Mexico style. We drove in two 4WD vehicles to the town of Aztacualoya north of Amecameca where we enjoyed a street vendor breakfast and a quick visit to an old church. Beyond, in the village of San Rafael, we took a series of improbable turns and started up the dirt road toward Izta’s northern ramparts. Soon we had to show our permit, which Rodulfo had secured the day before. The local landowners have put a gate on the road and charge admission to the heights. Beyond, the road climbed steadily to a junction with another road from the north. This northern road, while a longer drive from Mexico City, would avoid the local’s gate. The road to the junction could be driven with a rent-a-bug, but above the junction we were glad to be in 4WD vehicles. We finally parked at 12,500 feet. We had peek-a-boo views of Izta’s Cabeza, and the rock summits Yautepemes and Solitario. I kept a rope in my pack in hopes of visiting one of the latter summits before day’s end.
The hike up Teyotl’s west ridge was wonderful. The north face of La Cabeza is one of Mexico’s wildest alpine faces, and we had uninterrupted views of it as we rose. We lounged on Teyotl’s 15,420-foot summit for some time enjoying our Mexican picnico. We had gone from the office party to this lofty perch in less than 24 hours. We like this kind of time travel. Teyotl, Izta’s hair, is a significant summit rising over 600 feet from the saddle with La Cabeza. It has many sub summits to the north, and it commands a large area. Teyotl means, “Where the rocks are born.”
Jennifer and Rodulfo heading up Teyotl Jennifer and Rodulfo heading up Teyotl’s nascent rocks
We rapidly descended a scree gully into the valley between La Cabeza and Teyotl, and visited the Teyotl hut. The Grupo de los Cien works hard to build and maintain Mexico’s huts. They believe the huts should be free, clean and open for all to use. In a series of cleanup expeditions with other clubs, they removed nine metric tons of trash from Izta. The Teyotl hut is in a wonderful position under La Cabeza and we want to return to this valley for other climbs. From this hut you could climb La Cabeza, Izta via La Arista de Luz, Teyotl, Yautepemes and Solitario. On our way down I looked longingly at Solitario but our time was gone, and we hustled back to the vehicles. The rope stayed in my pack. I’ll be back.
Solitario Solitario, the one that got away
On Sunday, Rodulfo and his friend Ruth took us to the old volcano Ajusco southwest of Mexico City. Ajusco, at 13,077 feet, is Mexico City’s Green Mountain. There is a paved road around the peak and you have a choice of three trails. We ascended from the north and ended up on the northwest ridge of the old blown out crater. On the way up we heard several large booms, and thought Popo was blowing its top. We hustled up to the summit for a view, but Popo was docile. The booms were fireworks. When Popo does burp it just adds to the celebration. We descended the northeast ridge to complete a ring around the crater and exchanged email addresses with a group on the sub summit called Aguila, which means eagle.
En route on Ajusco's northwestern crater rim En route on Ajusco’s northwestern crater rim
Izta and Popo from Ajusco's summit Izta (L) and Popo from Ajusco’s summit
We stopped at a swank pizza joint in town where Rodulfo’s mother Lucy joined us. A Mexican rock band belted it out on a giant screen nearby. At one point the music took a dramatic pause, then the band chorused “Ajuua!” I said, “Hey! That’s the name of the new Mexican restaurant near our house. What on Earth does Ajuua mean?” Lucy smiled, and 10 minutes later we had the answer. In the old days when Spanish galleons plied both oceans with their precious cargo, mule trains moved the cargo across south-central Mexico. It was a tricky, theft-threatened job. The families that chose to do it used obscure routes through the mountains. Many narrow passages would not allow mule trains to pass each other and the families used Huacos, or yells, to signal their approach to a tough section of trail. Like a brand, each family had its own Huaco. Ajuua is a Huaco. Only a few Huacos have come forward into the modern language, and they are used in Mexican music. The Mariachi bands use them frequently and, as we learned, the rock bands do as well. The best single word translation for Ajuua is “Yeah!”
On Monday we said good-bye to Rodulfo and Lucy. Their hospitality was amazing, and we look forward to seeing them in Colorado sometime. With Rodulfo’s detailed directions we putted off in our rent-a-bug, and parked at Llano Grande on the Paseo between Mexico City and Puebla. A good trail took us north through the forest to 13,386-foot Telepon. The summit was adorned with many Christian statues. We gazed north to neighboring Tlaloc and decided to go for it. The traverse was three miles through the forest, and it was the best Hansel and Gretel hike we have done. We walked through fairylands at speed, then dodged small cliff bands high on Tlaloc. The approach to Tlaloc’s summit was a surreal journey through a rock playground. On the 13,615-foot summit we found the ruin of a small Aztec city. There were two parallel, arrow-straight lines of rocks. It was some sort of Aztec observatory. We hustled back to the saddle, then following Rodulfo’s advice, hiked down the road to the village of Rio Frio instead of re-climbing Telepon. It was good advice. We reached Rio Frio in the last light, padded through town dodging packs of dogs and caught a bus back up to the pass. We could not have climbed back over Telepon that fast. To end this incredible day, we drove into the night and finally found La Trinidad, a resort hotel in the tiny village of Santa Cruz south of Apizaco.
Looking south from Telepon's summit at Izta and Popo Looking south from Telepon’s summit at Izta (L) and Popo
The Aztec observatory on Tlaloc's summit The Aztec observatory on Tlaloc’s summit
In the morning we paused in La Trinidad’s sun-drenched courtyard, then took off for La Malinche. Our plan was to do it as a day climb from La Trinidad. The road, which goes to just below treeline on La Malinche, is now closed at 10,800 feet and you have to walk farther. It’s a pleasant walk through the forest however and the climb above treeline is simple and short. We summited 14,636-foot Malinche apace, then continued south to 14,596-foot Chichita and 14,536-foot Octlayo. These sub summits provide simple scrambles, are very photogenic and well worth the side trip. On the way down, we also summited 13,520-foot Chiche, La Malinche’s prominent north peak. Racing darkness, we zipped back to La Trinidad in time for a late dinner.
Passing treeline en route up La Malinche Passing treeline en route up La Malinche
Jennifer approaching La Malinche's summit Jennifer approaching La Malinche’s summit
Looking southwest from La Malinche's summit at Chichita and Octlayo Looking southwest from La Malinche’s summit at Chichita (L) and Octlayo
Jennifer on Chiche's summit with Orizaba and Sierra Negra in the distance Jennifer on Chiche’s summit with Orizaba (L) and Sierra Negra in the distance
Pulled by the views that we had from La Malinche, the next day we continued east and made an “ascent” of 14,049-foot Cofre de Perote. Cofre is a large, gentle volcano north of Orizaba, which is capped by a stubby, hundred-foot high rock tower. Cofre means chest as in a storage container. We drove south up the road from the town of Cofre until our peak baggers’ conscious made us park and start walking. We parked at 12,600 feet, but it’s possible to drive rent-a-bugs to 14,000 feet on this peak. Those who are ambivalent about wilderness should visit Cofre’s summit to better understand what it is we are fighting for. The summit is festooned with radio, TV and microwave towers. We also visited 14,019-foot Cofre Minor before retreating to Senior Reyes in Tlachichuca in hopes of meeting some interesting climbers, but we found the place nearly deserted.
Cofre de Perote from the north Cofre de Perote from the north
Cofre's chest of horrors Cofre’s chest of horrors
On Christmas Eve day we did a day climb of 14,993-foot Sierra Negra - Orizaba’s prominent south peak. Sierra Negra, rising over 1,700 feet from its saddle with Orizaba, is Mexico’s fifth highest peak. We believe the 14,993-foot elevation is low; the peak is closer to 15,200 feet. A road approaches from the southeast and, recently improved, now goes all the way to the summit. Towers are appearing there now as well. This must be the highest road in North America. It was not there when Gerry climbed Sierra Negra in 1995. The road was the steepest challenge yet for our rent-a-bug, but we managed to reach 12,600 feet. With care, you could drive all the way into the Sierra Negra - Orizaba saddle. Never mind the road, this is a beautiful area. Hiking up Sierra Negra’s east ridge we found North America’s highest tree. My altimeter read 14,660 feet. Coastal moisture rolls up this slope, and the rich volcanic soil nurtures many astonishing trees well over 14,000 feet. We descended into a thick fog and returned to Tlachichuca for Christmas Eve fireworks. It was quite a celebration.
Sierra Negra from the southwest Sierra Negra from the southwest
Our rent-a-bug at 12,600 feet on Sierra Negra with Orizaba's southern slopes beyond Our rent-a-bug at 12,600 feet on Sierra Negra with Orizaba’s southern slopes beyond
Jennifer by North America's highest tree at 14,660 feet on Sierra Negra Jennifer by North America’s highest tree at 14,660 feet on Sierra Negra

Orizaba behind
Toluca on the day after Christmas. We did a day climb from the Hotel Paseo in the city of Toluca. The Paseo is right on the main highway on the east side of town. The gourmet road up Toluca took us easily to a gate at 13,800 feet. For a small fee you can drive past the gate into Toluca’s crater, but there is a good trail starting from the gate and there is little need for the final drive. Our first goal was 14,600-foot Campanario, a significant sub summit northeast of Toluca’s main peaks. This perch gives an astonishing view of Toluca’s crater. There were many Mexican runners training here. Look for them in the next Olympics. They didn’t break stride for Campanario.
Jennifer on Campanario with Toluca's Pico de Aguila behind Jennifer on Campanario with Toluca’s Pico de Aguila behind
Approaching Pico de Aguila's east ridge Approaching Pico de Aguila’s east ridge
We then ascended the east ridge of Pico de Aguila. 15,269-foot Aguila is Toluca’s north peak, and its east ridge is a Mexican classic. The minimal Class 3 scrambling reminded us of Torrey’s Kelso Ridge Route in Colorado. Aguila was bone dry for us, but several memorial plaques spoke about climbers who must have found it icy. We met a solo Japanese climber on Aguila’s summit and traded the obligatory photos. He was dismayed when we confirmed his suspicion that Toluca’s highest point, Pico de Fraile, was a mile south of Aguila. We invited him to join us for the traverse, but he did not have the time.
Aguila as seen from Fraile, showing the traverse Aguila as seen from Fraile, showing the traverse
The traverse between Aguila and Fraile is another Mexican classic. The ridge does not dip below 15,000 feet for a mile, and this traverse reminded us of Evans’ West Ridge Route in Colorado, only Toluca’s traverse is a thousand feet higher. With careful route finding, the difficulty does not exceed Class 2+, but it is easy to find Class 3 scrambling here. We skirted one gendarme that requires Class 3 scrambling to cross. Our final climb to 15,433-foot Pico de Fraile took us to our expedition’s high-point. Toluca is Mexico’s fourth highest peak, and it was our highest peak of 1998. It was late in the day, and we had the summit to ourselves. We descended the standard route into the old crater.
Nevado de Toluca's Pico de Fraile as seen from Campanario Nevado de Toluca’s Pico de Fraile as seen from Campanario
The crater holds two large lakes, Laguna del Sol and Laguna de la Luna. The half-mile long Laguna del Sol is at 13,780 feet, and must be the largest significant lake in North America. We did not want to let go of our vacation so we made one more laconic ascent. We hiked around the lake and climbed the attractive resurgent dome in the middle of the crater, 14,206-foot Cerro Ombligo. From the summit, our 16th, we surveyed our day’s work, let out a big yodel, then headed for Colorado. Viva Mexico! Ajuua!
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