• Iztaccihuatl
  • 5230 m.
  • Primary factor 1560 m.
  • Near Mexico City.
  • 3rd. highest in Mexico.
  • Location North 19.18010, West 098.64150 (GPS on the summit)
  • Difficulty: YDS class 2
  • Climbed December 6, 2018


How to get there:
This big and world famous mountain is located about 50 kilometer south-east of Mexico City. More precisely, travel south-east to the smaller town of Amecameca. From here, a 25 kilometer road will take you up to Paso de Cortes, the saddle between the volcano Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. There is a ranger station located at the very pass. The road continues down on the east side of the saddle towards Puebla, but this is a pretty rough dirt road, while the road up from Amecameca is paved all the way.
One should register at the ranger station and pay a nominal fee for accessing the mountain. A smaller dirt road starts from the same saddle heading towards Iztaccihuatl. There is a smaller builing on its right side and a gate that is closed, but (most often?) unlocked. In times of busy traffic there is a man in the small house checking permits and controlling the gate.
The dirt road is rough and rather bumpy, I would prefer a high clearance vehicle to drive it, however normal cars seems to make it as well. Drive this road as it gains elevation and winds its way closer to the mountain. The trailhead is called La Joya and is located approximately 5 kilometer north of the main saddle, the road leading there is about 8 kilometer long. You will pass a pretty distinct hill with antennas and a large building on top, this is left of your driving route, with a side road serving it. That place is called Altzomoni. Sometimes climbers have been able to stay there, when we asked at the ranger station they just said it was closed. The very last part of the road descends (left) to a large parking area. This location is N19.13353, W098.65172, elevation about 3970 meter. One csn camp here and also leave the car overnight if spending a night on the mountain. One will often see other cars/people at this place, at least a few people seem to visit almost every day.
Route description:
From the parking area, take the trail that continues onwards, do not descend on a trail that forks left, but take the trail that branches right and climbs steeply. You will clearly see this trail first climbing then contouring higher up with tall grass on either side.
The trail will continue to climb as it traverses the hillside, finally reaching the crest (Pass 1) at location N19.14265, W098.64191, elevation about 4250 meter.
Descend slightly at the other side, then continue to climb uphill, soon reaching pass number 2 at location N19.14513, W098.63941, elevation about 4390 meter.
From here, the trail climbs less steeply and the trail surface is generally less rocky as the route continues its gradual climb to pass 3, location N19.15019, W098.63612, elevation about 4540 meter.
Again decending just slightly, the trail now climbs on the right hand side of the crest, gradually steeper, then turning directly uphill. If you turn left late, then there is some easy scrambling, turning uphill a bit sooner will avoid this. The route gains pass 4, at N19.15466, W098.63754, elevation 4710 meter, then continues uphill along the crest to reach its highest point near elevation 4740 meter, before descending across a saddle to reach the small refugio (hut), called Grupo de los Cien at location N19.15669, W098.6371, elevation about 4705 meter.
This hut is quite a good (but high elevation) place to break the ascent into two days. There are a few thin blankets, however you should bring your own sleeping bag and mat. The hut is used permanently by some mice, so any food should be left hanging from one of several beams.
The next section of the route is a 300 meter vertical ascent up a slightly steepish hillside starting directly beyond the hut. Here, the trail splits into two alternative routes, ascending left or right of some cliffs that are easily identified in the middle (see picture). The right hand side route ascends up scree between larger rocks, then climbs an easy gully to reach higher ground, then continues the ascent to the local top of the ridge.
The left hand route traverses the slope (well below the cliffs), then turns more uphill climbing a wide, scree gully, then reaching the upper face that extends directly to some broken metal structures at the very top of the hill. This location is N19.16239, W098.63714, elevation near 5050 meter.
One should note that both routes are steep enough for rocks to bounce down-slope. Some natural rockfall occur due to temperature variations and the sun melting frozen soil that then might release a rock. More frequent rockfall may be caused by climbers that inadvertently (and sometimes quite unavoidably) may release single rocks that will bounce downhill. My guess is that the left hand route (as seen from below), may be somewhat more exposed to this danger due to the quite long and fairly well defined gully. Climbers should avoid having other parties above them on this route and a climbing helmet is strongly recommended. Objectively, this is the only section of the route that may be dangerous.
In order to continue, first descend slightly to your left, bypass a smaller cliff, then descend a bit further to a local saddle. Next, ascend a slope (on the right side) to continue the ridge, then another ascent will get you to the crest with a small glacier below. From here, one can easily outline most of the remaining route. Parties should use crampons here (unless the snow is soft), descend an easy slope to a snow shelf, then traverse (heading left) while completing the descent to the glacier.
Cross this glacier and make a short ascent to gain the ridge just left of a steep pinnacle. This location is at N19.17097, W098.63795, elevation about 5085 meter. Follow the ridge, then ascend a slope that narrows to a more distinct ridge, also getting slightly steeper. Continue uphill, then traverse a bit to the right side as the route contours left in order to gain a small (false) summit. Descend slightly from this summit to a local col, then continue along easy ground uphill to reach the south summit.
The summit plateau consists of a small, fairly flat glacier with three distinct higher points or ridges all of quite similar elevation, exceeding 5220 meter. From the south summit, one may quite easily follow highest ground north-west to gain the west summit point located at N19.17732, W098.64381. Next, returning towards the saddle connecting the west summit to the south summit, one may cross the small summit glacier to the north, arriving at the base of the north summit ridge that contains three humps, the rightmost (ie. at the east end) being the highest. This summit point has a metal marker. This location is at N19.18010, W098.64150, elevation near 5228 meter.
I did this climb with my friend Sverre. We drove up to the Paso de Cortez before noon, having obtained our permit at the ranger station (located at this pass) 2 days earlier when we drove across this saddle. There was nobody at the gate, but being unlocked, we continued up the quite rough road that connects from the pass to the trailhead called La Joya.
We started hiking at 1225 and had a pleasant walk uphill via the 4 passes, arriving at the refugio at 1500. Nobody there, as we made ourselves comfortable at the second level to the right hand side. We had a light dinner meal, then went early to bed, this was the highest we had slept for quite some time.
I woke up at 2100, pitch dark, as two Mexican climbers entered, quite a surprise as we expected no parties to arrive this late. They told that they had left the parking at 1430, so more than 6 hours to reach the refugio. Unavoidable noise as they prepared a meal, but eventually the hut became quiet. I next woke up around 0300, alarms were going off with the Mexicans. After some hectic activity, the hut was again quiet, I assumed that they had left for the summit.
Waking up around 0600, I noticed that the two Mexicans were still at sleep, quite a surprise. Next, three Russian climbers arrived. We had met them the day before, descending to the trailhead after a short acclimatization hike. They had started around 0200 and took a short rest in the hut before starting up the big hill. Sverre and I had breakfast, organized gear, put all food in a bag secured from the mice, then left at 0655.
I had decided that the left route was likely easier and we had a report from a father/son (Americans) team that we met the day before, that the scree would be frozen in the morning. My only worry was rocks, it turned out that the Russians had made the same choice and they were now above us. Fortunately, we caught up rather quickly. The hill is long and quite hard work to ascend, the scree was indeed quite stable and our progress was good. The upper section was more frozen and I did, unfortunately, send a couple of smaller rocks bouncing down-slope. Shouting "rock" to warn the Russians, nothing bad happened, but the incident demonstrated the potential danger of this route.
We topped out shortly after 0800, taking only about one hour, good progress indeed. The weather was gorgeous and the views impressive all around. We continued along the very scenic route and made a stop to eat and drink on the snow ridge just beyond the glacier, next to a very characteristic pinnacle. The time was only around 0900, no worries, we both felt quite fine. We arrived at the south summit at 1000, together with the clouds, thus pretty dense fog would now be with us the next several hours. We headed across looking for the north ridge, it suddenly appeared and we were there by 1020. We traversed the entire ridge with 3 humps, then headed back into white-out looking for the west summit. Again, a hill appeared out of whiteness, an easy ascent and all three summits had been visited. Thus, after several short breaks we headed back down from the south summit at 1100.
We met the Russians near the base, well before the glacier. They looked tired, but I assume that they at least would make the south summit. Next, almost back at the final saddle before the big scree hill, we encountered the two Mexicans. They were clearly too late to summit, as they rested when we passed. The descent back down the wide scree gully was easy. The very fine sand/scree had melted more and made for a quick descent. We stayed togehter to avoid any rock issues, but still released quite a big one that hit me from behind, fortunately, still with little energy before picking up speed. We returned to the refugio at 1240, so about 5:30 including about one hour in the white-out at the summit plateau. We rested and had a good lunch meal before preparing our backpacks, then leaving at 1330. The final descent was easy, reaching our car at the parking in 1:20 at 1450.
We next drove back to Mexico City checking in (two nights) at a hotel near the airport. We had Friday as a reserve day. We took the subway to visit the well known museum of antropology, Heidi and I were there some 40 years ago. Afterwards, we walked to a nice Mexican restaurant where a 3 course dinner concluded what had been a very successful week in Mexico. Big thanks to Sverre for excellent company!
Quite by chance, we had ascended to the refugio on December 5th. - my last day at age 67. The morning of our ascent was my 68th. birthday. Thus, our very nice ascent of Iztaccihuatl became my great 68th. birthday gift. It also concluded a year with many memorable trips, I had climbed a record 37 ultra prominent mountains. On Saturday, Sverre and I flew together back to Houston. He would continue home to Denver, while I would fly to Los Angeles. A final week of workshop at IPAM, taking place at Lake Arrowhead, then home for Christmas on December 15th.