Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
Green Creek Lake

Monday, February 4, 2019

More South-er of the Border (Wall)- Ecuador

I figured I'd piggyback off of what acclimatization and fitness I had left after Mexico, so I took a flight out of Vegas bound for Quito, Ecuador. One long travel day and a few delayed flights later, I was settled into my $7 a night hostel in downtown Quito, at around 3am. The next day dawned rainy, but nonetheless it was time for my first peak- Cumbre Ruco Pichincha.
Ruco Pinchincha from the top of the Teleferico
Quito, with a rather robust tourism industry, installed a gondola up to about 12,500' on the slopes of Ruco, with some hiking and mountain biking trails departing from the upper station. A beautiful three-or-so hour walk and a little scrambling brought me to the summit, where I met a few other Americans and a few Caracaras.
Summit sign, 15,406'

Caracara keeping me company 
Then it was back to the hostel to prepare for the next day, the bus ride to Riobamba.

I thought I was going to hop on a single bus, and it was going to take me the 100 or so kilometers to Riobamba. I was very wrong. After three very confusing hours, three different buses, and numerous people asking me to pay them in numbers I had a preschooler's grasp on, I exited a bus in the town of Riobamba. My goal here was to find the office of Andean Adventures, the outfit with which I had set up my climb of Chimborazo (the Ecuadorian Gov't requires the use of a guide on most volcanoes). A short walk, some paperwork, and another cheap hostel got me set up for the next day. 

The plan at this point was to get up with my guide, Raul, in the morning, ride up in a taxi to the hut at 15,750', spend one night at the hut, hike around the next day, and try to sleep until 9pm the following evening and depart for the summit at 10. 

High altitude Ecuadorian flora
Chimborazo from the Park entrance 
Sunset- the one time we were not shrouded in mist at the hut
9pm the day of the summit bid came around early, after laying in bed staring at the mattress above me for five or so hours. We stepped outside ready to roll just after 10pm, and to my surprise, could see stars! And familiar constellations, but in entirely different positions than I was used to.  

We were headed up Ruta de Corredor, a 4.5km direct route to the summit with 4,700' of gain. The route starts with a heinous steep climb up loose volcanic scree, but luckily(?) for us it was frozen. So mud-frontpointing in crampons it is! This was painful, but a rapid way to gain elevation. We crested the ridge at El Castillo (18,050') at some point around 11pm. This is where the route gets engaging. Raul led a nice 4th class step and we skirted a few small cliff bands to gain the glacier. 

We took the red line
At this point, I was getting beat. The wind was howling, it was cold, and I was in full parka and over mittens. The cold, coupled with just crossing 19,000', had made it a challenge to eat. At about 12:30 I told Raul I needed a break, so we stopped to refuel and assess our (read: my) options. I choked down some cold chews, and Raul poked around in the snow above us. At this point we had already crossed some pretty big crevasses, and the snow conditions were not ideal. The last few days of snow had set up firm over a deep layer of sugary facets, not ideal on a 55 degree slope. Raul tried explaining to me that no one would summit today, and the snow was no good. I, now totally apathetic and ready to go home, agreed without question. Raul was slightly confused about my lack of anger over turning around, so I tried the best I could to explain to him that the mountain wasn't going anywhere, there is always more time, etc. We turned around and headed for the hut, passing groups below us and informing them of the conditions. 

Summit for the day! Looking down the glacier at 19,100'
Raul and I back at El Castillo, enjoying the beer I had carried up for us
Practically running down the mud slope, we were back to the hut by 5am, ready for bed. The next morning around ten we headed back down to town, and I straight to bed after that. Then a bus to Quito the next day. 

And here I sit, trying to occupy my last day in Quito before heading back to the States tomorrow. 

Chimborazo (20,564') from the Wymper Hut
The higher hut, Refugio Wymper

I don't think I would have made the summit had the snow conditions been perfect. The lack of food, combined (I strongly believe) with being awake for the 26 hours before we departed conspired against me. Lots to digest and learn from before Denali this coming May.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

South of the Border (Wall) - Pico de Orizaba

After Izta we hung out in Puebla, relaxing for a few days.  We even had the whole family out in an old cantina owned by some friends of Vicki and Miguel for a few adult libations!

The whole crew (CW from left - Dylan, Thomas, Tania, Aranza, Miguel, me, Tamara, Vicki, Miguel, Christian, Cheko)
Eventually, it was on to our main goal - Pico de Orizaba...

We had a bit of confusion on bus availability to Tlachichuca, so we just hired another Uber to take us directly to Servimont, our base for climbing Pico de Orizaba.  We arrived at Servimont early Friday afternoon and were the only inhabitants of the place.  We explored the grounds, but generally just lounged around in the sunshine.  There was even an old climbing wall to keep Dylan and Thomas occupied.
Pico de Orizabo

Outside the Servimont "compound"
One of the many benefits of using Servimont was the included breakfast and dinner meals.  We were joined at dinner that evening by Dema, a climber from the Ukraine, who was planning to climb alone.  Later in the meal we were joined by a couple of American guys, who introduced themselves as Micah from Denver and Randy from Castle Rock.  We now had a team of six for Pico.
Servimont Lodge

Servimont Lodge

Thomas and Dylan in hurry up and wait mode
After a great breakfast the next morning, the six of us loaded up in the camper of a Ram 4x4 to make the rough, dusty, two hour drive from Tlachichuca to the climbing hut, Refugio Piedra Grande, at 4275 meters.  Unlike the refugio on Izta, this hut was a bit more rustic.  A big open area with three levels of "accommodations".  Since it was early, we figured we'd better grab an open spot, so we got to cleaning an area for our sleeping bags.
Micah and Dylan on the second floor with Dema holding a makeshift dustpan

Looking from the far end to the entrance

Refugio Piedra Grande
After getting situated, the six of us took off for an afternoon hike to acclimatize a bit.  We left the hut via a covered, concrete aqueduct, skipping over the many holes, before starting up the steep, loose, switch-backed trail.  Man was it hard to breathe!
Looking up at the glacier from the steep trail
Looking back down (D Fadgen photo)
As we continued higher, the wind moved the clouds in and out, keeping the temperature relatively cool.  We eventually reached at altitude of roughly 4750m where we got a view of "The Labyrinth".  This section is a mixture of steep rock and snow/ice couloirs in irregular patterns and was supposedly the toughest section of the climb.  Didn't look too bad in the daylight, we'd see (or not) what darkness brought.
The Labyrinth
Refugio Piedra Grande was hopping when we returned a couple of hours later.  All the "sleeping slots" appeared to be full and a large group was setting up tents just outside the hut.  We were debating on a start time, but seeing the self arrest practice going on on a dirt slope right outside the hut convinced us we needed to leave earlier than everyone else.

After a quick dinner of steamed tamales (leftovers from breakfast a few days prior) and avocado, we hit the sack at 8:30 to try and get some sleep.

The six of us woke at 11:30 and by midnight we were slowly marching up the aqueduct in the bright (blood) moonlight.  We were excited to be the first group out.

We stopped at our previous high point, below the labyrinth, to brew up some coffee and eat the pastries we'd been hauling.  I'm not sure what the temperature was, but it was definitely below freezing and there was a light breeze.  We had a great view of the many headlamps heading our way as we sipped hot coffee trying to stay warm.
D Fadgen photo
We put on our harnesses, crampons, grabbed our ice axes and entered the maze called "The Labyrinth".  What looked easy the previous afternoon appeared much more difficult in the dark (duh!).  For the most part, the six of us stuck together as we wound up, over, and around.  This was all great fun at 17,000 feet! 

All smiles at the base of the labyrinth
After an hour of wandering through the Labyrinth, we popped up over a ridge and were at the base of the Jamapa Glacier at roughly 5050m.  We stopped here for another extended break and were joined by a guided group of 7 or 8 climbers.

The guided group formed into two rope teams and started up the glacier.  We waited a few minutes and started after them, not roped up.  We headed up the glacier for a bit across the hard snow before we found the well worn boot track that steeply switched back and forth to the crater rim.

We reached the rim just as the blood moon was setting on our right and the sun was rising to the left.  Awesome sight!  It was 7AM, colder than hell, a bit windy, and the summit was in view.
Cold but happy to be above 18K feet!

The guided group ahead of us

Getting ready for the summit at the crater rim
From the rim, it was just a short walk and another 30-40m elevation gain to the summit at 5650m (18,490 feet).
Summit selfie - Dylan, myself and Thomas
Dema on the summit

Randy (left) and Micah (M DeHenau photo)
This the the view we came for
We didn't linger on the summit too long.  It was too damn cold! I was pretty beat by this time, so asked Dylan to put me on a rope for the glacier descent.  As we headed down, we had to move around the (mostly delirious) folks headed up.
The hordes of Sunday climbers heading up (D Fadgen photo)
Before too long we were off the glacier looking for a spot out of the wind.  Once we found that spot, we all took another extended break to fuel up.

Dylan taking a break
Then we came to down climbing the Labyrinth section.  Rather than just putting our crampons on, facing inward and just going down a steep snow/ice couloir, we all farted around trying to find an easier way.  This wasted considerable time, and eventually some of us final resigned to putting our crampons on.

Once through the Labyrinth, it was just a knee busting stroll through the loose volcanic rock back to Piedra Grande.

I joined Dema, Thomas, and Dylan at the hut a little before noon, with Randy and Micah showing up a little later.  I was one whipped guy!
Looking back up at the summit of Pico de Orizaba
Luckily for us, the Servimont transport truck showed up a short while later, and we loaded up and made the tortuously slow drive back to Tlachichuca.

After a shower, a couple of Tacos el Pastor and a few cervezas, we were feeling pretty good.

Overall, it was an excellent climb with my son, his buddy Thomas and some great new friends, Dema, Micah and Randy!

Waiting for the bus to Puebla

Sunday, January 13, 2019

South of the Border (Wall) - Iztaccihuatl

Dylan and his buddy, Thomas, set up a trip to Mexico to climb North America's third tallest peak back in August.  Once I caught wind off it, I weaseled my way into being a part of it.  After all, Pico de Orizaba is the third tallest peak in NA, after Denali and Mt. Logan.  With the climbing being based out of Puebla, Mexico, I talked my lovely bride into coming down with us.  It was a win-win situation - I could climb with the boys and she could visit with her sister (and her family), who just happened to live outside of Puebla City, in Cholula.

Tamara and I arrived in Puebla City,  Sunday evening, after Dylan and Thomas had achieved a personal altitude record while climbing La Malinche that morning.  The next day we toured the downtown Cholula area, ate some Tacos Arabes, and got settled in with the Rodriguez family.
Tamara and I with Popocatépetl on the left and Iztaccíhuatl on the right
 The boys had Tuesday pegged as the day to travel to the trail head for our attempt at Iztaccihuatl or "Izta" at 17,160 feet. You can read about "Izta" here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iztaccihuatl  As "Izta" is considered the sleeping lady, the trail traverses from the feet, to the knees, across the belly, to the highpoint, the chest (pecho).

I kissed the wife goodbye just as the Uber driver pulled up.  The plan was to Uber to San Nicolas de Los Ranchos and then find a taxi to take us to the Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park headquarters on Paso de Cortes.  Turns out this is the "non-standard" route, due to the 20km of dirt road required to get to the park headquarters.

But Dylan and Thomas worked their magic and convinced the Uber driver to take us all the way to the park headquarters "por dinero".

We knew we needed to purchase passes at the park headquarters to climb Izta, so we did that.  Then, we  went back outside to find a way to get to the La Joya trail head, 8km up another dirt road.  After 20 minutes or so, I flagged down a taxi driver heading over the pass who offered to take us to the trail head for a small fee.
"Popo" from the park headquarters

The south side of "Izta" from the park headquarters.  The "feet" are on the right.

La Joya trail head
We'd brought camping gear with the intent on staying at La Joya, but the wind and cold had us considering staying at the refugio.  I convinced the guys that we should at least walk up the mile to check out Refugio de Altzomoni.
Heading to the refugio
It was a good call.  Though, apparently, you are supposed to pay to stay at the refuge, we convinced a nice Mexican gentlemen to allow us to share his room.  After all, we didn't have transportation to get to the park headquarters.  He was there to cook for a guided group acclimatizing for Pico (Climbing the Seven Summits) and offered up some bunks in his room for a small tip.

Our original plan was to get going at 1AM, but we changed that to a 3AM start.  When we left, the weather was clear and not too cold, considering we were at 13,000 at 3AM.  We retraced our steps to the La Joya trail head, stashed our duffel bag, and started up the steep trail.  The trail to the summit of "Izta" follows the curves of the body of the "Sleeping Lady" to her chest.

As it was dark, and the trail was steep, I did not take any photos.  After a couple of hours, we arrived at the refugio at the base of the "knees" at 15,450 feet just as it was getting light enough to see without a headlamp.  It was occupied by the group that had left our refugio earlier, so we didn't linger.

At this point, the trail really steepened and we had to deal with loose volcanic soil and rocks as we ascended the "knees".  After struggling for half an hour in the loose, steep crap, we eventually reached a ridge just at sunrise.  And to our amazement, Popo let off a cloud of smoke!

Dylan on the ridge with Pop behind him
With sunlight came strength.  We had a short, fun, class 3 scramble to the top of the "knees" and we could finally see our summit.  Or could we?

At this point it was close to 7:30, we were above 16K feet and the summit looked a long way off.
Summit is back there somewhere

We eventually came to the remnants of the stomach glacier, necessitating crampons for some security.

Crossing the glacier

Looking back across the glacier (note the one crevasse on the left)
After a couple of undulations, we reached the crater rim.  It was 9:45, and I was beat.  Dylan pointed out that though this was recognized as the summit (there was even a marker), the true summit was across another snowfield.

So, we set off across the crater snowfield toward the true summit.  Maybe is was the altitude (17K feet) but the north summit seemed a long way away.  It wasn't.

I'm the good looking one without the facial hair.
We reached the summit, 17,160 feet, at 10:15.  Hugs all around, a few photos, some snacks, and it was time to turn around.  We were the only ones on top, and we could not see any one else following our tracks.
Heading down

It was an uneventful descent other than the clouds building on the southern (trail head) side making for  a cool hike.

We eventually reached the La Joya trail head at 2PM, for an 11 hour, 10 mile, 5000 foot day.  We were all whipped.

Now we needed to figure out how to get back to Cholula.  Unfortunately, we didn't think about hiring someone to meet us a the trail head and drive us back.  Unlike me,  Dylan and Thomas were not worried.  So after a short break, we loaded up - Dylan with his and Thomas's packs, Thomas with the camping duffel, and me carrying my gear, and headed down the road.

As we moved slowly down the road, we spotted a box truck heading down from the refugio.  Even luckier, they happened to see Dylan running down the trail in their direction and stopped!  With the three of us squeezed into the back of this telephone company box truck, a short bumpy ride brought us back to the National Park headquarters.
Happy that we have a ride down!
While waiting around outside the park headquarters, a taxi (with customers) stopped.  After a couple of gyrations with Google translate, we eventually figured he would take us down our side of the mountain after he transported his current customers down the other side.

He said he'd be back in 40 minutes.  Two hours later, he showed up and we hopped into his van for the mad scramble down the dirt road.  Rather than take us to Cholula, he dropped us off in the town square of the first little town we came to.

In the taxi
Ten stressful minutes later, a van showed up with a Cholula sign in the window.  Our ride!  We climbed in and spent the next hour and a half crammed into the mini-van "taxi" with all our gear and between 6 and 12 other people.  We eventually reached our destination a little after 7PM, exhausted.

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A team of adventurers consisting of John, Tamara, Taylor, Dylan, and Shadow Fadgen