Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mountain Climates

There is one unavoidable, unpredictable and slightly frustrating issue with mountain climbing - the weather. As was ably demonstrated when we went up the Nevado de Toluca, it is often foggy. But unlike beach holidays, you can't really check the weather forecast and change plans on the fly. Mountains make their own climate, that can be pretty independent of the world around it, as you can see from the photo below. You just have to cross your fingers that it clears up when you summit!



Friday, October 24, 2008

A Learning Experience

The trip up to the Nevado de Toluca was meant as a learning experience, an opportunity to experience a little 'light' mountain climbing before we attempt Iztaccihuatl next month. Was it a worthwhile exercise you might ask? Definitely was!

Did I learn just how much hard work it is to climb a mountain? Well, yes and no. I knew it was going to be a hard slog, but actually doing it brings home to you just how hard! The higher we got, the more sandy the ground was, and keeping your footing really becomes an issue!

The altitude itself was a concern - would any of us get altitude sickness, or otherwise feel unwell? Fortunately no one felt any the worse for being 4690 metres above sea level, and I myself was quite relieved to feel so good. Being the smoker that I am, I had worried that any more oxygen deprivation might cause my limbs to give up! I suspect that living in Mexico City helps on two counts. Firstly, I already live at an altitude of 2600 metres. Secondly, the air here is so polluted that being depreived of the oxygen stuff is something my body has gotten used to!

I really do need some proper hiking shoes though. I didn't slip on the way up in my trainers, but I did have a couple of small, but quickly recovered slips on the way down! It's also been pointed out to me that wearing cooton jeans is a cardinal sin when mountain climbing, so I guess I need to look for some light weight and waterproof trousers too!

Another lesson learned regards recovery. It was pretty tiring going up the Nevado de Toluca, but Izta is going to be a much bigger task. So we are probably going to put back the climb by one week. The 17th of November, a Monday, is a bank holiday here, and I think most of us will need the extra day to regain our strength and use of our muscles!

It's easy to think that Izta is just 500 or 600 metres taller than the Nevado de Toluca - 4690 metres compared to 5200 metres or so. But we were able to drive more than half way up the Nevado de Toluca! That won't be the case with Izta. And that 600 odd extra metres...that's one and a half Sears Towers!

But the most valuable lesson? Izta is a big mountain, and a big task. But doing Toluca's finest mountain in preparation has given us all confidence - we can do it! Even if we just target the knees, we'll be up to the challenge. The 'we' part is very important by the way. One of my students (not someone in on this venture) went up the Nevado de Toluca on a school trip many years ago. One of his classmates, got seperated, lost and slipped on the edge of a steep drop and died. There's been a fair few fatalities on that mountain.

Anyway, I leave this post with a little video I took from the summit of the Nevado de Toluca. It's very short, and there's not much to see. A little rock, which drops off sharply, disappearing quickly into a blanket of fog!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nevado De Toluca photos

I've finally processed and uploaded all my photos from the mountain. Do you like fog? Because there was plenty of that! But the skies did clear for a few minutes and allow me to get a few nice shots, and there were some interesting flowers up there too.The photo below is of the path leading to the Moon Lake, before the really tough climbing, but it gives a little idea as to how barren and rocky it is up there.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Climbing Nevado De Toluca

Yesterday, also my birthday incidentally, I climbed the Nevado de Toluca with a few of the gang who will also be going up Izta with me. Plus my wife Paola, who decided to brave the elements this time, but who has no intention of trying to climb Izta! The Nevado de Toluca is no small mountain, but you do have the advantage of being able to drive half way up.But it's still a 4690 metre mountain, only 600 metres shorter than Izta itself.

Although in fairness, this isn't as much of a cheat as it sounds. You could easily walk up that first part - it's not challenging, just time consuming. What we did establish very quickly though, was that today was going to be a cold and very misty day! Sometimes, if it's clear you can get not only great views at the top, but see the lakes bathed in sunshine which gives then a very blue, surreal look. Not today though - that's the thing with climbing mountains.

Anyway, we parked up and began the hour/hour and a half long walk to the two crater lakes, which is a fairly leisurely hike along pathways, and is definitely not something anyone would struggle with. Families bring their kids along this part of the journey. We did have a bit of luck. Near the first lake, the Moon Lake, the heavy mist temporarily subsided and we got some nice photos of the valley below and the lake itself. But by the time we had gone around a largish hill to see the Sun Lake, the mist had returned.

Then for the hard part. Climbing to the summit. I have to say now, I have more respect for those guys who have climbed Everest and other monster peaks than ever before! It's hard work! It's probably only an hour long hike, or two hours for the less fit or energetic. But it's up steepish ground, on very unstable ground that continually changes from sandy to rocky. It's easy to slip, and impossible in places to keep a great pace.

There were six of us in all, and only four of us finally made it to the summit. Paola and one of the others (who may well change his mind about Izta!) stopped just 50 to 75 metres short of the summit, exhausted. It seems a shame that they got so close, but to be honest that final bit has the toughest climbing of all.

It's a good feeling to get to the top, which was just a very small piece of rock, and for me it has increased my enthusiasm to climb Izta! I couldn't see anything by fog from the summit, except at the edges, where rocks dropped down steeply....that gave the feeling of being at the peak more feeling though! Hopefully we will be luckier with the weather at Izta.

What have I learned from this trip? Plenty, but that's for another post! I will say that it was a valuable exercise though. I'm uploading photos as I speak so I shall be blogging those as well tonight or tomorrow! But here is just one that I've quickly uploaded...


At the summit.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Another Summit Post

I've come across another excellent, and very helpful report on climbing Izta. Actually I didn't just stumble across it - a link to it was emailed to me. There's no better way of preparing for such a huge adventure than learning from other peoples efforts at doing the same thing, so these sort of reports are both helpful and encouraging!

After passing the high point just short of the glacier we put on our crampons. They remained on until we got back to this same place. There was a bit of a crevasse close to the near side of the glacier. We could see where others had crossed it at a bit of a packed down place. After that we headed straight across staying to the high line. There were several narrow cracks in the glacier, but nothing that was gaping. Do not stray too far to the west side. It drops off dramatically. You will see this when you look back further on.

The glacier drops down some in the middle before rising back up again. After arriving at the other side it is a left turn to go to the summit. Before making this turn we had to negotiate a small snow cliff. Again we saw where other tracks had found the easiest way up.

There is a narrow stretch of ridge with some up and down before the final push to the first summit. This is a place where some might want an axe. We chose to stay with our ski poles because it felt more secure. It is definitely a place to watch your step!

At the 5100m contour we started the final ridge to the summit. The ridge was mostly bare of snow. Sometimes we got to choose between some loose stuff or rock scrambling. There were a few places where there was little choice and some exposure. We topped out on the first of three summits at 537816 2120155. From here the other two summits can be seen. The three summits were bare of snow and rose above the summit glacier.

The full report can be found here.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Mexico's Big 7 - No3

I've covered places 4,5,6 and 7 in my list of Mexico's seven biggest mountains. And now it's time for third place and the object of my blog - Iztaccihuatl! And it's with Izta that a barrier is broken. The 5,000 metre barrier to be precise. Izta stands a whopping 5,230 metres tall, at the summit of which there is only 50% of the oxygen you'd get by being at sea level. It's going to be a hard slog up it! For more infor, here is the Wiki page.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mexico's Big 7 - No 4

I've been listing the seven biggest mountains in Mexico over the last few months. The Magnificent Mexican 7 if you like. At number 4 in the list? The Nevado de Toluca, which I'll be climbing in about 10 days from now.


It's a big mountain at 4,680 m (15,354 ft) tall, and has two very picturesque lakes in the crater. I say it's a mountain but it is in fact a volcano. It hasn't erupted for a long time, which is just as well, because the last time it did erupt it left Mexico City 2 ft deep in fine sand. It would cause severe disruption to about 30 million people in fact.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

HG Mexico

I've also found a site with mountain guides, HG Mexico, which is worth blogging about - they could come in handy. I'm going to write to them to see if they'd do a much cheaper deal than the one they advertise for a 2 day climb up Ixta. We don't need transfers and stuff like that. Although to be honest I'm not sure we really need a guide, but if one was available cheaply enough, we'd consider it.

More to the point though, is whether we can rent some gear from them. Head lamps and crampons in particular. I shall just have to find out! Their website really sucks as well, design wise. Their use of English isn't perfect either. Maybe I could do a deal with them....a shiny new website with correct spelling, in exchange for a guided trip with all equipment.



Pico de Orizaba

I was sent the link to this video on YouTube showing a team climbing up and then down Mexico's tallest mountain, Orizaba. It looks cold. It looks tiring. It looks fantastic! I have neither the gear nor the experience at the moment, but one day...


Iztaccihuatl Video

Here's a video of a group of climbers going all the way to the top of Izta! I found it on YouTube having been sent a link to a video of a climb of Pico de Orizaba, which I'll post soon too. The thing I'm looking at is their clothing and equipment....I'm still working out what we'll be taking!


Life and Crimes in Mexico City

Mexico City has long held an unfortunate reputation for high levels of crime. Murder, kidnaps, armed robbery - they have it all here. But are you seriously at risk? Probably not. But first a disclaimer. My rough guide below is from both my experience and the shared experiences of others I converse with in the city. It is just a guide. Of course it's possible to fall victim to crime, no matter what city you visit. It's simply about assessing the dangers and reducing the risks, like any other place you might visit.

At the moment Mexico is in the news around the world, with beheadings and other grisly murders taking place on a daily basis. But these crimes are all part of the narco wars, and generally in specific areas. The perpetrators really don't give a monkeys for the odd tourist walking past. Tourists just aren't on the radar, hitlist, whatever you want to call it.

Kidnappings are up again this year too. But again, tourists (and resident gringo TEFL teachers for that matter, fortunately!) are not on the radar. These kidnappings are being done by very organised gangs who are picking their (always very wealthy) targets very carefully.

If you remove all these crimes, what do the statistics look like? Well, any stat with anything other than a '0' in the murder column can be improved upon! But they look a lot less scary. The reality is that even with all these narco murders, there are still quite a few cities in the US with higher murder rates.

What about robbery, pickpocketing and the such? Well, again, they do happen. I got robbed at gun point earlier this year. But I am the only TEFL teacher here who has been so unlucky, and I was walking around a dodgy area at 5.45am, in an unlit street, going past a load of dark alleys....I could have avoided it! Should have, even.

Another visitor recently got her wallet pickpocketed on the Metrobus too. But that too should have been avoided. There are simple precautions you can take! I've given a couple of examples of the negatives. I could write thousands of words about all the people here, and visitors we've had, who left Mexico City without ever seeing or hearing of a crime. There is a chance of something going awry, of course. But if you just take the same basic precautions you would elsewhere, the chance of something going awry with you is pretty slim. As for casual violent crime, I feel a whole load safer here than I ever did in the UK! The people here are really very friendly and non confrontational.

Another thing to bear in mind is that if someone does decide to rob you, they are probably just desperate, and really just want a little cash, not to actually hurt you. Hand over a little cash, and they'll be gone. And you'll have a story to tell when you get home! But it's unlikely. There's really no need to be unduly alarmed. There are thousands of tourists here right now having a fine, crime free, time.

Any questions?! :)


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Iztaccihuatl 1974

I came across a fantastic set of photos on Flickr today, taken by a chap going by the Flickr username of Prinzipal, back in 1974, and more recently digitised and added to Flickr. It's great to see how it looked...will there be as much snow when I get to the top? I'm suspecting not!

Another Redesign!

The last template didn't last long, so I have another new look to the site! I wanted to install Disqus, a third party comments system, to the blog, but the previous template made that difficult. I prefer the new look anyway!

By the way, if you have a blog, especially if it's with Blogger, it's well worth installing Disqus. It's a million times better than standard comments systems.


Friday, October 3, 2008

A New Look

I've given the blog a new look today. Nothing very flash - just a standard Blogger theme and a header I whacked up in Photoshop. The only reason I've done this is that the old template I had was screwing around with the formatting of the posts a bit.

More importantly, the blog has now got a Google Pagerank of 2, which isn't bad for a newish site with limited posts. This is helpful, because one of the purposes of this blog was to be able to monetize it and raise some money for WildCoast, my charity of choice.

The other reasons were of course to help in planning, get some feedback from more experienced climbers than myself, and also as a record of the trip.