Sunday, November 23, 2008

Los Amigos

Amongst my many photos are snaps of my amigos, the guys I climbed Izta with. Like any journey you make, it's only as good as the company you keep, and I can't complain I didn't have some good chaps along with me!

Adrian, my English student and the first to join up!

Adrian's cousin Victor (left) and our guide Hilarion.

Enrique and Angel, former colleagues of Adrian.


Happy Internet Story

One of the biggest issues I had in climbing Izta was finding appropriate footwear - trainers just really aren't the best thing to have on your feet. But here in Mexico, shoe retailers don't have anything for a UK size 11 foot! Nothing at all. The largest shoe I've ever seen here was a 10, and just the one pair in one shop. Otherwise a size 9 is about as big as they get.

But I was rescued. A chap in the UK with a passion for mountain climbing had come across my blog, as as luck had it he had a trip to Mexico planned. After a few emails had been exchanged about his forthcoming adventure, to climb the Nevado de Toluca, Izta and the giant Pico de Orizaba, and my own plans, I hit upon the idea of seeing if he could bring me over a pair of decent boots.

And he was more than obliging, which was something of a lifesaver! The power of the internet, and PayPal, should never be underestimated! We met a couple of weeks ago, and the boots fortunately fit perfectly. They will remain treasured items and will hopefully see lots more use. Their climbs were more successful than mine, successfully summitting all three peaks.

I thanked them plenty, but one last official, blogged thank you, where it all began, doesn't hurt at all! Gracias amigos!



Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Photographs

I've processed and uploaded all my photos to Flickr now, and you can see them by clicking on the link under the photo below. I've arranged the seven sets into a collection - Flickr makes life so easy! This particular shot shows La Malinche, and a little further out Pico de Orizaba.



The Climb Report

So the big weekend finally came, and we set off for the climb up Iztaccihuatl. We went with High Guides Mexico, who picked us up at midday at a location of our choice (COyoacan turned out to be the convenient meeting place for us all) and drove us to our destination in a big van along with two other climbers from the US.

First stop was the small town of Amecameca, just outside the Popo and Izta National Park for lunch, last minute food supplies and a short walk around. Then on up the mountain to Paseo de Cortes. This is where you pay your entrance fee to get in the park - very cheap, just 20 pesos per person I think. It also has the last toilet you'll see! It's just a big building and car park really, not a town.

Popocatapetl was a prominent view throughout the hike.

The drive up to La Joya takes a while, and we arrived at about 5pm. The original plan had been to go straight from there to the Grupo de los Cien hut, about a four hour hike away. But the hut was full, probably because in Mexico it was a long weekend with a public holiday on the Monday. So instead, we set up a couple of tents, got out the sleeping bags and went to bed at a very early 9pm, ready to begin the hike at 2 to 3am the next morning.

In hindsight, this turned out to be just as well. There were six of us in all, including the guide, Hilarion. Myself, my English student Adrian, his cousin Victor and a couple of his friends, Enrique and Angel. The altitude took it's toll on some of the party and the four hour hike turned into a 10 hour hike!

The Knees came into close view at the Grupo de los Cien hut.

The downside of this was that, having reached the hut, which lies at the base of the first main peak, the Knees, we had to turn around and head back. So there was no chance to reach the summit on this trip! The highest point attained was 5,000 metres, just a couple of hundred metres short of the main peak. So not bad, really!

I'm not going to give up though. I shall go again, and this time, with a new plan, reach the summit! Personally I had no problem with the altitude which was good. I will also have more to write about the trip over the next week or two!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

High Guides Mexico

I mentioned a while ago that we had found a guide. Or my student had. Ironically, it's the same company I found, HGMexico, but the bargain price of 750 pesos turned out to be too good to be true! That's for a single day walking around the mountain, not up it! The real price is 1,500 pesos, although it has to be added this price is for Mexicans. I am assuming that I will be granted honorary Mexican status for the trip, seeing as I am going with 5 or 6 real Mexicans and I do live here!

One good reason to hire a guide is to avoid the situation below....



Monday, November 3, 2008

Stay Over In Mexico City

Mountain climbing season begins in December in Mexico, so lots of avid climbers will shortly be making their way to Pico de Orizaba or Iztaccihuatl and others. But whichever mountain or mountains they're planning climb - most will start by tackling a few smaller, easier peaks to help them acclimatize - most will start their trip in Mexico City. Whether they like it or not - the international airport is here.

And a fair number of them will suddenly feel lost. It's a huge city and they know next to nothing about it. They've just been reading up on the mountains they're visiting! But Mexico City is a fabulous place and well worth hanging around for a few days, or even a week if it's possible. It's a city that is relatively easy to move around with an excellent public transport system, and tourist facilities.

But what is there to see? Lots, of course! There is always something new happening, an old tradition being replayed, and plenty of permanent institutions to visit. Here's my Top Ten that should keep any visitor occupied for a few days at the very least...

1. The Zocalo. It's the worlds largest town square, and is the heart of the Historic Center, surrounded on all sides by colonial architectural masterpieces. The most evident is the huge Metropolitan Cathedral. You can climb onto the roof for just 12 pesos. On the left of the Cathedral (from the Cathedral's perspective!) is the National Palace. Entry is free, and it contains some of Diego Rivera's finest murals. You'll also find the Aztec dancers in the Zocalo, and the opportunity for a spiritual cleansing if you so desire.

2. Bellas Artes. The National Arts Palace, just a ten to fifteen minute walk from the Zocalo, it's a fantastic piece of architecture with more of Mexico's finest murals inside. It's free to enter, but you'll have to pay 10 pesos to take photos. Well worth it. For the best photo of the palace, go into Sears opposite, take the elevator to the Coffee Shop (8 or 9) and wander out onto the balcony.

3. Paseo de la Reforma. More often just called Reforma, it's a huge avenue that runs from Bellas Artes to Chapultepec Park, and makes for a great walk. It's famous for it's street art exhibitions. At the moment there are dozens of decorative, sometimes bizarre, benches.

4. Chapultepec. A park, a lake, and a castle. All in one. Plan on spending a whole afternoon there, at least. The castle sits on a hill and like most of these institutions is a treasure trove of art and history. Want to take a paddle boat around the lake? No problems. There's also a zoo, but I can't really recommend that in good conscience.

5. Turibus. It's a simple enough concept. Every city has one. This turibus goes on a huge loop through the cities best parts, and you can get on and off at will. Bring suntan lotion and a cap if you want to sit on the top deck! It's a long ride.

6. Teotihucan Tour. Most hotels and hostels do this tour. It's a must. You'll visit the Basilica de Guadalupe, a Tequila farm, the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and then the monumental ancient pyramids.

7. Museo de Franz Mayer. One of my favourite museums in the Centro Historico, it's situated near Bellas Artes, and aside from all the art, has excellent temporary exhibitions and a wonderful coffee shop in an outdoor patio. 45 pesos entry.

8. Estadio Azteca and Dolores Olmedo. A ride down the Tren Ligero (see a Metro map for details) will take you past the world famous football stadium. A little further on at La Noria station, you'll find one of Mexico city's best kept secrets - the Museo de dolores Olmedo.

9. Lucha Libre. Check out Ticketmaster to get seats for the best wrestling show in the world. It's meant as a comedy/gymnastic experience, and you'll learn a lot about Mexican culture too. You can't take your camera in though.

10. Xochimilco. An excellent way to end a trip to the city, grab a tour to Xochimilco and ride down the canals in a big gondola, listening to Mariachis, eating tacos and drinking beer.



Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Boots Are Here!

The whole plan is coming together, finally. Two of the most important pieces of my Climbing Izta jigsaw have been put in place. Firstly, my boots have arrived, special delivery, courtesy of two amigos from the UK. They are a fine looking pair of boots and fit perfectly, thank goodness! They weren't terribly cheap for a peso earning gringo, but climbing a big mountain like Izta without them would have been .

Secondly, it looks like we've found ourselves a guide, with the essential equipment, including walking sticks and crampons. Most of the guide companies are set up for americans with dollars and are priced as such. USD$250 per person has been the average going rate. But we've found a more affordable company who charge just 750 pesos per person and that, I believe, includes transport and gear.