Ascent to Volcán Popocatépetl-Crater Rim on 1993-01-13

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Brian from UK (Went ahead)
Date:Wednesday, January 13, 1993
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Taxicab
Point Reached:Volcán Popocatépetl - Crater Rim
    Elevation:17175 ft / 5234 m
    Remaining Elevation:584 ft / 178 m (12% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Tuesday, January 12, 1993:

Note: This trip report uses the 24-hour clock ("military time") to show the time and duration of events.

1130-1215: Got a cab ride from the Zocalo in Amecameca up a winding, steep, but paved road to the mountain lodge at Tlamacas, high on the shoulder of the 17,800 foot high volcano Popocatepetl. The route was through a small village, a pleasant pine forest, and then the open Paso de Cortes. I talked to the cabbie a lot in my poor Spanish, and gave him N$50 for the ride, which included a tip of N$10.

1215-1440: It was too early to check into the Vincente Guerrero Lodge at Tlamacas (elevation 12,950 feet) when I arrived, so I hung out on the huge sunny patio, looked at views of the nearby massive cone of Popocatepetl and the ridge of Iztaccihuatl further away across the Paso de Cortes, talked to a bunch of guys hanging out there, and went on short practice hikes up small hills nearby.

1440-1930: Hung out at the Tlamacas Lodge. Ate, sat, rested, tried to get used to the altitude, went for short walks, and talked to the many climbers from all over the world who had come up here. Since most were American, including a big group from the Colorado State University, the language was all English. I talked to a British guy named Brian, solo like me, and we agreed to hook up together for our ascent of Popocatepetl, leaving at 0230 the next morning.

1930-0200: Tried to sleep in my noisy dormitory bunkroom in the Tlamacas Lodge. I slept in the loft, above the bunks, thinking it would be quieter, but some climbers were organizing gear, reading, turning on lights, and being noisy. I finally asked them to quiet down at about 2300, and managed a little bit of sleep, but not much.

Wednesday, January 13:

0200-0240: Woke up when my alarm chirped, quickly got my pack and mountaineering gear together, and went into the common room of the Tlamacas Lodge. Brian was all ready to go, and he left at 0215, as well as others, so I hurriedly wolfed down a ton of chocolate and other cold food for breakfast, made a final check of my pack, threw what I wasn't taking into my unlocked locker in the bunkroom, and took off up Popocatepetl, worried I was late.

0240-0300: Hiked alone up the wide trail up from Tlamacas. The footing was on black volcanic sand, it was very dark out, and I had trouble finding the path in the occasional thick fog. I had no headlamp, but the trail was easy enough to follow by what moonlight filtered through the fog. The scene was especially beautiful once above the clouds, with distant lights, mountain grandeur, and shimmering fog all around in the darkness.

0300-0500: Catch up to Brian, who tells me we are first ones out on the mountain--others in lodge were going to Izta. We hike together at his slow pace up the easy trail to Las Cruces at 14,600 feet, talking to each other the whole way. Brian is slow, but I don't mind, and neither of us has trouble.

0500-0850: After a nice rest at Las Cruces (where we accidentally woke up some sleeping Mexicans in a tent camped out), Brian and I started up the cone of Popo, soon reaching ice, where we stopped to put on our crampons. After a while we were on a pure, solid, boring, huge, towering 30 degree slope of ice of over 2000 vertical feet, slowly plugging away. As dawn breaks I got way ahead of Brian, and I left him behind as two Americans passed both of us. I was going very slowly, and I didn't feel I could have gone slower to accommodate the wheezing Englishman. The upper quarter of the cone was utter hell, as I needed two breaths for every step and frequent rests as I panted, wheezed, and huffed my way up the relentless slope.

0850-0910: Utterly exhausted, I arrived at the rim of the crater with noxious sulfur fumes and thick clouds swirling around me. I rested for a bit, but am unable to eat--the thought of food makes me nauseous, even tiny slivers of Snickers bars. I feel very tired, lightheaded, and out of it, all due to the extreme altitude of 17,000 feet. I then started to traverse around the rim of the crater to my right, over rocky sections and up a discouraging icy slope.

0910: The mist, fumes, clouds, and smoke from on top of the volcano cleared for a minute, and I saw the summit of Popo, far, far away across the incredible chasm of the crater. I had arrived on the rim at its lowest point, and it looked like a minimum of another uphill hour to the mountain's summit, the crater rim's high point. Unable to think straight, and totally exhausted, I decided to turn back. In retrospect this was a bad decision, since I certainly could have somehow made it to the top, but I was unable to think clearly, and had no energy due to lack of food, so I simply turned around. I now wish I hadn't.

0910-0930: I retraced my steps around the crater rim to where the route down intersected it, and rested again. Boy, was I out of it.

0930-1240: I descended Popo from the crater rim back to the Tlamacas Lodge. Below the rim of the crater I met many people on their way up, including Brian, still chugging away at a glacial pace--a German couple had passed him, and others were gaining. I told them all what I knew, and made my way down the steep cone by zigzagging. It was still hard work. Near Las Cruces I took off my crampons as a bad storm enveloped the upper mountain, I just missing snow, rain, and white-out fog. Although exhausted, the downhill from Las Cruces to Tlamacas was an easy slog, as slogs go.

1240-1800: Unpacked, took off my mountaineering clothes, and took a nice, long nap in the loft of my bunkroom in the Tlamacas Lodge.

1800-2100: Hung out in Tlamacas, mostly in the common room, where I chatted with people, ate my dinner, and took part in the jovial scene of many international climbers milling about. Brian, it turned out, made the summit, in true tortoise-and-hare style, by chugging away, returning at 1730 after having been caught in the nasty storm. He got a cab down from the lodge that night.

2100: Went to sleep, again in the loft of my bunkroom. It was much quieter tonight than last, with things quiet after about 2200. A few climbers, sharing the loft with me, got up at 0200, but I went back to sleep soon after they were gone.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4225 ft / 1287 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4225 ft / 1287 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2 Snow
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Headlamp
    Weather:Cold, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4225 ft / 1287 m
    Distance:3.1 mi / 5 km
    Route:Las Cruces
    Start Trailhead:Tlamacas Lodge  12950 ft / 3947 m
    Time:6 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4225 ft / 1287 m
    End Trailhead:Tlamacas Lodge  12950 ft / 3947 m
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes

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