Colorado State Students Scale 18,460 ft Volcano in Mexico
While a majority of students were enjoying time at home during winter break, a group of 11 Colorado State University students, alumni, and staff were ascending an 18,460 ft volcano in Mexico, one of three attempted during the expedition. The 10-day trip, which was hosted by Campus Recreation’s Outdoor Program, set new personal-best altitude records for all the students involved.
The expedition was led by Rodney Ley, Assistant Director of the Outdoor Program, Andy Nelson, Coordinator of the Outdoor Program, and Jim Davidson, a seasoned trip leader. Group members included CSU alumnae Natalie Gerding, Ben Gerding, Brian King, and Kristen Dean, and CSU students Richard Salas, Dean Anderson, Kari Lanphier, and Daniel Shugert.
La Malinche Peak
The group arrived in the quiet town of Puebla, Mexico on January 2, 2015. Located in south central Mexico, Puebla is known for its colorful festivals and delicious street food. After enjoying an evening of the Mexican culture, the group awoke at 6:00 am to scale the first of their three planned summits, La Malinche. At 14,600 ft, La Malinche is taller than any of the 14’ers located in Colorado and allowed the group a chance to acclimate to the conditions and altitudes they would be continually facing in the days to come.
Rime Ice and 60 mph Winds on Iztacchuatal
After a successful summit attempt on La Malinche, the group traveled from Puebla to a “microwave hut” on the Iztacchuatal volcano, the next peak on the agenda at 17,160 ft. On January 6, a clatter of alarms rang through the small hut at midnight, and the team packed up their gear and began their ascent. The conditions were brutal to start off, cold, icy, and dark, and would only get worse. As the team climbed higher, the conditions continued to deteriorate, with wind gusts hitting 60 mph. At 16,000 ft, the ice conditions became so extreme that the group was forced to turn around, but not before shattering their personal altitude records by 1,600 ft.
The Final Summit, Orizaba Volcano
After the difficult weather conditions of Izatacchuatal forced the group to forgo summiting, they were renewed with a strong determination to make it to the top of their last peak, volcano Orizaba. The third highest peak in North America, Orizaba is 18,460 ft and has a glacier of 2,000 vertical ft at the top. Another midnight wake-up call on January 9 gets the group up and moving into the night for the final climb of the trip. 10 of the 11 trip members set out on the journey, with one member making the hard decision to stay back. The ascent was demanding, due to both the high elevation and the icy conditions of the glacier. Steps had to be kicked into the ice by the team leader, and the group took turns with this strenuous task. 500 feet of the summit, the icy slope and exposure forced the team to take an alternate path to the top, but they pressed on, motivating one another and supporting their team. Finally, the group found themselves standing at 18,460 ft, taking in the amazing views of the surrounding landscapes.
Trip of a Lifetime
The memories made and the journey shared had a lasting affect on all the team members. Rodney Ley recorded in the trip journal during the group’s travels home “Could we really have gone so far, climbed so high, and in such a short time? What a better way to live life fully than to force it into the corner, wake up at 11 pm, choke down oatmeal, strap on crampons and hike above and into the clouds.”