Las cimas de México

I always thought of Mexico as a beach, scuba diving and surfing paradise. Well I quickly found out it is also a hiking heaven! 🙌🏻 So instead of spending my first month drinking Coronas and working on my tan by the Pacific Ocean, I hiked all the country’s highest mountains…more than once! 😛 Here is an overview of Mexico’s four (climbable) highest peaks which I tackled one by one. 💪🏻

Montaña número uno: La Malinche is a volcano which has been dormant for the last 3000 years. Its summit reaches 4 460m making it Mexico’s fourth highest hike. The name, Malinche, is in honor of a Nahum woman who played a key role as an interpreter in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. It is a popular day hike from Puebla (about one hour drive), therefore I encourage to go on a week day when there is barely anyone in view. Having a mountain to yourself is a pretty awesome feeling. ☺️I did this hike with my friendly Airbnb host who was kind enough to drive us at the mountain at the crack of dawn so that we could complete the hike before the afternoon’s heat. It took us about 6 hours round trip.

Montaña número dos: Next in line is the Nevado de Toluca, which peak hits 4 680m. It is also known as Xinantecalt, which means “Naked lord” in the Nahuatl language, as a reference to the fact that the summit of the volcano is devoid of snow for most of the year. An impressive view of this trek is the two crater lakes on the floor of the bassin (at 4200m): el Lago del Sol (Lake of the Sun) and el Lago de la Luna (Lake of the Moon). I went with a local company and it took us around 7 hours round trip. El Nevado de Toluca is a day hike from Mexico City (about 3 hours drive).

Montaña número tres: El volcán Iztaccíhuatl is the nation’s third highest peak. Izta is a dormant volcanic mountain that has four summits (its highest reaches 5 230m ) and various craters, making it a very spectacular hike. Her name “Iztaccíhuatl”, meaning “White Woman” in Nahuatl, reflects the four individual snow-capped peaks which depict the head, chest, knees and feet of a sleeping woman. Izta shares a love story with her neighbouring volcano, el Popocatépetl. In the Aztec mythology, Iztaccíhuatl is a princess who falls in love with her father’s most handsome warriors, Popocatépelt. Before been sent to war, Popo proposes to Itza and promises to marry her when he comes back. Soon after his departure, a jealous rival of Popo tells Izta that her fiancé died in combat. Overwhelmed by sadness, she dies of grief. Popo comes back from war to find out that the love of his life has passed away. In her honour, he carries her to the highest mountain and laid her body at the summit. That’s when the Gods covered her with snow and changed her body into a mountain (where comes her name “White/Sleeping Woman”). Meanwhile, Popo became (and is still today) an active volcano, spewing constant smoke, preserving the fire of eternal passion for his beloved… 💙

I had a rough start with Izta but it ended in a love affaire. My first attempt was a fail. Due to a sickness and altitude, I was not able to climb more than a fifth of the mountain. It was a disappointment but I knew I would be back. Two weeks later I climbed it like a real mountain goat with this awesome guide I met on La Malinche. The round trip took us 8h30 (it’s normally a 10h-12h hike 🙃). I was feeling so fresh and acclimatised after climbing the Pico de Orizaba the weekend before that everything went perfectly. I guess my guide also noticed my new passion for mountaineering as well as my descent fitness level: he asked me if I wanted to help him out on his next group trip. Thus, I had the privilege to give another go at Izta, but as an ‘assistant guide’. What a wonderful experience it was, only giving me thirst for more!

Montaña número cuatro: And finally, there is the famous Pico de Orizaba. Pico is the highest peak in Mexico and the third highest mountain in North America (after Mount Denali in Alaska and Mount Logan in Yukon). Its summit reaches 5 636m which is the highest I have physically been in my life (let alone the highest hike!). You need to be well acclimatised to confront this beast, which normally means sleeping at the base of the mountain the night before (just like Iztaccíhuatl). Pico offers two faces: the north and the south. I did both. 😛 

South Face: I climbed this side with the same local company I climbed Nevado de Toluca. We camped at the base for acclimatisation and started the climb at 1am in order to summit by sunrise, which we did. The hike on the south side is mostly rocks and sand making it a slow climb but a fast descend! After a breathtaking sunrise, we made our way down the volcano by sliding on our bum. What a good laugh! 😂 The trek took us about 9 hours (6 to go up and 3 to come down). 

North Face: This was my last hike and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. I did this trek with my mountain guide buddy of mine (from Izta). It was only the two of us so we went at our own speed. Well, I went at his speed! 💨 What makes the north face unique is the majestic Jamapa glacier. The last 500m of the trek is an uphill climb wearing crampons and using an ice axe, something I have never done in my life. First time, but certainly not my last! I enjoyed every second of it. You should have seen my huge grin the whole time. 😁 The trek took us less than 8 hours. If you are debating between south and north, I can only recommend to do the north. The levels of difficulty are the same but the view and experience of the north face is simply indescribable. 

Now that I have completed my hiking duties, it’s time to trade my boots for my flip flops! I’ll shortly be heading to the east coast where I’ll be meeting a lovely friend of mine in Belize. I guess it’s Corona and tanning time after all! 😛

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