Pico de Orizaba is a dormant stratovolcano and the tallest mountain in Mexico. At slightly more than 5,600 metres (18,300 feet) in elevation, it is considered a great climb for intermediate mountaineers preparing for expeditions to the Himalayas, Andes or Alaska Range
Due to its location on the eastern end of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, not far from the Gulf of Mexico, Pico de Orizaba has a unique set of microclimates and terrains. These range from semi-tropical forests at its foot to the glaciated summit.
In spite of its relatively low altitude (compared to other glaciated peaks in the tropics), an asymmetrical crater casts a shadow over the northwestern portion of the summit for most of the day. This allows the glacier to remain atop the peak throughout the hot summer days.
Quick Facts about Pico de Orizaba
- Pico de Orizaba is the tallest mountain in Mexico and the third highest peak in North America.
- With a prominence of 4,922 metres (16,148 feet), Pico de Orizaba is the second most prominent volcano in the world, after Mount Kilimanjaro.
- In the local Nahuatl language, Orizaba is referred to as Citlaltépetl, or star mountain.
History of Pico de Orizaba
Pico de Orizaba has long held spiritual importance and played an important part in local mythology for two of the area’s native pre-Hispanic cultures: the Aztecs and the Totonacs.
In 1839, the French-Belgian botanist and geologist, Henri Galeotti, became the first European to hike on Pico de Orizaba, though he did not make it all the way to the summit.
The first known explorers to climb to the top of the volcano were two soldiers from the United States – F Maynard and William Raynolds – who hiked up to the summit in 1848 while the U.S. army occupied Mexico.
Experience Required for Climbing Pico de Orizaba
While there are various routes that lead up Pico de Orizaba, each of which has a slightly different level of difficulty, the easiest route to the summit – the Jamapa glacier route – can be done by beginners with only some previous experience. Only crampons and an ice axe are needed to climb over the glacier.
However, there are other routes that include extensive ice climbing and will require plenty of previous experience climbing steep and icy cliffs and overhangs.
Regardless of the route youplant to take, all of them are very physically challenging. The mountain is quite steep with no obvious places to rest, so you will need to hike for consecutive hours carrying your gear with few stops.
Main Routes up Pico de Orizaba
The Jamapa glacier route, on the northwestern side of the volcano, is the most popularly taken route to the top of the peak and is also the easiest.
The route begins from the Piedra Grande Hut at 4,270 metres (14,010 feet) above sea level. You can either hike up to the hut or take a 4x4. From the hut, you will ascend straight up the glacier to the summit and return back to the hut.
Another route that is popular with less experienced mountaineers in the Ruta del Sur, on the southern flank of the mountain. This route takes climbers up the southern face and avoids the glacier. However, there is usually snow in the winter and crampons will be required.
The Serpent's Head route is the main destination for mountaineers seeking a challenge on Pico de Orizaba. Climbing by this route, which also sits on the south side of the mountain requires ascending 10 pitches of grade 3 ice. While this is the shortest trail in terms of distance, it is the steepest and most technically difficult.