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Mexico City, January 27, 2010

I’m sitting in a small pub full of young, loud, poet/hippie types. They’re probably discussing politics and love, or maybe just last night’s soccer game. Who knows, I don't understand anything, anyway. The loudspeakers blast early U2, “But I still haven't found what I'm looking for …” - I always take these words very personally. There’s a big bottle of cerveza in front of me. It's all good. Beyond the open doors and windows, sounds the chaos and buzz of Plaza de Zocalo. Even though it’s only my second visit (the first one 16 years ago), I love this city. Not much has changed. Colorful (yellow and bright green) volkswagen beetle taxis have been repainted to some boring burgundy color, and a few super-futuristic-looking bicycle rickshaws have been added. Apparently, the current mayor is very ecological, but it is impossible to resist the impression that this is putting lipstick on a pig.

Mexico City has huge problems. The city is sinking (literally 10 centimeters a year), and there is a tragic lack of water and clean air. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating and thrilling place. Chaos and boundless energy, beautiful architecture and breathtaking frescoes by Diego Rivera, a turbulent history and dancing in front of Templo Mayor, and the eye-catching, colorfully-dressed descendants of the Aztecs.
Me gusta mucho!

Tlachichuca, January 29, 2010

The town is empty and rather poor looking. The miserable main square is full of stalls with suspicious-looking meats and some other crap. Skinny, perpetually hungry dogs roam around. As if to distract the eye from this overwhelming ugliness, the entire western horizon is filled with the bright, white, snowy giant, El Pico de Orizaba (5610 m).

I find a small hotel hidden on a side street. The owner drives an old jeep to the Piedra Grande, a shelter 23 kilometers away on a barely passable road, at an altitude of 4250 m. He wants 150 dollars for the ride, but tells me that he has unconfirmed bookings for two guys, for the next day, so I could share the cost with them. I am concerned about the "unconfirmed" part of his statement, because it is rather a huge expense for me. Luckily, the two guys appear in the evening. Brian, an American from Aspen, who is working as a guide, and his client Chris, a New York-based doctor from England.

Piedra Grande, January 30, 2010

I am unable to sleep. Chris, who is lying on the boards next to me, stuffed himself with some colorful pills and is snoring like hell. A group of Mexican climbers, regardless of the late hour, are partying loudly, enjoying a thin coffee mixed with tequila. Around two o'clock I go outside to get some fresh air. It doesn't look good. It is much too warm, and the valleys to the west are filled with clouds. The summit is not visible at all. Despite everything, I decide to go up.

Packing and trying to choke down a little food takes me a while. Around three am, I'm ready. I leave the shelter with Brian and Chris, who is still not quite awake from his drug-induced sleep, and is complaining loudly. We put crampons on right behind the hut, as the snow this season is unusually low. I feel great. Brian and I move up quickly, talking about mountains and travelling (surprise, suprise!). He talks about his ascents of Everest and Lhotse. Like many Americans, he is loud and he likes to talk about himself, but he has a lot of respect for Polish mountaineering, so I forgive him, ha, ha, ha. We stop every now and then, waiting for the much slower Chris. I try to memorize the trail, which is not an easy task because traverses and chimneys all look the same in the dark. Two hours pass. We sit down for a snack. Brian, with worry in his voice, announces that the barometer is dropping quickly. It is rather obvious. More and more clouds, visibility deteriorating. After some difficulties, we find the problematic traverse on ice about 40 degrees steep. Chris needs some protection.

Around 6:30 in the morning we reach the Jamapa Glacier. We had learned from Mexican guides that the glacier is shrinking at an alarming rate (no global warming, eh?), and now it starts only at an altitude of 5,150 m. The wind is blowing like hell, the temperature is dropping drastically, and the visibility is about 5 meters. We wonder what we should do. Brian says there's no point in pushing towards the summit in fog like this. Although it sounds reasonable, I think he is more concerned about his client, who doesn’t look too good. They turn back. Their headlamp lights disappear into the fog. I’m alone. I quickly think about all the pros and cons, eat a Snickers bar, and (shit!) decide to descend as well.

I quickly catch up with the boys and we run down. No time to waste. After about half an hour, we notice two slow-moving figures emerging from around the corner. They are two exhausted Mexican climbers. The elder announces that this is his 12th time on Orizaba, so he knows what he is doing. Despite the difficult conditions, they will try to reach the summit and they don't mind me joining them. So I say goodbye to my current partners and turn around.

We move quite fast. It takes us an hour to reach the glacier. Conditions are as bad as before, plus heavy snowfall. After 20 minutes of wandering blindly on the glacier, we begin to doubt whether it makes any sense. Visibility is almost zero and we have no poles or anything else to mark the route. It could be dangerous if we get lost on this ice, full of crevasses. We sit down for a few minutes. The snowfall intensifies, the wind picks up. Another Snickers, another retreat.

The descent takes about 3 hours. In the hut, there’s total panic and chaotic packing. Everyone wants to get down to the valleys as soon as possible, fearing that a longer period of bad weather may worsen the condition of the already barely passable road even more, and the 23-kilometer hike to Tlachichuca with heavy backpacks would be a disaster. This year's season seems to have just ended. I was one day late.

From the window of the bus to Mexico City, I stare at the over five-thousand meter high Iztaccihuatl, or rather at a huge, dark cloud completely covering it. The snow line is somewhere at 3800 meters, which is not very common in Mexico. Shit, shit, shit...

Mexico City, February 1, 2010

It's raining like hell and the temperature is only around 10 degrees. It's hard to believe that less than a week ago it was plus 25 degrees, and the streets were full of skimpily dressed girls. I’m going to the airport to change my date of departure. The end of yet another adventure.

Andrzej, 2010