Climbing Mexico's Iztaccíhuatl

Planning to climb Mexico's famous volcano Iztaccíhuatl? Start with our online guide.
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Planning to climb Mexico's famous volcano Iztaccíhuatl? Start with our online guide.

Iztaccíhuatl is Nahuatl (the ancient Aztec language) for "White Woman," a name that can be easily recognized when viewing the mountain from the west. It is the seventh highest mountain in North America, located less than 40 miles southeast of Mexico City. Iztaccíhuatl's neighbor Popocatépetl has become famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, due to its recent volcanic activity. The road between these two mountains has been sporadically open since 1994, limiting public access during periods of high volcanic activity. This road is the approach to the standard route on Iztaccíhuatl, La Arista del Sol, the ridge that runs south from the summit. The alternative standard route is La Arista de Luz, the north ridge between the breast and the neck. The approach to this route is longer with more elevation gain, but it climbs through a beautiful forest before passing through grassy hummocks to the barren terrain below the snow line.

There is frequent bus service from Mexico City to Tlalmanalco where collective taxis head east to the town of San Rafael, with modest hotels for overnight lodging. Go to the far eastern end of San Rafael where a trail, "El Caracol" ("the snail"), leads to Plan de Cuesta, a system of reservoirs and aqueducts. The trail switchbacks up the right side of the canyon, following an aqueduct and ascending through a beautiful forest to Nexcoalanco. Two small reservoirs, a hydroelectric powerhouse, and some open-air shelters for hikers mark Nexcoalanco. Head east-southeast from Nexcoalanco through a maze of roads and trails to meet a road that leads south, ending at the base of Loma Larga, a key point on this approach. Loma Larga is a long ridge that overlooks Cañada Nahualac to the south. The trail climbs along the ridge to timberline and the ruins of the Láminas hut. The trail continues east-southeast, climbing over grassy hummocks to a rocky area. Go slightly to the right (southeast) and climb a sandy slope to the basin beneath the neck that holds the Chalchoapan hut. Two to three days should be taken for this 12-mile hike with 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

From the Chalchoapan hut, hike across the moraine to the glacier, then climb to the saddle ("the neck") between "the head" and the main summit. The angle averages 30°, and one is exposed to rock fall during the ascent of the neck.It is best to climb this route in early season (October-November) to avoid hard, black ice, and exposure to rock fall. La Arista de Luz leads to the main summit from "the neck" and offers little difficulty; but beware of crevasses that cross this ridge!

Permits: Mexico has not yet reached such an advance state of requiring permits to climb its mountains.

Special Considerations: Four-wheel drive transportation between Coscomatepec and Ojo de Salado is available from Manuel Gutierrez A., Coscomatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, (273) 70-215, (273) 70-020, and (271) 10-105.

Guidebook:Mexico's Volcanoes: A Climbing Guide, Second Edition, by R.J. Secor. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 2001, $16.95.

Contact: XP Mexico, www.xpmexico.com