Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mt Iztaccihuatl


Two massive volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl (5252 m, 17,332 ft) and Popocatepetl (5286 m, 17,444 ft) watch over central Mexico as a monument to the power of love. The story goes something like this... Izta was the daughter of the chief, and heir to the throne of a tribe/nation. Popo was the son of the chief, and heir to the throne of a rival neighboring tribe. At one point, the two chiefs thought that if their children fell in love, it would be a great opportunity to combine the power of these two tribes and solidify a larger area of rule. The two kids began meeting, and indeed fell in love. Unfortunately, as time passed, the two chiefs started to have disagreements and the idea of combining the tribes was dying. Afraid that he would not be allowed to be with Izta forever, Popo went to Izta's father directly and asked for her hand in marriage. The chief said that Popo could marry Izta if he went to battle for Izta's tribe. Popo, who was a strong warrior, went to the battle, promising Izta that he would soon return and be with her forever. But, the battle took longer than expected, and Popo did not return by the time he said. Izta was sure that he died in the battle, and herself died of grief. When Popo finally returned from the battle to find Izta dead, he took her body and carried it up a tall mountain, where he laid it down. Then, in grief, he climbed the mountain next to it and held a torch up to watch over his beloved, forever. The two became mountains. Iztaccihuatl means 'sleeping woman', and is shaped like the silhouette of a sleeping woman when viewed from the west. Popocatepetl is an active volcano, with a continuous plume of smoke from its crater, the smoke from his torch. And, it is said that Popo will continue to erupt, his torch will continue to burn, as long as young people continue to believe in the goddess of love.

We had intended to climb both these lovers, but at the moment, Popo is erupting too much and climbing is banned. So we focused our attention on Izta. What a beautiful mountain! The colors, the textures!

After a day´s preparation in the pueblito Amecameca (with a beautiful church, a great market, lots of stray dogs, and views of the mountains throughout town), we drove up the steep winding road to the little town/place of La Joya (13,000 ft). La Joya is the Izta trailhead, and basically a parking area, with two shacks serving food and drinks on the weekends. Instead of buying the great local food, we opted to enjoy a scrumptious meal of dehydrated mashed potatoes with salami and tomato gravy while watching a truly beautiful sunset (enhanced by the thick smog layer above the valley below). After dinner, we went down to a bunkhouse/refuge for a short sleep. At 11:30 pm, the alarms went off, and we were up and stumbling around getting breakfast ready and climbing gear together. After burning the plastic regulator cover off our jetboil pot (stinky burning plastic wafting throughout the refuge), and stashing our sleeping stuff, we drove back to La Joya and hit the trail at 12:30 am. A respectable "alpine" start.

The trail started steeply, and our pace excruciatingly slow. The trail is not marked, and route finding was difficult both because it was dark, and because trails and alternative paths lead off everywhere. Once warmed up, we kept a solid pace and enjoyed the city lights views of Mexico City and Puebla. We got side tracked two times, had to backtrack, but found the trail again after a while. When the sun came up, the beautiful views, framed by the amazing verity of rock colors and prominent outcrops of Izta´s slopes, were just breathtaking. Such a pleasure to be with this great mountain.

The power of mine and Rod´s love as climbing partners was tested atop Izta´s Knees. The altitude, the fatigue, and nervousness about the down climb made Rod not want to continue. I on the other hand, was in a state of manic motivation to push for the summit. But that meant leaving Rod alone, with some altitude sickness indications, waiting in the cold wind on Izta´s Knees for a couple of hours. I chose to stay with Rod, and we began the descent. The talus glissade to the cliff band and down climbing the class 4 pitch was fun, but the rest of the walk down was grueling. The sandy/dusty trail is slippery and steep. Thank goodness for trekking poles!!

We eventually made it back to La Joya in good spirits. We were the only group of people on the mountain all day! Back in Amecameca, we got some food and headed strait to the hotel for the longest sleep of my life (to bed at 4:00 pm, awake at 7:30 am the next day)!

Izta will always hold a special place in my heart.

La Artista del Sol (ridge of the sun) route description:
Climb from La Joya on the trail that goes directly up the steep hillside and then traverses left. This traverse is along the west side of the overall mountain ridge line. Get to the first col (primero portillo). This place has a large rock on the climbers right with a plaque on it. After the 1st col, the trail goes to the 2nd col (segundo portillo) on the east side of the ridge line. After the 2nd col, the trail travels back to the west side of the ridge and hugs the big rock face on climbers right. After the 3rd col, the trail again travels the east side. Here, you walk up along sandy traverse paths that come together at a narrow notch in the rocks. Go up through this notch, and the 4th col is in sight. The trails here get confusing, as they go in all directions (there is a big rock in the center of the col, and trails go to the left or right of it). Stay to climbers right of the big rock. Once on the col, walk up along the ridge (do not drop off the other side), and from the top of the hill, a refuge (Grupo de los Cien hut, 4750 m) is in sight. The hut has reflective painting on the side, so can be seen if climbing in the dark. From the refuge, walk strait up the large face in front of you with a cliff band across it. The passage through this cliff band is on the climbers right side. Finding the route through can be tricky (avoid going too far around the right edge of the face you are climbing), there is a large metal cross above the correct route. Follow easy 4th class rock to the metal cross. The trail from here is obvious to the top of the Feet. The metal skeleton remains of a hut are on top of The Feet (16,800 ft). The trail continues up and around minor peaks and moraines. Soon you reach the Stomach/Belly glacier, this was a simple snow field (1-2007), but there are stories of it having significant crevasses to be concerned about. Angle left to the ridge again, and continue on to the crater rim and the second glacier on the route. The broad summit plateau (the Breast) has three points that could be the summit. The route to the rim brings you to one of them, another is straight ahead on the east side, and the third is further and to the west. The true summit lies a little to the west of the false summit that is across the rim from where you gained the summit plateau approximately 30 m to the west of the false summit. There are easy to see crosses on the summit, at least when there is little to no snow.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mt Tlalocatepetl

Tlalocatepetl (Cerro Tlaloc), 1/18-19/2007:

Tlalocapetl is the mountain of the Aztec water and fertility god, Tlaloc. Tlaloc is the bringer of water. He can bring good rains ensuring a good harvest, or drought, decimating floods, and lightning storms. Yearly, the Aztec made pilgrimages to the top the the mountain to appease Tlaloc by sacrificing a baby or small child. It is said that the more the baby cried, it’s tears drops of water to Tlaloc, the better the rains that year.

The mountain itself has the character of Tlaloc. While hiking up, it could be very kind and nurturing at times, and at times quite forceful and severe. Walking up along the aqueduct was very pleasant.

The sound of the water flow, the beautiful trail. We walked from grasslands scattered with oaks, through a mixed forest with a few trees I recognized – madrone, oak, fir, pine. With wildflowers and green mosses. Then into the coniferous forest that continued to ~13,000 ft. Beautiful big pines and firs widely spaced with a bunch grass understory. The trail was steep and demanding. At one point the trail disappeared and the only way to continue was to balance on the 3 inch-wide side of the aqueduct for about 100 m. The hillside dropped off to the right for a very exposed tight-wire act along the aqueduct.

After about 4 hours of toil, we reconnected with the road! And were blasted in the face with dust as a logging truck teetered past. It was kind of funny, i guess we could have driven up all this?!

We camped in a lush meadow (~12,500 ft) where several natural springs bubbled up. The night was very cold, and i was sure i saw shadows of Aztec ghosts between the trees and heard cries and screams of children being sacrificed in the blowing wind. Creepy.

The next morning we climbed along a ridge overlooking a beautiful rock walled canyon, then into the canyon, and then a summit scramble directly up the south face. At the summit are the ruins of an Aztec temple. Two long, parallel mounds of rock line the three leveled walkway to the summit square. Inside this large square, bordered by rock walls, are several smaller mounds of rock... these are interior rooms or altars? From the summit we had a wonderful view of the two nearby volcanoes (Izta and Popo), and of the truly dumbfounding smog layer over the Mexico city valley.

We made an offering of water to Tlaloc, and after spending about .5 hr on the summit, we headed down, picked up our gear at the meadow, and retraced our steps along the aqueduct back to San Pablo. We had asked the taxi driver to be there to pick us up at 5 o'clock, and made it back at 5:07! Fehew! We quickly grabbed a Negro Modela and sipped it while rubbing our hurting feet on the bumpy ride back to Texcoco.

Tlalocapetl route description:
We hired a taxi to drive us from the town of Texcoco to the little village of San Pablo. I highly recommend either taking the bus or a taxi to San Pablo, because it would be very hard to find the town and where the approach starts on your own. From where the last bus stop is in San Pablo (where the bus turns around), continue on foot straight onto a dirt road that dips immediately through a small valley, and switches back steeply up to the left. Then continue up this road, generally staying to the left, until you reach an abandoned hut and a small aqueduct (that has running water in it). Follow this aqueduct (via road and trail) for ~ 7 miles (~3,300 feet vertical), until it disappears into the ground (buried pipe) at the edge of a meadow (at 12,500 ft). The meadow has many natural springs, and most prominently, a big blue sign discussing the aqueduct project. This should take 4-6 hours. We camped here in this meadow. (There are roads up to this meadow, so if you Spanish is good enough, you may be able to find someone in San Pablo who will drive you up to there – But the hike is very nice)

From the meadow, looking north, is a prominent rocky peak. The summit of Tlaloc is not visible, and is hidden by the slope to the north/northeast. We approached the summit by hiking up the small valley directly to the climbers right of the visible rocky peak. This becomes more of a canyon, as the cliffs to the left continue, and the slope to the right steepens. Follow this canyon/valley to the top, then turn right for a bushwhack scramble up to the summit from the south/southwest. This should take from 2-4 hours.


... words coming eventually...

Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor, Mexico City, 1/16/2007

Mexico City Centro is today where it has been for a long time. The central plaza, the mammoth Catedral Metropolitana, and the surrounding colonial buildings are all atop the ruins of the ancient Aztec city, Tenochtitlan. In typical Catholic conquistador style, the Catedral was built over and along side the religious center of Tenochtitlan, the Templo Mayor. And what was not built over, was covered in a giant trash heap for a few hundred years. The Templo Mayor had dual shrines to the deities Huitzilopochtli (god of war and sun), and Tlaloc (god of water and fertility). It was amazing to walk through a section of this place that was the sacred center of a city of 200,000 people, and a culture of legend. It was also depressing, infuriating, and embarrassing. The most sacred and exclusive shrine, one open only to nobility and priests, is the House of the Eagles. The House of the Eagles was complex, rich with carvings, and paintings, and definitely had a vibe of too sacred to be just walking through. As we stepped into the House of the Eagles, an act that felt wrong, the street market directly on the other side of the archaeological area fence was playing loud American music, smelled of diesel exhaust and garbage, and had a loudspeaker playing really offensive Nazi rhetoric (in English) over the street. No, really! It was such a harsh reminder of the fall of an empire, the continuing disrespect of a shared cultural history and a highly sacred space, that is still being fed by an imperialistic Catholic and European value system.

The Prophecy

San Francisco, 1/13/2007

I went looking for crystals that would be used to augment the movement of mountain spirit/essence into the water i collect for offering and essences. I found everything easily, and at the last shop i got rutilated quartz, topaz, and tourmaline, but they did not have garnet. I asked the woman there about where else I could go and she sent me looking for a shop on Church St. I stepped into a deep, narrow, dark shop cluttered floor to ceiling with stones, carvings, crystals, and beads. If there could have been misty smoke in the shop, there would have been. If there could have been eerie twangy music, there would have been. I looked for the person who worked there and out of a dark corner comes an old, wrinkly Asian woman. I asked for garnet, and she opened a case for me to select a piece. As I was buying the piece at the desk in the dark corner, she asked me what my sign is... "No. Chinese sign." "Tiger", I told her. She said "Oh yes, yes you are very healing, you are psychic, and generous... you can be stubborn." I laughed and said that she was right, I can be stubborn, that is true. Then she asked me how my year was. I was ready to take her seriously, so i answered seriously. I told her that it was a stressful year, where i had to make some difficult choices, but i ended up getting the important things done. She said that last year for me was a year of compromise. Yep, it sure was, that is the word that sums it up. Now I am kind of amazed with this woman. She continues, "This year (starting mid Feb) is the year of the Boar. The BEST year for you!" She said that this year I should do something I´ve always wanted to do, it is the best year for me. And with that, I stepped back out onto the street, a little stunned, a little elated, and wondering what this year has in store for me. The prophecy.

Then, half a block away, a man asked me for a favor. "Sure, what do you need?"
"I know this is kind of weird... I have an interview in a few minutes, and i had this sweater on which left lint all over my shirt. Could you brush me off?" And he handed me a lint remover. So, I wished him luck, brushed the lint off the back of his shirt and arms, and headed on my way.

Mt. Taylor

...coming soon...

Mt. Humphreys

...coming soon...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mt. Shasta

Winter solstice, 2006

Solstice, the moment when we move from one year to the next, from one full circle into a new path. A revolution. Rod and I started this one with skiing up Mt. Shasta, and a whole year of adventure and learning ahead. The perfect cycle/circle. We begin our circumnavigation of Earth, climbing monuments of peace and power. We will build our roots in Central and South America, grow our spirit in Africa and Europe, bear the fruits of our practice in Central Asia, Harvest lessons learned in East Asia, and be back to Shasta next solstice to complete the circle.

She Mount, Mt. Shasta, a fiery old woman. Strength and Power of love is what she sent us to find this year. It felt good walking up her slope, and just when we started, the sky cleared up to a beautiful sunset and views of her whole mass blessing us.

We got a late afternoon start, it took hours to leave town. A million stops, a light and steady snow fall, the mountain hidden almost as if there was nothing there. Then, finally up to Bunny Flat to approach the summit via the Casaval ridge. We skinned across the first meadow as the sky started to clear and we got our first look at an ice covered, winter Shasta. Beautiful spires of ice blown rock and white against the deep blue sky. On top of a small knoll we stopped to pay tribute to the spirit of this monument and to ask for teachings during our climb.

We made it to ~8000 feet at the base of the ridge, still below tree line, after dark and set up The Slug, our tent. We were testing the JetBoil stove, and had a terrible time melting snow for dinner and drinking water. The stove would flame up, and then have a 'simmer' size flame that barely put out enough heat to warm hands, let alone melt snow. It took 3 hours to melt 2.5 L. The problem was probably cold fuel canisters.

After setting the alarm to wake us up at 2:00am, we settled into an easy sleep. At about 1:00 am the rumbling and cracking of heavy winds started up, and by 2:00, 30mph gusts were tearing through the forest. Plumes of snow off the ridges indicated ~80-100 mph gusts, so we decided to wait and see if anything changed by dawn. When the sun came up, the winds were as strong as ever, so we gave up the idea of a summit, and took a short walk up the ridge. Wind gusts were stumblely, and snow stability sketchy (south and west faces highly wind loaded), so we turned around. Despite not being able to summit Shasta now, spending solstice on her, getting to sit and play on her slopes, and receiving our trip's mission, was great. And, launched the trip well. Happily, we skied out and headed to town for a yummy lunch.