It strikes me that not too many foreign visitors ever think of exploring Mexico’s many mountains. Other than the handful who come here specifically to do so. I must confess, it didn’t really occur to me to try and climb one for the first few years. Probably due to the assumption that this is very much a specialist endeavor. I can pinpoint the moment I thought to look into it. We were driving to Oaxaca, and out of the window was Iztaccihuatl, looking large above the horizon. I stared at Izta a long while and wondered, ‘How hard can it be?’
Ajusco, a fairly substantial mountain of 3,900 metres, is the very highest part of Mexico City. A city which is pretty high up to start with. I tried climbing it back in April, having cycled to the mountain. We chose the wrong route up and failed.
I had my doubts about how successful we’d be this time, as we were taking public transport to get there – quite a trek in itself. It turned out to be easier than I’d thought it would be however. From the microbus station outside Metro Taxquena, you grab the bus which goes past Six Flags, getting off at the stop for a bus that goes to Santo Tomaso.
Take that bus to the end of the line, and jump in a taxi. For fifty pesos (per car, not per person) they’ll drop you off at the base of the mountain path that leads you to the summit, about a 10 minute drive away. You can’t go wrong finding your way – no guide needed, other than the instructions above!
The first 30 minutes is up a pretty steep and rocky slope, but once you’ve got to the first of several summits, the path is much, much easier. Other than a decent pair of tennis shoes, some warm clothes, a backpack to put your jumper in when you get warm and to keep a litre or two of water – no other equipment is necessary.
Except, perhaps, sun cream. I forgot. I’m an embarrassing shade of red today. The English are famous for several things. Going out in the midday sun with mad dogs for one. Marching around with faces burned bright red is another. Still, as has been pointed out, at least I forgot my sunglasses too, or I’d have two unburned odd looking spectacles too. Thing’s can always be worse.
It should have an official name, like British Racing Green has. Perhaps Rojo Ingles. Or English Lobster Red. Or even, seeing as this trip was the inspiration for coming up with a name, Ajusco Red.
But anyway, we (we being myself, a student and members of her family) made it to the top. And back down again, safely. And had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner. The area is famous for it’s rabbit – conejo. A little pricey, but well worth the money. Click here to see the photos on Flickr.
I’ve caught a couple of glimpses of Iztaccihuatl over the last two days – top left photo. Which is good on two counts. Firstly, because if you can actually see Izta, then there isn’t much pollution and the air is pretty clean. Which is why it’s rare to see Izta, or the even larger Popo which sits next to her.
Secondly, I’m going to be climbing Izta again in about six weeks. Hopefully to the very summit. Third time lucky, sort of. It’s good to catch a look now, just to see how much snow and ice is covering the mountain. There was some pretty heavy snowfall early in the year, but that, thankfully, has mostly disappeared.
Before Izta I’m going to have a preparatory climb up Ajusco (bottom photo) at the beginning of November. Still pretty high up in the clouds, but a much easier mountain to tackle. A one day job. No freezing half to death overnight in a tent at 12,000 feet. Much easier. But this will still be second time lucky.
The last mountain to climb? Metaphorical, and not my mountain either. The Monument to the Revolution is being renovated in readiness for the 100 year anniversary next month. A lot of the stuff that was supposed to be ready for the bicentenary of Independence didn’t get finished in time. The guys working on this still have plenty to do and the clock is ticking.
I’d say it’s pretty much touch and go which moutains will get climbed and which will defeat the climbers. Or builders, as the case may be. If I were a bookie, I guess I’d make Ajusco clear favourite at 5/6, followed by the Revolution Monument at 2/1 and Izta at 3/1. Any takers?
Recently, or since the beginning of the year anyway, Popo and Izta have been visible from the city. They lie about three hours drive from DF, in Puebla state, but are so massive that they look like they are just of the edge of the city. It is a treat to be able to see them, because they are usually hidden from view, 365 days a year by the pollution that hangs over the city.
There is a mountain that lies on the edge of the city though, and whilst it isn’t as big as either Popo or Izta, it still towers an impressive 4000 metres over the city. You can get altitude sickness from 3000 metres upwards, which is a reasonable guide to how big it is. And apart from cloudy days, it’s always visible from my home. Daring me to climb it.
So yesterday, with two amigos, we set off on bicycles to do just that. There is a road that rings the mountain, so we thought we’d explore a bit on the bikes and find a nice route to walk up it. Riding bikes up mountain roads, it turns out, is really hard work. We arrived at a restaurant, opposite to a rarely trodden path up the mountain pretty tired. But we parked up, and set off on foot to give it a go anyway. The owner of the restaurant assured us, if we just followed the path, we couldn’t go wrong. An hour and a half to the summit he said.
Two hours later, having crawled on hands and knees under fallen tree trunks, strained weary knee joints clambering over other fallen tree trunks, been stung by nettles, gotten coated in dry dusty earth as we scrambled up slopes, we emerged from the tree line, to see a near vertical rocky slope leading up to a vertical cliff face and what we sincerely hoped would be a path onto the summit. That slope, about 35 to 50 metres high, was easily the most risky and plain dangerous bit of climbing I’ve ever done. Rocks the size of rugby balls came loose and hurtled down towards whoever happened to be below when you tried to grip them. One slip, and the fall would be bone breaking. Probably shouldn’t have done that climb.
Having made it to the top several things became evident. Firstly, there was no path around the cliff face that we had arrived at. Secondly, our suspicion that we’d taken the wrong path at some stage was confirmed. Thirdly, there was no way we could descend the way we’d come up. There’d be an accident. Fourthly, in the absence of serious mountaineering equipment, and years of experience, we wouldn’t be going up the cliff face to the summit. We’d been defeated. To summit, we’d have to descend, quite a distance, and start the climb again. Time and energy ruled that option out. By now, dinner and drinks back at the restaurant were more appealing than the thought of making the summit.
We did find an alternative route down, via some sliding down a side path covered in slide slowing undergrowth. And we did make it back to the restaurant, in one piece, to have a rabbit dinner. As you leave DF in the south, rabbit becomes a popular dish served at road side ramshackle restaurants. It is delicious stuff, especially when served in a adobadas sauce. But anyway, on this occasion, Ajusco had defeated us. We certainly didn’t take the easy route. We’ll do that next time. The photos on Flickr are here.