Orizaba, at approximately 18,500′ is the highest mountain in Mexico. I went to climb it with my friend Todd Gilles in March of 2013. It was quite warm, and after only one night at base camp, in our little tent, we went on an acclimatization hike starting at about 10:30 AM. Quite late. We ended up on the summit six and a half hours later, which includes about 45 minutes being lost in the Labyrinth – a steep area of mixed rocks and snow and ice.
On the Summit of the highest mountain in Mexico – Orizaba
I have been asked what I wore to climb the highest mountain in Mexico. I decided to post a few articles about it here for simplicity. As I stated in my disclaimer, I use Amazon links so you can see pictures and read reviews from other people, so you don’t have to just take my word for it. Remember the car commercial disclaimer: Your Mileage May Vary! This is just a list of what I wore, on the day I wore them, in the weather I wore them. If it were any colder I probably would have done a few things different.
Lower Body clothing to climb the highest mountain in Mexico
I like the way that the Men’s Under Armour Boxerjock fit and feel. They also resist odors well – something to seriously consider on a long expedition. Though our climb of the highest mountain in Mexico was fairly short. Over these I wore a thin base layer bottom made by The North Face. This was a generic bottom I got on clearance at The Sports Authority and I can’t find anything like it online. It’s fairly similar to Capilene 1 from Patagonia, but actually fits people with leg muscles. Over these I wore a MontBell Nomad Pant. I love these softshell pants. They’re my go-to pant for ice climbing and glacier hiking, including the highest mountain in Mexico. We had great weather.
That wraps up this short “lower body clothing” article. I’ll be back soon with the upper body, then the hardware, articles. I had a great time climbing Orizaba, third highest mountain in North America, highest volcano in North America, and the highest mountain in Mexico. I hope you get a chance to go and enjoy the culture and people. I hope you get to see the sunrise, or as we did, sunset, on this beautiful peak.
Me below the Labyrinth. Truly amazing scenery. On summit day.
Of all the Colorado 14ers it seems like Quandary is my favorite. It’s only a few minutes away from Breckenridge, and has an excellent year-round parking area with plenty of room. I think it’s my favorite just because I’ve done it a lot more than any other of the Colorado 14ers. I’ve been to the top now at least 15 times over the years, and in every month except January. Last month I did it, and that was my first time in December. Today I set off to get January done.
Trailhead for Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers
The weather forecast showed that it would be in the high teens at the summit with 20mph winds. I almost assumed it would be true and and dressed for 15 and took a small water bottle bag. Knowing Colorado 14ers weather as I’ve experienced it in the past I decided to take a small pack. I packed a TNF Better Than Naked hoodie (wind shirt), a Mont Bell thin puffy jacket, a Buff and my REI Lobster Cycling Mitts. I figured that would do. I packed a few gel packets in my pants pockets and headed out the door.
Where the trees thin out by the bridge
At the parking area I switched to my Salomon Spikecross 3 CS Trail Running Shoe (CS is for ClimaShield waterproof fabric). I don’t wear these in the house or car if I can help it. So I switch at the parking area. The new parking area at Quandary is great and helps make this one of my favorite winter Colorado 14ers, with a very easy short approach. I hiked up behind the parking area, heeding the “no trespassing” signs and got onto the road to the trail head. A couple was in the parking area skinning up, but I couldn’t imagine what for, since there’s not a lot of snow.
View looking toward Breckenridge CO
On the trail I made great time to the sign below the restoration area where the Winter trail heads up the hill and the Summer trail heads toward the bridge. Quite a bit of restoration and trail maintenance work has been done on the Colorado 14ers in recent years. Please remember the Leave No Trace principle “Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces”. Bottomless snow qualifies. I headed up the hill and was pleasantly surprised to find a narrow strip of well packed snow so I didn’t sink too much. Too much. At about 12,400′ I looked around at building clouds and an obvious whirlwind blowing down the ridge from the summit, which was shrouded in dense dark clouds.
Whirlwind blowing down the ridge from the summit
I stopped at 13,000′ to put on my wind jacket, and again at 13,300′ to put on my puffy and buff and switch gloves. Going over the bump on the ridge to the flat before the final steep push to the summit the temperature seemed to drop by about 20 degrees and the wind picked up quite a bit. Weather can be fickle on the Colorado 14ers. I had passed a few people on the way up, both above and below treeline. Now I was passing people coming down who said that the top was even worse than here. I trudged on up. My fingers were getting a bit cold and my forehead between my glasses and hat was cold. Everything else was pretty good.
Quandary Summit stick. No view from the top today.
Summit of Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers, in January
Finally, I topped out in hard, steady, biting winds. I got a few quick pictures and took off for the warmer lower elevations. The summits of Colorado 14ers can be deadly cold in the Winter. No real view today with the summit shrouded in dense clouds at the moment. I wasn’t going to hang out to see if it cleared either. Everything up here was coated in thick wind-blown crystals on the lee side (North-ish today). I got a picture of it on the rocks, but the summit pole was even more thickly coated.
Rime Ice formed on everything on the summit
I moved as quick as I could on the descent. My shoes were awesome on the ascent, but the spikes are fairly tiny and a little more slippage on the descent. So I had to be quite careful in spots. For most people I would be very cautious about recommending spiked running shoes for a Winter Colorado 14ers ascent. As I got lower it seemed like suddenly it got warmer and less wind at about 13,200′. I looked around and the layer of cloud was hovering above and behind me. I was out of it. The rest of the way down was pretty uneventful. I stopped by the restoration area and stripped down to my thinner lighter clothes. There was one spot where the other people both ascending and descending couldn’t figure out what path to take, and all were pretty soft sun melted snow so I stepped carefully.
Looking back at the cloud over my shoulder on the descent
Down in the trees there were bare spots in the trail I didn’t remember on the way up. I was moving pretty quickly, but still if they were there before I should have remembered them. I suppose the sun down here was quite a bit warmer. I got to the car, changed my shoes, and headed into Breck. It was an awesome day, and I achieved a goal – in November I discovered that I hadn’t done Quandary in December or January. Now I have that out of the way. Do I have another goal for the Colorado 14ers? Time will tell …
I am going to be ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Fest 2013 next week, so I’m trying to get my groove back on by ice climbing as much as I can in between work and family activities. I climbed solo on Thursday Because of the weird wet dripping ice coating the rope I experienced gear failure in my self-belay system so bailed after only one lap.
On the Provo Canyon Trail toward Stairway to Heaven
I had decided to climb every other day if I can until I leave Thursday. Today (Saturday January 5) I was going to go up to climb solo again. My usual ice climbing partner Ryan had other plans that day. My wife suddenly decided she wanted to go again. It’s been a while since I’ve been out with her, because of her figure skating competition training and injuries. It was great to hear she was going to go ice climbing with me.
The ascent gully to Stairway to Heaven
We had a new babysitter to tend the kids, so we were free to both go ice climbing for about 6 hours. We took off for the Nunn’s Park parking area, put on our boots, harnesses, and packs, and walked to the gate on the trail. It’s a wide access road for Provo City Utilities, but unmaintained so it’s snow covered. We put our crampons on, and I handed her one of my trekking poles to ease the stress on her knees and back. I set a very mild pace up the steep access gully. There were plenty of other groups ice climbing today, but there is plenty of terrain. We’ll be fine.
What next? Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon
Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon
I raced up the ramp to the shelf and set up a toprope anchor on the same chains I used on Thursday. This time I used a sling to extend the rope away from the chains and hopefully divert some of the water runoff. I also brought a super-duper-dry rope (in climbing terms a dry rope is one that’s treated to repel or shed water – if you do a lot of ice climbing you’ll need one). I found the black ink mark for the center of the rope, clipped it into the lockers, passed it into my belay device, and tossed the rope down. A lot of rope. Oh. That was the “Twenty Feet Left” mark. I grabbed the end of the rope where it lay by my feet and tied in to my harness and undid one side from my belay device. Instead of rappelling I’ll just lower myself [note this is a technical rope application and unless someone has shown you how to do it and approved your technique you should never try this at home folks].
My wife ice climbing amid the crowd at Provo Canyon
I let my wife try her hand at ice climbing first, since she’s been off the ice for a couple of years. It’s fun watching and belaying her. A great family togetherness thing. During the summer I take the kids out rock climbing, and now one is about old enough to try ice climbing, but I’d like to wait for it to warm up a little bit first. A funny note. While belaying, I heard the yell “HELMET” and looked to see a white helmet plummeting from a few shelves up and land on the ice uphill and skittering between the belayers toward me. We all made a grab for it, hopefully with full attention on our climbers. I managed to kick it into my rope pile. It was a white construction helmet. We talked about it off and on for the next couple hours. No one claimed it. You wouldn’t want to be ice climbing in it. For sure.
Ice Climbing Photos
Snack and drink between each lap on the ice to keep energy levels up
My turn on the ice
Great scenery in Provo Canyon
A group near us mixing it up with mixed climbing
Working on my ice climbing technique
We each did some laps. It was a ton of fun. I got to experiment with different footwork and tool placements and sticks. Ice climbing is really a mental game sometimes. It’s good to know a lot of different pieces to the puzzle. I climbed out the top on my last lap and tossed the rope down. It stayed pretty dry overall. The slings I used for the anchor were stiff and coated. I had to chip ice off the lockers to get then to unscrew. I had to dig out my back-up ice screw. But the rope stayed dry.
Packing up the ropes and gear
While climbing our water bottles had frozen shut at the lid and required work to open. They were full of slush. Some of the people ice climbing near us also had issues with their bottles too. It is cold! We packed up, said our goodbyes, and hiked down the steep gully. There’s a pretty good trail right now for access to the ice climbing. A few weeks ago it was still dirt and rocks and a bit tougher going. We hiked down the road to the Nunn’s Park parking area. A car was stuck in deep snow and revving the engine to get out. Be careful parking here. While the different pull-off areas and wide spots are flat enough they don’t always plow them out well. Also there are signs in front of the gates for no parking and the city trucks do use the road now and then.
Hiking out after a day ice climbing
We took off our crampons and walked out onto the pavement. It’s always a weird feeling to make that transition. We walked down the road to the car, unlocked it, and set our gear into it. I drank a protein shake. I’m in “training to suffer” mode at the moment. Very limited food and drink on these adventures. On the way past I noticed the car was gone so they obviously made it out. I would have stopped to push otherwise. It was a great day ice climbing. I’m looking forward to more.
There is a lot of training value in climbing the 14ers of Colorado. Especially in the Winter season, when conditions are much like they would be in Alaska or other cold windy places. My friend Todd came up from the Front Range to spend the night. Saturday December 29 we woke up to below zero temperatures, but sunny skies. The forecast called for high winds near evening.
In the hall, dressed and ready for the climb of Gray’s Peak in Winter
To climb the 14ers in Winter you have to consider cold and wind. You should think about protecting all exposed skin surfaces from wind as well as sun. Reflected sun off snow can give you severe sunburn before you realize it. I’m wearing a Powerstretch Fleece base layer shirt and bibs. Mammut soft shell ski bibs. A pile jacket and thin windbreaker on top. For boots I’m wearing Scarpa Phantom 6000 Mountaineering Boots, since I want to be sure my toes stay warm. These are double boots and were very warm last year for ice climbing. In my pack I have a GoLite Bitterroot jacket.
I normally wear a Buff, a thin cloth tube, around my neck, because it’s very versatile. You can wear it around your neck, up over your ears and nose, or even as a thin beanie. I have a thin Pearl iZumi beanie, and in the pack I have a Columbia Omni-Heat knit cap. For gloves I like the older model OR Extravert glove. It’s really warm, fits well, and has great feel with the leather palm and fingers for managing my trekking poles. In the pack I have a pair of MH Medusa gloves. I used this combination of gloves when I was in Alaska, and it kept me pretty warm.
Second parking area for the Gray’s Peak Steven’s Gulch Trailhead
Climbing the 14ers in Winter has many obstacles, one of which is trailhead parking. For Gray’s Peak there is a large parking area near the I-70 Bakerville exit. Unfortunately this parking area is about 3 miles from the actual trailhead. This extra 6 miles added to your round trip hike might make a big difference. If you have a low clearance vehicle you might want to park here anyway. We decided to see if we could make it to the second parking area, about a mile up the road. The snow was packed pretty good, and it was obvious we weren’t the first to try. Todd has a four wheel drive vehicle with good tall tires, so we made it to the parking area with no problems. We didn’t want to try to go further though. We parked the SUV and started up the road around 10:00 AM.
About a half mile from this parking area the road passes through private land. It’s very narrow with not too many places to turn around. There are deep ruts and large rocks in the path. As we hiked up the road we found the snow wasn’t too deep, fairly well packed down, and there were quite a few bare spots. It’s just barely possible a motivated, experienced driver of a jeep style vehicle with high clearance, knobby tires, chains, and hopefully a winch, to make the Summer Trailhead today. We were hiking in our boots, without snowshoes or Kahtoola MICROspikes, unlike almost everyone else we ran into that day.
Our first glimpse of both Gray’s and Torrey’s on the trail
We got to the official trailhead by the bridge and parking area in an hour. We hung out for a few minutes to eat and drink and take pictures. The temperature was very cold, but the sun made it feel pretty good. Besides, there was no wind. Yet. The trail was pretty well packed down by snowshoes and skis so it was easy enough to do in just boots. After nearly a mile we passed over a small tree-covered hill to where we could see both Gray’s and Torrey’s, two of the 14ers most easily accessible from Denver and the Front Range of Colorado. Two snowshoers and two hikers in microspikes passed us coming down. Neither had gone on to the summits and wished us well. One suggested we hurry to beat sunset. A great idea actually.
On the switchbacks up to the summit of Gray’s Peak
Shortly after the fork to Kelso Ridge, one of the more difficult trails to the summit of Torrey’s, we began the more steep and rugged portion of the trail. It alternated between rock and snow, some packed and some loose. Overall the going was still pretty quick considering we were in boots. We passed over a few long icy stretches and were glad we both had trekking poles. Other climbers above us were now visible on the summit and on the faces of both of the 14ers here. The wandering zig-zag switchbacks on Gray’s were like a spiderweb maze.
Zig-zag switchbacks full of snow are a spiderweb maze on the face of Gray’s Peak
At 13,000′ we ran into a large group of climbers descending. They had bailed just a hundred feet further along, and looked pretty miserable. The wind was picking up quite briskly. I pulled the Buff up over my nose to protect it from the cold. We lost the path a few times and I broke trail straight up some snowy chutes to try to intersect the correct switchbacks. This added quite a bit of time to our ascent, and we were both out of breath and had to rest a lot. There were two climbers struggling above us. They didn’t seem to be getting any further ahead of us, so we figured we were having about as much trouble as they.
We watched a climber coming across to us from the Gray’s-Torrey’s Saddle sinking in up to his waist across the wide snowfield. Then I sank in to my waist. Karma? I retraced my steps and stayed closer to the rocks then. Suddenly we were on the correct switchback trail and it was pretty quick going from then on. It was very cold and windy so I stopped to quickly put my puffy down jacket on. I normally wait until the summit if I can, but it was too severe out. One of the hazards of doing the 14ers in Winter. Be prepared for cold and wind. Finally we arrived at the summit of Gray’s Peak.
Winter ascent of one of the 14ers – Gray’s Peak
Todd at the summit of Gray’s Peak – Torrey’s behind
The two guys we were following up the last thousand feet were clearly cold and in a hurry to descend. They advised us not to remove our gloves. They had and were very sorry for it. We stopped to take a few pictures, eat, and drink. Todd set up a tripod and took some pictures. I crouched behind one of the few piles of rocks set up as wind breaks, common on some of the 14ers, and quick stuffed food into my mouth and pockets and guzzled the rest of my first bottle of now slushy water. We had hit the summit at 3:00 PM, five hours after starting. Four hours from the bridge.
Todd and I at the summit of Gray’s Peak. Torrey’s in the background
Sunset was less than two hours away, so we needed to be very fast in descending. Todd had a headlamp, but I had managed to forget mine in my ice skating bag. We did some ice skating in the dark the night before on Keystone Lake. I also only had my sunglasses with. They’re prescription. When it gets dark I’ll have to remove them. If I can make it to the snow covered gravel road before dark I should be just fine.
We booked it down the switchbacks, following the path of the two guys ahead of us. It was a much shorter and much better path, following what seemed to be the right switchbacks all the way down to the Kelso Ridge fork. We boot-skied a lot of it, slipping and sliding and using our poles for support. We paused for a minute to snarf down some quick food, take a few pics, then continue. It was getting much darker now. Daylight is an important consideration when doing the 14ers in Winter. I need to get a headlamp to keep in my bag. Remind me …
Sunset behind Gray’s Peak
We made good time down the rest of the trail. As we passed the stand of trees on the little intersecting ridge we got a good view of the sunset over Gray’s and the reflected pink sky from the East. I love the 14ers for the pretty views. The view from the summit was magnificent. I wish it wasn’t so cold and windy. It was dark enough now for me to remove my sunglasses, and the going became much rougher. I could make out dark and light patches, so I could avoid holes in the trail. Fortunately the large group we had passed on the way up had beat the trail down pretty good.
Sunset reflected in the Eastern Sky
At the bridge we stopped to eat and chug water again. I finished half of my second bottle of water. As cold as it was I was pretty glad I didn’t try to wear a bladder. It would have frozen for sure. It was a little after 5:00 PM. We had descended to here in two hours. We made good time on the road out, even in the dark sharing the light of a little headlamp. Even without my prescription glasses. We got to the car a little before 6:00 PM. We were so glad we had parked at the middle parking area. Driving out was really quick and easy and after meeting up with the rest of my family we went to Kenosha in Breck to eat.
I love doing the 14ers, and have enjoyed my winter climbs quite a bit. In spite of some wind and snow and cold. If you can, try one of the 14ers in Winter. Be safe, be prepared, and enjoy.
On Thursday December 27 I took my friend Todd up to Hoosier Pass for Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing. He’d never been ice climbing before and had been curious to try for a while. In his real life, Todd is a figure skater and coach. He’s my wife’s choreographer for her upcoming competitive ice skating program. That’s how we met.
Todd is an ice skater and coach when he’s not climbing
I’d never been to the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area before, so a few days before our scheduled climb I took the family out for an adventurous drive. We crossed over Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge to the fork of HWY 4, about a mile South of the Pass. We stayed on the main road all the way to Montgomery Reservoir. There we took the right fork and found the parking area just after a wooden bridge crossing.
Lincoln Falls – ribbons of ice to the right, as seen from the parking area
The Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area was pretty obvious, ribbons and fangs of ice on the cliffs below Mount Lincoln, a Colorado Fourteener. We let the kids run for a bit in the parking area then returned home to send Todd the pics and directions to the trailhead parking. Hwy 4 is essentially a private road with no parking. It’s important to avoid conflict with local homeowners so reduce your impact if you climb here. In the winter the road isn’t guaranteed to be plowed or accessible to smaller vehicles, just FYI.
On the trail to the Ice Climb above Montgomery Reservoir
We met at the parking area and I passed out the rope, crampons, harness, tools and helmet I was loaning him. He had some Goretex hiking boots without a welt. I loaned him a pair of glacier crampons with straps to fit them [Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons]. We wouldn’t be doing any WI4 anyway, since it’s his first day.
Close to the climbing area. Scottish Gullies prominent thick ribbon of ice on the left.
The morning was cold, windy and cloudy. The car thermometer read zero. Occasional icy flakes blew from the clouds. We packed, then hiked around the lake on the gravel road and then crossed the concrete and steel canal gate. After that you head uphill through the trees on a steep trail. With a foot of loose new snow on the trail it was a bit slick in spots with loose footing. I had trekking poles, but Todd did not. The last 500′ or so of uphill was in a boulder field with very loose footing in the snow. Hard to see the holes between the rocks. Finally we were at the base of the Scottish Gullies, on the left side of the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area.
Strapping on the crampons at the bottom of the climb
Climbing at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area
There were a few parties ahead of us, so we got in line. I spotted a good looking WI3 band about 60′ tall to the right side. I told the other parties our intention to top rope that, and they said it would be no problem to them. This part of the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area has an obvious good belay spot near a tree to the right of the base. After the last belayer took off up the left side of the route we got our gear on. Seems like the normal way of doing this climb is the left side. We’re just toproping so we want to stay out of their way as much as possible. I set up our belay above and left of the tree, to allow other groups to pass us as they climb.
Approach from end of road above Montgomery Reservoir. Parking is at a gate at Northwest Corner of the lake.
Todd doesn’t climb much, so I set him up with a Petzl GriGri Belay Device and demonstrated the auto-lock by yanking it hard. I told him:
“If I fall, just let go of the rope…”
I led up the right curtain at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area called Scottish Gullies and had Todd just feed me rope as I needed it. I set two screws for just in case. At the top of this bulge at about 50′ was a wide shelf of broken crust over deep powder. I was walking on talus and hoping it wouldn’t shift and slide. I set three screws vertically on a thick solid ice flow over a boulder. There were hollow sheets of ice on the surface all over the route. Todd unhooked the GriGri and I lowered myself through the top anchor to the bottom.
Todd tops out on his first climb of the ice falls
Todd made it up with a little coaching. The crampons flexed quite a bit and the boot heels barely stayed in. I lowered him and had him adjust the straps tighter then sent him up again. I had enough fun on my lead, first one in a couple years. I let him go up five or so times, giving him more and more refined instruction as he improved. There were a handful of other first-timers we ran into that day at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area. It’s a great place to take them.
Todd got better with each lap of our route. Here keeping his butt out over his heels on a bulge.
Finally we ran out of time and had to leave. There was no decent way to lower myself from the right hand side and keep all my gear. I had considered doing a V-Thread with the rope and rapping off that. I’ve done that before. Fortunately just as I tied in, a couple came up and the guy offered to go up and bring our gear down. He was teaching a friend to climb, and wanted to toprope a bit and our rope looked just perfect to him. As he ascended our little route at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area, his friend started asking questions about the failure rate of ice screws. Good luck.
Happy after a great day ice climbing
We packed up our gear while he climbed, and then the rope when he tossed it down. I retrieved my pro from him and we said our good byes. The hike down was a bit slick and treacherous on the way down. We slipped and slid, doing some boot skiing in the ruts between the boulders. Be careful anyone who follows in our footsteps. At the canal gate the route became just a gravel road walk. We returned to our cars, and sorted and stowed our gear. We decided to go out to eat, and Todd had a taste for Mexican.
Fiesta Jalisco in Dillon had good Mexican Food
We stopped at Ready Paint Fire in Breckenridge to pick up my wife and her friend, then we went to Fiesta Jalisco in Dillon for a long evening of eating and sharing stories. Great day. Yes, a great day.