Nick McEachern hiking up the Jampa Glacier on Pico de Orizaba
Nick and I first saw a picture of Pico de Orizaba when we were 19 years young. I believe the image stayed with the two of us for many years, coming up in conversation intermittently until we eventually realized we had the same week off and it happened to be ski season in Mexico. That October, we booked tickets and started making plans to attempt a ski descent of this beautiful, conical 18,000 foot volcano in central Mexico. It would be my first experience high altitude ski mountaineering.
The flight to Mexico was ten hours from Salt Lake City. We were the only gringos carrying ski equipment through customs, but were greeted with smiles and hospitality despite broken Spanish. After a few tacos and a quick night's sleep in the busy city of Puebla, we found a bus that would take us to the small town of Tlachichuca, close to Pico de Orizaba.
When we arrived, we checked into the Servimont. Servimont is part hostel, part guide service, and part Mexican ski history museum among many other things. The owner was excited to learn about our mission and we spent the night feasting, chatting, and route planning. He even supplied us with a few items we were missing and the next morning, he arranged for us to catch ride to 14,000’.The drive to Pico de Orizaba's basecamp takes about three hours and travels through spectacular scenery in the rural Mexican countryside. The road starts in farmland and then goes through a deciduous forest until eventually reaching the hut with views of the summit. We kept our explorations to a minimum and headed to bed early in preparation for an acclimatization hike the following day.
It should be noted that Nick lives an active lifestyle as an outdoor educator at 10,000 feet in Leadville, Colorado. I live a mostly sedentary life at 4,000’ as a graduate student in Salt Lake City, Utah. Throughout the trip, I would lean on Nick heavily not just for physical help, but for motivation, inspiration, and overall stoke. Nick and I are best friends. We lived in a van together for an entire winter. He understands my motives and my weaknesses better than most people. Our relationship was built in the mountains and his stoic personality combined with a tolerance (really, a love) for adversity make him an exceptional expedition partner. I’d follow him anywhere.
The acclimatization hike went smoothly and we cached our gear at 16,000’ for our summit attempt the next day. The weather window looked as good as it could get—we couldn’t believe that we actually stood a chance at standing on top of Pico de Orizaba. Waking up at 2:30am the next morning gave us plenty of time to summit during a safe time of day. We reached the gear cache in the dark and I followed Nick to the base of the Jampa Glacier.
When we got to 17,500’, I started to dry heave. I kept it down, because I knew any loss of calories would only make the experience more challenging.
I was exhausted. I had tried to eat and drink as much as possible, but I couldn’t seem to get enough into me. The stars were still out and we were cold. Nonetheless, guided by our headlamps, we tied into the rope together, as we have many times before, and started the 1,800’ slog to the top. One foot after another.
We started to hit our wall at about the same time the sun began to rise, a sunrise so beautiful it inspired us to continue suffering. The winds got stronger as we got higher and we were both wearing every single piece of clothing we brought. When we got to 17,500’, I started to dry heave. I kept it down, because I knew any loss of calories would only make the experience more challenging.
Nick McEachern skiing down nearly 2,000 feet of Mexican volcano. Nick Rushford photo.
We when reached the top, we hugged. We cried. We high fived. We smiled so big our faces hurt. We stared into the crater of the volcano. We were in love with this mountain. This was a multi-year goal coming to fruition. It was an experience that could have only been improved by a descent on skis; a beautiful, 2,000 foot ski descent down a safe, soft glacier overlooking rural Mexico. We alternated turns skiing out front, simply too tired at that altitude to ski top-to-bottom without resting.
When we began the long hike back to basecamp, we almost lost our route where the glacier had receded. But we were in the highest of spirits. Our ride was waiting to bring us back to Servimont. A steak dinner and a few beers later, we were in bed. The day seemed like a dream. And in many ways, it was.
We continued to receieve exceptional hospitality from everyone we met in Mexico as we departed Tlachichuca and headed back to Puebla to catch our flight home. I didn’t want to leave. Nick encouraged a few more tequila drinks (I didn’t put up much of an argument) and we reflected on our trip.
Nick and I don’t ski for the snow. We ski because of the places it takes us and the people we meet and build relationships with along the way. And that’s what life is about anyways, right? The people, the places, and the love.
-Nick McEachern, Sego Ski Co. Ambassador