A Winter's Tale: The depths of Mexico

While the 'Weeping Warrior' roars, tackle the 'Sleeping Woman'

Popocatepetl roared last week, shooting gas and ash into the thin air of Mexico. If the tallest volcano is off-limits, then I strongly recommend a climb up its near-identical twin, Iztaccihuatl (hereinafter, happily, referred to by its universal nickname, Izta). Popocatepetl (5452m) means "weeping warrior"; Izta (5286m) is "sleeping woman". You wouldn't want to climb "Popo" right now, even if the government allowed it (which it doesn't), but Izta is there for the taking. And December is the month to tackle it.

Popocatepetl roared last week, shooting gas and ash into the thin air of Mexico. If the tallest volcano is off-limits, then I strongly recommend a climb up its near-identical twin, Iztaccihuatl (hereinafter, happily, referred to by its universal nickname, Izta). Popocatepetl (5452m) means "weeping warrior"; Izta (5286m) is "sleeping woman". You wouldn't want to climb "Popo" right now, even if the government allowed it (which it doesn't), but Izta is there for the taking. And December is the month to tackle it.

The climb can be a precarious business - and people have died in the attempt - but it is the most exhilarating trip in Latin America, and easily accessible from Mexico City. This is how it was for me.

The first couple of hours of the ascent seemed relatively easy, but after El Refugio de Republico, things became much worse. It took an hour to scramble up the small but sheer face of loose volcanic scree. For every 5m climbed, I slipped down 3m. Only by planting the pickaxe and using it as a mini pole-vault was it possible to climb this part at all.

After the wall of scree, the terrain became better but steeper, and then the breathlessness began. It is humiliating and agonising to find oneself crawling and floundering like a baby, gasping for air.

The ice ridges up to the top would have made simple climbing but now my limbs were weary and the air very thin. The tropical sun was hot but the wind was dry and icy cold. At every stop my heart pounded and my head throbbed to its rhythm. Without proper sunblock or gloves, I could feel my exposed skin and lips being frayed by the elements and screaming for shelter.

Finally, the summit came. I forced myself to drink, but I had mild altitude sickness and a rapid descent was imperative. But for a moment, all of Mexico was mine. I was determined to use my camera's self-timer to prove that I really had been to the top of the world. Gingerly, I lined up the shot with the camera laid on the ice, trotted into position, span round and went flying backwards off an ice ridge and landed 6m below in a puddle of icy water. The only damage was the ripped seat of my trousers, a gash from a crampon spike through my calf and a deep sense of foolishness. The photo did show me on the top of the world... falling headfirst towards the bottom.

* Day-trippers beware: weather conditions can change rapidly and altitude sickness is a real danger. Inexperienced climbers should not climb alone, and hiring a guide is advisable. Essentials: crampons, boots, pickaxe, jacket, gloves, lots of water, torch, food, sunblock... and fitness

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...