Climbing Mexico's Tallest Volcano

The Mexico volcano, Pico de Orizaba, provides off-the-beaten-path adventure for visitors By: Chuck Graham
The view from Mexico’s Pico de Orizaba. // (c) 2012 Chuck Graham
The view from Mexico’s Pico de Orizaba. // (c) 2012 Chuck Graham

The Details

Our climb began at midnight, leaving the climber’s hut at 14,010 feet to scale Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s tallest mountain and the third tallest peak in North America at 18,491 feet above sea level. With headlamps lighting the way, we trekked for two hours before we reached the glacier. Switching to crampons and ice axes, we began the first of many broad traverses across the glacier to the summit.

Pico de Orizaba is one of only three volcanoes in Mexico that continue to support glaciers and is home to nine glaciers in all. The largest glacier on the mountain is Gran Glaciar Norte, which is also the largest in Mexico.

Also known as Citlaltepetl, which means “star mountain,” Pico de Orizaba is a stratovolcano , or conical volcano. Pico de Orizaba overlooks the valley and city of Orizaba, from which it gets its name, and lies 120 miles east of Mexico City. If you’re traveling to Orizaba for the first time, you’ll soon discover that the town revolves around the mountain. It’s ranked 7th in the world in topographic prominence, which means it can be seen from a very long distance. The massive peak is easily visible to ships approaching port in the Gulf of Mexico 75 miles away.

Located in the eastern end of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, straddling the border between the states of Veracruz and Puebla, the volcano is currently dormant but not extinct, with the last eruption taking place during the 19th century. It has the distinction of being the second most prominent volcanic peak in the world after Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

Pico de Orizaba attracts large numbers of international climbers every year. There are many routes for approaching and climbing the volcano, and many climbers attempt it, mostly during the period from October to March. The most frequented route begins from the base camp of Piedra Grande Hut via the Jamapa Glacier. Piedra Grande Hut Base Camp is located at an elevation of 14,010 feet above sea level; it is a great place to stay or acclimatize to the high altitude.

Pico de Orizaba is a popular mountain for both novice and expert climbers alike. While the mountain is known as a great destination for beginner climbers, it’s also developed a reputation as an excellent training ground for seasoned mountaineering experts.

For guided trips up Pico de Orizaba, contact Italian Trek. Two- to four-day trips are the norm. Climbers can stay in Mexico City and be picked up there, or be transported straight to Orizaba from the airport in Mexico City, about a four-hour drive. Prices are determined by how many climbers are on a trip beginning at $800 for one person and going down for multiple climbers.

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