Climbing La Malinche Volcano in Mexico

Climbing La malinche

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Just outside the thriving Mexican metropolis of Puebla in Mexico, there are a ring volcanoes waiting to be climbed.  After careful consideration, I decided that I would be climbing La Malinche with my bicycle. At 4461m it is considered a rather easy climb and is regularly used as an acclimatization hike for mountaineers wanting to climb the granddaddy of mountains in this part of the world, Pico de Orizaba.

Climbing La Malinche most of the way with my bicycle presented me with a problem or two that I would have to solve. How far could I cycle up the mountain? Where would I store my bicycle for the final climb to the summit? How much food and water would I need to bring? I decided to just jump on the bicycle and work it out as I went.

Leaving Puebla

It was late when I set out from Puebla. I bid farewell to some hikers I met there, MoTown and Stinger. Both hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015, the same year as me. They kindly gave away unwanted food for me to use on the climb. I also bid farewell to Spontaneous and Sky. They would be departing Puebla a couple of days behind me. We would reunite several days after my climb in the town of Tlachichuca.

It was uphill almost all the way from Puebla. The road that loops around La Malinche is one big campground. With plenty of daylight left I set up camp in a grove of Pine trees. The gentle breeze blew through the Pine needles producing a peaceful whistle. It was relaxing so I spent the rest of the daylight hours reading a good book.

I was in no rush to get to the start of the climb. On route the roads were being manually cleaned by a large troupe of ladies. The more vocal ladies in the group tested their best English. “I Love You”, “What is your name”. Most of them burst into childish laughter as I passed. They were having fun as they were working.

CDT Rerunning, Shepherd (me), Spontaneous and Sky. Eating Korean food
Thru Hikers
Thru Hikers meet up in Puebla. Sky, Spontaneous, Motown, Shepherd and Stinger

Climbing La Malinche with a Bicycle

I stopped at a small restaurant at the start of the climb at an altitude of about 3100 meters. Several coffees and eggs later I had all the energy I needed. I stocked up on snacks and water at the small store next to the restaurant. I decided to carry 7 litres of water, much more than I needed but I thought I might spend a couple of nights on the mountain to help me acclimatise . Better to have too much than run out. I knew there was no water on the mountain.

The first couple of kilometers were steep but rideable. I followed a road that was closed to vehicle traffic. My breathing was laboured and my heart raced as the air became thinner. After about an hour or two and many rest breaks later, I found myself at the end of the road. From this point the hiking trail was far too steep for me to ride. I followed a small ATV trail for another 750 meters, spending most of the time pushing. At times  I could only push the bicycle for about 10 meters before fatigue forced me to rest.

I reached an altitude of 3700 meters and decided that it was not worth going any further. On the only flat ground I could find among the Pine trees I set up my tent and cooked dinner. Again, it was early, maybe 3pm so I continued with some reading.

Climbing La Mainche
First nights camp on the slopes of La Malinche volcano at about 2900m.
Volcán Popocatépetl
Nice view of the very active Volcán Popocatépetl as I cycled up the slopes of Volcán La Malinche
Climbing La Malinche
At the start of the climb where people park their cars there is a nice cheap restaurant. I had a nice second breakfast before continuing to climb uphill with my bicycle. About 3100m
Climbing La Malinche
As I climbed higher on the volcano the butterflies, insects, flowers and birds became more numerous
Cycling La Malinche
It was a constant 10% grade or more for most of the climb, which is steeper than it looks in this photo. I took many rest breaks
Climbing La Malinche
A group of enthusiastic locals descending as I was cycling up the hiking track looking for a place to camp. 3500m
Climbing Lan Malinche with a bicycle
There was a bit of pushing involved the higher I climbed.
Camping La Malinche
Camp at about 3700m on the slopes of La Malinche. If I had climbed another 200m there were heaps of flat places to camp, but I was done for the day.

Climbing la Malinche by Foot

I set my alarm for 5am, I wanted an early start to get as far up the mountain as I could before sunrise at 7am. There was a problem, I couldn’t find my headlamp. I searched through all my gear but couldn’t find it. I have a place for everything on my bicycle, and everything goes in that place. My headlamp was missing. Where was it? Did I leave it in Puebla? I remembered charging it when I was there. Oh well, I rolled over and went back to sleep. It was too cold anyway, -6C.

A little after 7am I woke, grabbed a quick bite to eat and set off. It was still cold at -3C. The first hour went very fast. I made it above the tree line at around 4100 meters with no rest breaks. The grind started when the soft volcanic scree appeared. One step, one breath. That was all I could manage for about an hour. Two steps forward, one step back. This was a struggle. Climbing La Malinche was hard work. The soft scree was the turn around point for more than half of the people who attempted this climb. The point when most people realise that it is too much hard work.

The soft scree continued for maybe 150 meters of elevation. I reached the summit ridge line I had great vistas of the surrounding volcanoes, Popocatépetl, Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba. Time to rest and take in the view.

Approaching the Summit

The rest of the climb to the summit was quite easy. The trail was clear and easy to follow. Only two very small scrambles that involved the use of my hands and I was at the summit at 9.30am. I was alone and the first person to the summit on this day. Strangely, I didn’t feel any strong emotion of triumph or satisfaction. Maybe it was because I was alone or maybe I was just so tired from the climb. I didn’t rest much on the way up. This is the highest altitude I have climbed since reaching the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in February 2010.

Climbing La Malinche
It was cold when I set off on foot to climb to the summit. -3C
Climbing La Malinche Volcano
About 30 minutes hike from camp I reached the tree line and a nice view to the valley below. Great camping just a bit lower than here.
Climbing La malinche Volcano
At about 4300m while climbing La Malinche. Volcán Popocatépetl in the background. It is still cold, maybe 5C.
Climbing La Malinche
Past the hard part, on the ridge to the summit, climbing La Malinche
Climbing La Malinche
Volcán Popocatépetl on the left and Volcán
Climbing La Malinche
Selfie at the summit of La Malinche Volcano, 4461 meters or 14636 feet.

The Descent

The breeze on the summit would whip through in fierce bursts, interspersed with periods of complete calm and silence. But it was still cold, maybe 4C, but the wind chill made it feel much colder. I lingered long enough to have a good mental picture of the view that I hoped would stay with me forever.

The descent came rather quickly. I could see about 30 people in the distance all slowly making forward progress like an ant climbing a tree.

I found a sheltered place out of the wind but in the warm sun to check my messages. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but Tommo passed away”. A friend of mine that I have known for a good 20 years died. He was my age. Way too young to die. He was a keen hiker and an adventurous soul who shared the same curiosity and love of nature as myself. He will be sorely missed.

Another night at high altitude

When I got back to my camp I received a message from Spontaneous and Sky. They would be leaving Puebla tomorrow and we would meet in the town of Tlachichuca. After climbing La Malinche with my bicycle I decided to stay another night at 3700m. It should help with my acclimatisation for Climbing Pico de Orizaba.

Join me next week as I cycle to my next goal, climbing the highest mountain in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba, with my cycling and hiking buddies Spontaneous and Sky.

Pico de Orizaba
Camping in a farmers field, having a beer while thinking about my friend who passed away. The highest mountain in Mexico in the background Pico de Orizaba. My plan is to climb the mountain with my friends, Spontaneous and Sky. Stay tuned…

Next : The Waiting game in Oaxaca

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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18 thoughts on “Climbing La Malinche Volcano in Mexico”

  1. Great post and very helpful as my teenage son and I are hoping to climb Pico. We had planed to climbing Malinche for acclimatization. If you have a few moments to consider a few questions. 1) You mentioned “The road that loops around La Malinche is one big campground” We were considering the cabins but would prefer to camp, can we camp anywhere on that road. 2) If we have a car can we park it there or do you know if there is a safe parking area. 3) Is there a Park entrance fee? Camping fee? 4) I have not been able to find any good maps. Is the area well marked or is it a bit sketchy? Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Robert. Firstly, the ring road that heads to La Malinche from Puebla is covered in beautiful Pine trees, there are many small pull outs to camp. I camped along with my bicycle but I also spotted several others camping with their cars. I also camped at about 3700-3800m on the climb. There is a great couple of flat areas around 4000-4100m, there were several people camped there but no water. The park entrance and car park for the start of the climb is at around 3100m. There are cabins, a cheap restaurant and water. I believe it is safe to park there.
      On my bicycle I didn’t pay a fee but there is an entry gate where I suspect there is a fee. No camping fees unless you stay in the cabins or camp there.
      I used a combination of google maps and my offline mapping app, Pocket Earth Pro. I had no problems navigating with them, not that I needed them, the trail is well marked. So don’t worry too much about navigating.

  2. Great post Brad! Fantastic photos as usual. Happy New Year and what a great year it will be for you, I am sure.

  3. So glad you’re back out there and posting again. I really enjoy your adventures. So sorry about your friend. Was he a fellow hiker or back home friend. Be safe and well and keep having a great time.

  4. I am sorry about the loss of your friend. How wonderful for you to honor him in such a beautiful place. I’m sure he would appreciate your thoughtfulness.

    My father climbed Pacaya, between Guatemala City and Antigua, back in the mid ’70s when I was a little girl. He has quite a story to tell of that day. He said it was rumbling every 15 minutes or so and spewing white hot boulders that fell back into the crater. It erupted later that afternoon as they were having a meal in the town at the base of it. For days afterwards, it billowed ash several miles high, and he could see a huge, red stream of lava flowing down after dark. I didn’t know all of this until I was an adult, but there are photos of him leaning over looking into the crater with smoke and ash all around him.

    • I climbed the same volcano many years ago, it was active at the time. If the wind changed direction I would have been hit by lava bombs. I look forward to returning to Guatemala real soon.

  5. Dude. What were you thinking riding up past the restaurant LOADED? I left my shit there (was staying in the tiny cabin behind the restaurant where he lets bikers and backpackers stay for free, aptly named Hotel de los Ratones), and rode up with my bike. You’re a brave man. Not sure I’d have done it that way, but probably got your lungs opened up a bit for Orizaba!

    • I should have followed your plan. A lot easier than mine, but I had time and wanted to camp as high as I could to help with the acclimatisation for Pico de Orizaba. I was tired but not worn out. Hope Argentina is treating you well, not long till you are in Tierra del Fuego, have fun and stay safe in 2017.

    • Thanks Roy, I look a little less homeless…. now I need a haircut, it’s been a while and I’ll be heading into warmer weather in about a month.


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