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.
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.
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 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.
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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.
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 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.