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I might not have been doing very much riding recently but that doesn’t mean that I’m not still pretty active at times.

Two volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, dominate the landscape near Mexico City and Puebla. Popo, as an active volcano, is out of bounds but the urge to climb Itza proves irresistible. The climb is not technical but Izta’s summit is 5230 metres and parts of the mountain are permanently glaciated so I decide that experienced company is probably a good idea on the ascent since I haven’t done any high altitude mountain climbing before.

My network of bike contacts in Mexico City is quite extensive and Cheve, a member of Warm Showers, the international cycle touring hospitality network, turns out to be a mountaineer and he is kind enough to offer to guide me up the volcano. We arrive at the base of the mountain on Friday afternoon and spend a couple of hours walking up to the mountain shelter where we spend the night. The shelter is at over 4000 metres and we spend a restless night dealing with various unpleasant affects of altitude: head-ache, nausea, loss of appetite and insomnia are all part of climbing mountains, it seems.


A mountain hut provides shelter half way up the volcano.

The morning brings a cold relentless wind but I am undeterred. After a breakfast consisting of one bite of a bread roll and a tangerine, forced into my reluctant stomach, we set off towards the summit.

Iztaccihuatl is actually a conglomeration of seven volcanos which form a complex mountain popularly known as the Sleeping Woman. Iztaccihuatl is said to be a beautiful princess and the neighbouring Popocatepetl, her lover. One version of the story goes that Popocatepetl was sent into battle by Iztaccihuatl’s father and a rival suitor spread rumors of Popocatepetl’s death. Iztaccihuatl died of grief on hearing this news. When Popocatepetl returned, victorious and very much alive, only to discover the tragic fate of his beloved, he fled, distraught, with her body into the mountains where the gods covered them both in snow. Popocatepetl still spews fire and smoke into the sky in rage and sorrow for his lost love.

The mountain hut sits near Izta’s feet and we climb over her knees and across her glaciated belly and then finally scramble up the summit onto her breasts.

Iztaccihuatl is actually a conglomeration of seven volcanoes and this is one of the seven craters.

The glaciated belly of the"Sleeping Woman".

Relaxing, for a moment, at the summit.

Cheve, with Popo, in the background, standing guard over Izta.

From the top of Iztaccihuatl, I can see Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest peak and the third highest in North America, hovering above the haze in the distance to the east. Nevado de Toluca, which I climbed some weeks ago, sits on the horizon to the west.

Pico de Orizaba in the distance.

Nevado de Toluca, on the horizon, in the west. There is a lot less snow on it now than when I climbed it a few weeks ago.

{ 7 } Comments

  1. Sila | May 3, 2010 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Anna, this looks amazing. Must be really cold there.. :)

  2. anna | May 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    hi sila, it wasn’t too bad – the wind was cold but on a still day I probably could have worn a t-shirt…

  3. jeff | May 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Permalink


    glad you made it up there! it barely looks like the same mountain as a month ago… we negotiatied snow and ice for most of the climb after la joyita. popo too has lost most of its snow since then…

    nice work…

  4. anna | May 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jeff,

    I keep checking your blog to see if you’ve posted your Izta photos yet… still waiting…

    I thought conditions must of been a bit easier for me than for you guys because we were up and down in about seven hours ;-)

  5. julie | May 14, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    If it is still an active volcano how often does it erupt? Is the soil around the base of the volcano very rich and fertile like Mt Bromo in Indonesia? Villages are perched all the way up to the top growing wonderful tomatoes and sweetcorn, but it must come at a cost. I’ve been to two active volcanoes – Mt Bromo and Mt Etna and seen Mt St Helen from afar in an aeroplane as it was spewing fiery stuff high into the atmosphere. People get addicted to climbing volcanoes… do take care xx

  6. jason | June 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    wow, I’m jealous. Do you have any advice for climbing the volcanoes in Mexico. Is it pretty easy to rent any gear that you might need like crampons or whatever?

    Also hows the cycling there, I will start cycling down Baja in July.

    great blog. I like your writing and pictures :)

  7. Will Kemp | April 5, 2011 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    The story of Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl reminded me slightly of Garcia Lorca’s poem “Romance Somnambulo” (Verde que te quiero verde….). Do you know it? If not, you should read it.

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