In the spring of 1993 I had an amazing opportunity to climb the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl. Popo is over 17,000 feet high and sits to the south of the valley of Mexico. Together with its sister volcano Iztaccihuatl (Izta), the two great mountains form the “Pass of Cortez” which was named because it was part of the route selected by the Spanish conquistador when he entered the Valley of Mexico in 1519 to eventually conquer the Aztec empire. (If you are interested in reading an amazing account of this historical era, I highly recommend Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s first person account documented in “The Conquest of New Spain”) This evening I uploaded 20 photos from that climb in 1993 as a new photo set on my Flickr account.
This is a photo of me about halfway up the climb:
We chose the least technical of the many routes up the volcano, and did not have to rope up or do any belaying. We did climb with ice axes because of the snowfields we had to cross, but did not use crampons. The air got very thin at that altitude! Popo is over 17,000 feet high, and previously the highest mountain I had climbed was Mount Elbert, the tallest 14,000′ mountain in the state of Colorado.
This image shows both the steep grade of the latter part of the climb, as well as the clouds which rolled in making it hard to see each other. The figures in the center of this image are my two climbing partners:
This next image is actually taken from the summit, or at least the highest point we reached in our climb, looking along the rim of the crater. You can see the rock striations in the crater’s mouth from previous lava dome formations now exposed inside the volcano’s mouth:
This next photo was taken looking straight down in the mouth of the volcano!
Popocatepetl was classified officially in 1993 as a dormant volcano, but looking into its mouth from an altitude of 17,000′, the smell of the sulfur was very strong and it looked pretty active to me. You could see clouds of steam billowing up, and it reminded me of looking into the lower geyser basin of Yellowstone National Park. In December of 1994, about a year and a half after we completed this ascent, Popo had several minor eruptions that forced the evacuation of some nearby towns.
I lived and studied in Mexico City during 1992-1993, and loved getting to know both the Mexican people and their beautiful country. I took this final image on one of my flights into the Valley of Mexico, where Mexico City lies, and you can see both Izta and Popo volcanoes in the picture. Izta is to the left, and Popo is on the right:
At that time Mexico City was home to over 20 million people, and the worst air pollution in the world. You can see the pollution (in Spanish, contaminacion) in this photo. During the year I lived there, only a couple of days were clear enough to be able to see the Popo and Izta volcanoes from where I lived in the center of the city. Hopefully someday when alternative fuel sources are in wide use in Mexico City and elsewhere, the pollution problem will be a distant memory and the splendor of the valley will again return blessing inhabitants with more frequent, spectacular views of these amazing mountain volcanoes.
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