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Iztaccihuatl: A Sleeping Beauty in Mexico

mountain coverd in snow

mountain coverd in snow

The Legend

Told in different formats, the legend of Iztaccihuatl is one to represent a story of love. Iztaccihuatl...the most beautiful woman within the Tlaxcaltecas, know enemies of the Aztecs. Iztaccihuatl had fell in love with one of the warriors, Popocatepetl. Before battle Popocatepetl had requested something, he had gone to the chief for the princess' hand in marriage, request which was gladly granted if and only if, he was to bring victory home.

However, such was the strength and passion Izta and Popo had, that led to a jealous warrior to misinform that Popocatepetl had died in combat. Iztaccihuatl fell to her knees in pain and sadness...and soon passed away. Popocatepetl returned and found out about his love passing away, to honor her, he took her body up to the hills and layed her body. He stood on his knees with a torch in hand...until snow covered both their bodies and eventually, turned them into mountains. Ocasionally, Popo has memories of her love and makes his heart beat with passion, forming the eruptions from the volcano.

As for the jealous warrior, Citlaltepetl, he left and died on his jurney, turned into a mountain as well. Condemned to forever witness the union between Izta and Popo.

mountain in the night

mountain in the night

The Ascent: Mental

The first time I was brought to Iztaccihuatl I was brought to my knees. Overly confident on my "fitness" level and greatly uneducated about the mountaineering world, I was broken to tears. Eventhough this mountain is not as tall in the mountain scene, with 5200 meters above sea level, it sure has other challenges to it. Some months after my enounter, and witha better preparation I was able to make amends with this woman. Today, now as a mountain guide, I want to share with you my knowledge about this mountain.

This is a long route, especially for beginners. I have taken groups on 17 hour long excursions. The route "Ruta de los Portillos" is not very technical and very much resembles a demanding hike (with less oxigen, more hostile climate and mental toughness). However, this route has a bigger summit success rate when you have the right mindset. As some mountaineers like to say, summits are 80% mind and 20% body. Your body is a support for the climb, it will sure require putting in the hours and miles of lite running (Zones1 and 2), as well as legs ad core preparation.

When I take groups on this mountain, I like to keep the surprises coming...meaning I try to keep a little bit of information for myself. But! for this article I want to help you prepare for this mountain so I'll be more transparent.

Truth is this route contains a number of false summits, which represent the major causes for desperation and stress on visitors. The key to this mountain and basically all of them, except for some others in Mexico on the 4000m range, is PATIENCE. This is a long climb, no camp stops, false summits and some steep terrain. People have started the climb and within 45 minutes start wishing to be back home watching their favorite TV show. That's usually when I start filtering who's gonna make it through. Let me give you some tips:

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Keep it friendly

It is common to tackle adversity on a mountain as you do on a gym. You start heavy conversations with yourself. "COME ON PULL IT TOGETHER" "LET'S GO, ONE MORE STEP" "REMEMBER THE HATERS". While this is a great tool to keep you motivated on many circumstances, it takes a huge toll on your energy. Yes it's mental but trust me, it will wear you out. Instead, try to keep the inner conversation calm. Admire the views, remind yourself you'll get there, think about your dog, things that make you enjoy life, stay in the moment.

Baby Steps

Mountain ascents are all about energy preservation and efficiency. Try to keep your steps short, rather than going for the big rock to get quicker, go around it. Try to keep your steps in sync with your breathing. Whenever you come across a big step which is invitable, take a deep breath, and exhale while you step up. This will make your leg mitigate that stress feeling on it and give more oxygen to the muscle.

Tackling Mountain Sickness

Mountain sickness isa terrible feeling, nobody wants it. You can't eat, you cant breath, your head explodes with every step you take, and the worst just keeps coming. Although mountain or altitude sickness still has some mistery to it, we know it has to do with the lack of oxygen. While the only real cure is to come back down, there are some things you can do to prevent it and sooth the symptoms as you go up.


  • Stay hydrated - your hydration process should begin 2 to 3 days prior to your climb. 2 to 2.5 Liters a day. A good way to check if your staying hydrated is your pee color; keep it white (transparent)
  • Avoid alcohol and greasy foods - these foods will make it hard for your stomach to use energy efficiently.
  • Climatize - try sleeping at altitude a night or two before your ascent. This produces red blood cells which transport oxygen. This process helps your body prepare to the new environment.

As you go:

  • Breathing - the only thing I've found really helpful is to keep your breathwork in check. Long exhales. Whenever you start feeling a slight symptom take a 10 second break and focus on slow beathing.
  • Eat - I have found out that my altitude sickness develops whenever I get bit hungry and ignore it. My solution, whenever I feel my stomach asking for food, give it to it. I keep a small amount of chocolates on my hip strap to eat something as I go along. When I ignore the feeling I develop nausea and it all goes down from there so, try to keep something in the tank.
climber mountain popocatepetl on the background

climber mountain popocatepetl on the background

Hope you find these tips useful on any ascent you have scheduled. Remember its all about patience and efficiency. All pictures by @mariano.sato

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