Hiking my first Volcano – La Malinche 4440 m

La Malinche mountain is an inactive volcano (dormant for the last 3,100 years) located in Tlaxcala and Puebla states, in Mexico. Officially, its summit reaches 4,461 metres (14,636 ft) above sea level, though it is generally considered to be closer to 4,440 metres. It is the sixth-highest in Mexico.

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Here you see the “peak” before the real peak

Traveling to Mexico we did not plan to do any hiking actually, but we should have known ourselves better by now, because off course we could not resist :D. When travelling for two months it is really limited what you can bring so the only equipment we had with us were our hiking boots, one layer of wool and a rain/wind jacket. Considering this to be to little for a 4000m summit, the day before the hike we were in Mexico City and tried to find some warm clothes for the hike. We were not sure how could it could get on 4000m in Mexico, but decided that we should at least have an extra warm sweater. We found the cheapest on sale sweaters, bought a lot of sandwiches, 3,5 L of water and two small chocolates from the Oxxo store and hoped that would get us to the top of La Malinche. As it turned out too little food or clothes was not the problem on this hike.

HOW TO GET THERE:

We took a direct bus from TAPO in Mexico city to Apizaco, wich costs about 135 pesos. From Apizaco we found a collectivo around the Elektra shop, from the corner of Av. Hidalgo and Av. Serdan. You will probably need to ask around as there are tens of different collectivos there, but you are looking for the one written Teacalco or San José Teacalco on. They are slow because the stop in all kind of villages, and the price asked was 60 pesos per person. The last collectivo leaves around 4:30PM the first leaves at 8:20 AM. The collectivo will stop right in front of the Centro Vacacional, so you will not have to do any additional walking. The last busses back to either Puebla or Apizaco leave around 5:00PM. The bus to Puebla costs us 40 pesos each, and took about 2 hours.

CAMPING:

So luckily there is a quite fancy resort just bellow La Malinche, where the trail starts called “Centro Vacacional Malintzin”. It is an ideal location to acclimatize and start an ascent of the volcano as it lies on 3200m. It has a restaurant and a gift shop. Outside the resort, there is also a small kiosk and a little cheaper restaurant. It has very comfortable cabins and camping area. All of the huts have hot showers, TV, fridge, kitchen, fireplace (take your wood with you or buy it at the entrance) and come with either 4 or 6 beds. You can’t just buy one bed, so we were two people renting a 6 persons cabin, which was 960 pesos per night. It was actually cheaper to rent the 6 person cabin than the 4 person cabin, because the 4 person cabins had a kitchen, and were hence more expensive. You can’t book online, so you have to call the center directly and make your reservation. The very nice lady told us that for reservations they normally want a deposit online, but that only works with mexican cards so she let us book over the phone without paying the deposit. For booking over phone call: +521 554822716699 they also have a webpage in spanish.
If you don’t like using the resort you can camp at no fee just outside the “Centro Vacacional” in the forest. There are lots of flat places around, even some accessible by car. Alternatively take your gear and walk about two hours up the trail towards the La Malinche. There are campsites around timberline. For your next day climb to the Malinche you can hide your backpack somewhere in the woods.

THE HIKE ITSELF:

The hiking trail to the summit begins just between the restaurant and the small kiosk outside of the gate of the resort.

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Beginning of the trail

The forest trail is a shortcut over the concrete road that once was open for public, but is now closed of with a gate. After crossing the road several times, the trail leads into a conifer section at around 3,400 meters. Even though the hike might seem like a walk in the park to begin with, it fast turns into a real challenge if you have not acclimatized. We saw hikers throwing up before they reached the tree line, so you have to keep in mind at 4000 m you will get height sickness if you have not acclimatized. From the tree line, you can see the “false” summit for the first time. After that you have to choose either to take a very steep grassland section on right or a very steep gravel and sand path on the left.

 

 

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Picture taken from www.summitpost.org

We did the sand path (in red on the picture). It really was heavy, because for every step you were sliding one step back and it felt like we were not making any progress. I guess the path to the right, over the grass would have been a wiser choice. The ridge starts at 4,200 metres and leads to the summit, which is just behind the false summit. The last 100-or-so metres involve a bit of scrambling.

I read that is often cold and very windy above the tree line, but we were lucky and had quite comfortable conditions. Never the less, I used all my clothes – one  layer of wool, one warm sweater and wind pants + jacket, so don’t come in t-shirt. I have also read that  crampons and an ice axe are necessary whenever it has snowed recently – which typically happens a few times each year. Therefore when you book your cabin with the Centro Vacacional, be sure to ask if there is snow or not.

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The ascent is challenging but not technical. Fit hikers can reach the summit from the resort area in 4 hours, but it is best to plan for 5–6 hours with breaks and it also depends on if you have acclimatized or not. We used 5 hours, but were hiking very slow. My stomach was acting up on the mexican food as it had for several days, and so I was really not in shape that day. I could not really get any nutrition to my body and was only drinking water and eating small pieces of chocolate. To be honest, I am still not sure how I made it to the peak. especially on the way down I was astonished that I had walked all the way up! I only remember focusing on the next steps and trying to keep the negative thoughts out of my mind, thinking that I will soon feel better. Elias was also very supportive and I am sure I would not have made it to the peak without him encouraging me all the way. I think this is the hardest hike I have done sofar?! I know 1,200 hm climb is not much, but that day it was hard, really hard, both mentally and physically.

 

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The peak was really quite crowded. This is a very popular hike in the area so don’t be afraid, you will not be hiking alone, and you will not get lost. A map is really not necessary as you just follow the path and the crowd of people.

After a small break on the peak we started the descent. I was feeling much better now so we used less than 2 hours down. My advise is to take the sandy (red) path down, as hiking downhill in the sand it is really nice and easy for the knees.

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me starting to feel better, and even managed to smile 🙂

 

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The view from the peak

 

The best time to climb is the dry season is November through March, May through September tends to be wet with rain and snow. The “Centro Vacacional” is open all year round, so you can go there anytime if the weather is good. No permits are required to climb. There is no entry fee or parking fee if you park outside the “Centro Vacacional”. This is also true for camping.

 

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Glad I made it !