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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [141] | Scholarship Entry

Located fewer than 80 km from Mexico City, Iztaccíhuatl is the third highest mountain in Mexico, rising to an impressive 5260m above sea level.

My first mountain, my 'Big Adventure'.

'Izta' resembles a woman lying on her back as if on a funeral pyre and her geographic features correspond to the head, neck, breasts, stomach, knees, and ankles of a woman. These anatomical terms are commonly used as points of reference on climbing routes.

The week before Rowan, a fellow student and I had decided to have a go. We both liked the idea of climbing mountains without ever having tried it, but at that taco stand on a spring afternoon it all seemed perfectly reasonable.

In retrospect to were ridiculously under-prepared.

Our ‘map’ was a 24-page tourist book describing an ascent of Izta in the winter. The majority of the book was a collection of poetry and information describing the National Park’s varied flora and fauna.

Gear? Forget it. Rowan had a thin summer sleeping bag which he planned to bolster with a towel if it got cold enough (it did), we had rented rusting crampons which we didn't know how to use, we put dirty socks over our hands instead of gloves, no stove, no compass...gear? We didn't have a piece of Gore-tex between us. What we did have was a good bit of Aussie bravado and we believed we could get the job done.

We got lost, rather quickly, but through a series of lucky misadventures we did eventually succeed in finding a refugio...hut to spend the night.

The sun set a brilliant pink, and as we ate cold tuna quesadillas in silence from the best seats in all of Mexico, I felt absolutely content. There was no other place on earth I would have rather been than on the side of Izta’s mountainous inner thigh. I grinned from ear to ear.

That night I was racked by altitude sickness, and the low point arrived when I awoke to find a large rat nibbling my face. It clamped down on my hair and it was only with great difficulty that I was able to dislodge the greasy fiend.

As the grey of dawn crept across Izta's icy ramparts, I was a shell of a man. I needed to descend and rest, but we packed up and set off for the summit instead.

After endless frustrating scree-slopes, we reached the top of a rise fittingly named Esperanza…Hope, less than 300 vertical metres the above us lay the summit. We both felt the full weight of our under-preparedness.

It was getting quite cold now and Rowan and I now wore all the clothes we had. Onto our hands we put our dirty socks, perfectly adequate mittens if you don't mind the smell of vinegar.

We were now climbing Izta’s ribs and the spectacular views increased as our place in the world decreased. Physical exertion at high altitude turns the body into a metronome of movement, so this is the 'divine simplicity' of climbing I'd read about.

After what seemed like ten false summits we finally approached the real one, For Rowan and I, the top of the world was here, on Izta’s stony breast.

Weren’t you supposed to smoke a cigarette after this? Incredible.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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