Crater Rim Traverse
A sleeping giant just outside Mexico City
Views of the glacier lakes on the crater at Nevado de Toluca
Before this trip, we never knew that Mexico has such stunning high altitude climbs. Whenever, we thought of Mexico images of beaches, palm trees, tacos and margaritas popped naivelyinto our minds. We quickly discovered to our delight that Mexico has great diversity in its landscapes including incredible mountains and volcanoes.
Our first volcano climb was Nevado de Toluca also known as Xinantecatl. Sitting a couple hours outside of Mexico City, this volcano has two aquamarine and turquoise green deep crater lakes; the highest of their kind in the world to be precise.
Driving to Nevado de Toluca, Mexico
Off-road track to first camp on Nevado de Toluca, Mexico
Fog rolling on Nevado de Toluca, Mexico
First camp on Nevado de Toluca, Mexico
View of Nevado de Toluca from our first camp.
Awesome sunset view from Nevado de Toluca.
Lightning storm from first camp at Nevado de Toluca.
The actual day hike for most people is quite easy. It can be done in a couple of hours. In fact we saw loads of people with 2L of soda, bags of chips, sandals and handbags huffing and puffing with selfie sticks all the way to the lakes. It’s a popular tourist attraction and easily accessible from Mexico City. However, the summit hikes and crater rim traverse are much less traveled and are far more adventurous for those looking for more of a challenge.
There is a road from the base at 12,000 feet that you can drive, walk or ride on a people mover to the base camp at 13,400 feet where the main trail to the lakes starts. We took the road less traveled and found a 4x4 trail that led to the south side of the crater. We camped on our own and learned quickly that acclimating from 6,000 feet to 13,200 feet is not really the best idea. However, that being said, we acclimated without too many side effects. The clouds rolled in and out and Mother Nature put on a wild lighting show in the distance. The morning dawned an incredible view of the volcano which only increased our excitement to climb it.
Morning view of the volcano.
Day 2 we left our camp and drove up to the highest base camp, parked the van and set off for our acclimating climb. We hiked up to the crater lakes, took the long walk around them and then hiked the 3rd highest point called Pico Humboldt.
Back down at the van, Lucia started to feel a bit nauseous. We asked the police if we could drive back down to the lower base to camp and all five in unison shook their heads and said, “It’s not a good idea. There are no guards or police down there and lately there has been a lot of crime and robberies.” Ok. That solves that. You have to suck it up Lucia.
After eating dinner and getting more fluids the nausea subsided. Sleep was still challenging though with the ever so often sudden gasping for breath during the night; a common effect being at high altitude.
Colin checking out the traverse from Lago de la Sol.
Lucia taking in the view form Pico de Humboldt.
Colin on the ridge of Pico de Humboldt.
Top of Pico de Humboldt with the beautiful colors of the crater behind us.
View of the glacier lakes.
Dinner time at the high base camp.
In the morning we set out for the highest summit called Pico de Fraile at 15,390 feet and crater rim traverse. We took the advice of a local guide and headed straight up the crater to the highest summit. Yes, we said straight up! There are no switchbacks apparently and we climbed 2,000 feet stair stepper style all the way up. Well worth the effort! The view is quite spectacular and the rich earth tone colors of this place are unreal. There is another way up, sadly we found out later, which is not as steep and probably a lot more adventurous.
After scrambling to the highest summit, we started the traverse which took all in all about 4 hours to complete. It’s a class 4 and 5 scramble. There are cairnes most of the way, so it’s pretty easy to navigate. There was no snow or ice so we didn’t carry any ropes or harnesses. We highly recommend bringing those items if it’s icy or snowy. There is a bit of exposure that could be dangerous in those conditions. However, having part mountain goat as our spirit animal, it was pretty easy for us to navigate our way on the traverse. This was a great hike and definitely way more exciting and fulfilling than the tourist route to the lakes.
We camped one more sleepless night at the high base camp before heading down to Mexico City for some sweet thick intoxicating oxygen rich air.