El Popo smokes a cigarette. Popocatepetl (its official name) emits dark gray smoke that joins a huge cloud that slowly swirls over the volcano.

Located just 70 kilometers from Mexico City, El Popo may or may not be visible from the Mexican capital, depending on the level of pollution around it. But from the base camp of Iztaxihuatl, another large volcano, you can’t miss it. Sometimes, in the stillness of the night, a muffled explosion can be heard, as if coming from inside a volcanic cone.

The name Popocatepetl means “smoking mountain” in Nahuatl. Not so long ago, El Popo, at 5,393 meters above sea level, was a popular destination for hikers and mountaineers. But since volcanic activity resumed in the early 2000s, hikers and mountaineers have stopped approaching it. And its little brother, Iztaxihuatl, is a much quieter mountain that rises to an impressive 5,230 meters above sea level.

Her name in Nahuatl means “white woman”. In fact, from her base camp, with a little imagination and good will, you can imagine her top ridge to be in the shape of a reclining woman.

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Iztaxihuatl-Popocatépetl National Park has several hiking trails that are accessible to everyone, but it is Iztaxihualto’s summit itself that attracts novice climbers. To facilitate the acclimatization process to the high altitude, our small group will camp midway between the base camp and the summit, with guidance from the Quebec institution Attitude Montagne. There is no water there so we go back and forth to unload heavy cans there. Fortunately, this trail is beautiful and offers impressive views of El Popo.

The next day we return with the rest of our equipment and set up camp at over 4700 meters above sea level. You have to go back to see the view. We are literally in the clouds. There’s also no comfort, but that’s not a big deal. We quickly go to bed, freshen up and ready for our 2am departure.

In the cold and night, we are not as energetic as expected. The lack of oxygen takes its toll and we climb desperately slowly. But the sunrise gives us new energy and the peaks take on gorgeous colors. It was around 7:30 in the morning when we finally arrived. From here you can see pueblo towns in one valley and make out Mexico in another, already covered in clouds of smog.

If you don’t have one… you don’t have two!

What do you do after climbing a majestic Mexican volcano? Climb another one! Our goal is to reach the summit of Mt. Orizaba, the highest mountain in Japan at 5,636 meters above sea level.

After a long drive (and a day off anyway!) we pitched our tents at a base camp near the Piedra Grande Reserve.

We spend the afternoon practicing mountain maneuvers in preparation for the final stage of climbing on the glacier, including rope ups, crampon walking, and ice ax use. However, the base camp is at an altitude of 4200 meters and there is no ice. Therefore, maneuvers are carried out on sandy slopes that are well warmed by the sun. It’s a somewhat strange experience.

This time, I will not take half-hearted measures and will climb all the way to the top. This requires a painful departure in the middle of the night after a very short night of just a few hours.

In theory, we should be highly adaptable. In fact, I’m out of breath and regretting the training I’ve skipped over the past few weeks. The first part of the climb is in the dark, through a maze of large rocks. However, small lines of light can be seen on the side of the mountain. Several groups of climbers equipped with headlamps attempt to reach the summit.

When we arrived at the base of Jamapa Glacier, we put on our crampons and tightened the rope. The glacier is so steep that you have to climb it by switchbacks while the sun is up. Then you can see the shadow of Orizaba peak, a perfect pyramid stretching out onto the plain. The top is not far away. We arrived there exhausted, with a bit of a Mexican festival vibe.

We can finally take in the view. In the distance you can see Iztaxiwart and next to him El Popo, who is still smoking a cigarette.

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