I am currently 38,000 feet in the air flying home from Mexico after climbing Mount Orizaba that stands 18,500 feet. Ten hours after landing I jump on another plane with my family up to Alaska. I’m sick with the sniffles, itchy throat, and warm eyes, but I am full of happiness and joy.
You see I just climbed the third highest peak in North America and I DIDN’T EVEN SUMMIT.
“Wait….that doesn’t sound like a success.”
Well what is success? When I first started climbing mountains in the summer of 2013 all I thought was SUMMIT OR BUST but I started to learn something. The summit just gives you the highest view of whatever area you are climbing around. Success isn’t determined by the summit. It’s determined by the adventure, love, and stories you created during said journey through life.
The trip didn’t start off as planned as I woke up at 3am to head to the airport and looked at my phone and it read:
“They just pushed our flight to tomorrow. Jesus Christ. We’re not making it dude. Wasn’t meant to be.”
This was sent from my friends trying to fly out of Steamboat Springs in Colorado. Two of the top ultra runners in the world wanting to dive into the mountaineering world. STOKED to be on the trip they were quickly shut down as a huge storm shut down the airport for days and cancelled continuous flights. Usually this wouldn’t be a huge deal but when you are only in the area for five days and two or three days are shot because of cancelled flights then its not safe to attempt a summit without acclimating.
Two of the four on our Mexican Mountain trip were out……..
It was just Jax and I and we were both flying out of Salt Lake City at the same time, on the same flight with zero hiccups.
We made it to Mexico City, grabbed our gear and hopped on the next bus to Puebla. Sadly the guy carrying our six duffel bags full of gear and donations put us on the wrong bus. We made it to Puebla, but we were at the wrong bus station as we arrived. So instead of taking a taxi to the other bus station and just catching a later bus to Tlachichuca we just took a taxi straight to our hostel in Tlachichuca.
We got in around 7:30pm CST and the lady that ran the hostel started making us dinner as the next morning we would wake up, eat breakfast, and then we head off to the hut. One of the cool things about climbing the North side of Orizaba is that you can take a 4x4 jeep up to the hut that is considered to be the base camp of the mountain sitting around 13,700 feet.
Jax and I hopped into our jeep and spent the next 2 1/2 hours climbing a dirt road that could not be driven by anything but a high clearance vehicle. During the ride we would be passed by herds of sheep and see epic views of this beautiful mountain that stuck out like a sore thumb in the Mexican heat.
Eventually we arrived and we would take our bags into the hut finding a bunk that we would sleep in for a night before heading to high camp the following day.
Before we even took one step towards the summit this mountain became the most successful I have ever climbed. You see instantly we made conversation with a couple of groups of climbers as we could tell they were Americans from talking to each other. First it was Nick and Teddy who came as a team. You see, Nick didn’t really know Teddy but he had run with his girlfriend, Tara, as they both were attending the University of Florida. Nick wanted to use his Spring Break to do something epic. Nick just didn’t have a ton of technical ability so Teddy decided to join him as Teddy is an avid rock climbing and adventurer and Orizaba sounded like a heck of a trip.
Then we saw a group of Uhmericans playing cards just outside of the hut and made quick convo. This is where we would meet the group of six including Norah (San Francisco), Gabe (Boston), Ryan (Seattle), Lauren (Chicago), Rob (Boulder), and Freddy (Seattle). Six individuals from around the country coming together to climb the highest volcano in North America. Instantly we all clicked and started to get to know each other. Laughing at jokes, playing cards, and telling stories we built a bond, a friendship, or even a small unique fresh family.
All three groups had different plans. Nick and Teddy would head up at 10p on the night we got there, the sexy six would head up at 3a from the hut, and we would head up to high camp (16,200ft) the same day they were going for the summit.
On top of our three groups my buddies Ryan and Dave had just arrived and they were guiding a group of four for Ryan’s company Mountain Professionals. They would be sleeping in tents just up the hill a hundred yards as the hut was packed with climbers.
SO MANY FRANDS!!!!
I would wake up around 2:30a to send off the sexy six and take a couple shots as they climbed higher into the epicness of Orizaba. Eventually making my way back to bed, Jax and I would wake up taking our time as we repacked some gear to take it up to high camp. We were walking out of the hut to take in the weather situation when Nick popped upright in his sleeping bag….We were a little confused as we thought him and Teddy were going for the summit and should be approaching or close to the summit at that point, but then he told us that they both weren’t feeling too well so turned around in the area of the climb known as the Labyrinth. They had an extra day to work with so they would attempt the summit the following night which is when Jax and I would head up.
So we asked if they would want to come up to high camp and stuff four people in our three man Big Agnes Battle Mountain Tent. They agreed and instantly their team of two and our team of two were one team of four.
We hiked up to high camp and along the way in the middle of the Labyrinth we met up with Norah and Gabe. They had turned around as they weren’t feeling well around 17,700 feet. They informed us that their two rope teams of three had combined as a team of four as Ryan was leading the way up the sketchy blue ice of the glacier face. We continued up and found a rad spot for our tent and set it up just before the heavy misty rain and wind came.
A couple of hours later we would hear some of the crew, Rob and Freddy, coming through the heavy mist. Exhausted and weary but excited as they had hit the summit. Lauren and Ryan were behind them a bit taking their time as they had to hike back down to the hut which would take another two hours from our high camp.
We received good beta from them and learned that the mountain was NOT in good shape. Rock hard ice with low visibility and winds that could chill your bones. Did I mention Orizaba’s summit sat above 18,000 feet…..
We got back into our tent and got situated with our Big Agnes sleeping bags and pads situated head to toe so we would have a “little” more room as we jammed all four into our three man tent. We would plan to get up and rolling by 4am but after falling asleep we didn’t wake up to our alarm and ended up getting on the move around 5:15am. We chatted the night before and was going through the risks and options and there was one thing all four of us could agree on.
We were happy.
Like we were so stoked even if someone came to our tent and told us that we must head down and not to go another foot higher. We had something way more epic and important than the summit. We had friendship. Just through the couple of days we spent together we had built a bond that no human nor mountain could break. We cheered each other on and backed each other like we had been friends since childhood. Ages ranging from 23 to 38 you would never guess as we all bonded and created an ultra group of friends. We may not of went up together but we were always thinking of each other and making sure everyone was taken care of until the last person came home to the hut.
We would make it up to 17,500ish before Nick’s toes were getting too cold and Jax’s comfort level on the side of a mountain was pushed to its new max. We would head back down to the toe of the glacier discussing moving on and what was possible and came to a conclusion that all of us were comfortable with clear minds. Teddy would take Jax’s ice axe and head back up to attempt the summit by himself.
Jax, Myself, and Nick would head back to the camp, break down, and grab Teddy’s gear and go back down to the hut. Believing in Teddy’s skills and his confidence we agreed he was up to going back up. Also we felt confident as there were other teams that were climbing right next to him. Before Teddy took off back up the glacier I gave him my Garmin InReach just in case shit hit the fan and I told him to post on my facebook page and worse case scenario to hit the SOS button.
As I arrived just minutes ahead of Nick and Jax back down at the hut you just heard “TOMMY DANGER” as our new friends gave zero shits if we summited. They were just happy to see our faces and were excited to hear about our adventure. Also Ryan and Dave’s team were there congratulating our attempt and I was able to give them a little beta from what we learned up to our turn around point.
Hugs were given. Smiles were delivered. Live-long friendships were formed.
Love is an incredible energy. It’s something you can’t control, but when you give it or receive it then it can literally change your life.
I didn’t summit Mount Orizaba and honestly I don’t care as the mountain isn’t going anywhere. I gained over ten new friends that I KNOW I will adventure with in the future.
I gained love.
I gained a new look on climbing.
I gained stories that I get to tell my wife and my daughter.
Throughout the whole trip I showed EVERYONE pictures of my nine month old daughter with her infectious smile. I have a feeling that Mayzie will be calling them Auntie and Uncle in the future.
A mountain is a beautiful thing giving you a chance to test your mind and body. It allows you to seek new limits within your being. It gives you views that you can never forget while making you feel like you ran a 100 yard sprint with every step.
This mountain gave me something that I will never ever forget.
Orizaba gave me a bigger family.
After the mountain, Norah, Gabe, Jax, Freddy, and Rob would go to the South Side of the mountain and hike up eventually making the summit on a safer route.
Teddy would make it back down to the hut at 2pm officially soloing Orizaba and reaching the summit. Then he would head off that night to Mexico City to catch his 9am flight back to the states.
Nick and I headed to Puebla, which some say is the food capital of Mexico, and we would feast like kings on all kind of delicious Mexican entrees including the infamous MOLÉ.
On the sixth day of the trip Nick and I would arrive in Mexico City at the Casa Cuna La Paz orphanage. Thirty minutes later Norah and Jax would show up.
We didn’t get to see the children, but I have a feeling they will feel our love from the energy we put into this and we CAN NOT thank the sponsors enough on helping us get the gear and products to bring a smile to their faces. Kids from eight different countries dwell throughout the orphanage hoping to one day have a family. The same type of family I gained during this week.
The greatest part is that Nick and Norah didn’t even plan on going to the orphanage with their original trip plans. Norah paid money to bump her flight back to join and Nick translated to make it an easy transition as we literally approached this orphanage the minute we arrived with no heads up.
Four people from three different groups came together to create smiles and spread The Erin Effect.
Man life is a full circle of love and I dig it.
This week showed me there is hope for our world and I am excited to raise my daughter to love as much as she can while showing compassion for those that seek joy and happiness.
#toospicy #orizabaverynice #theerineffect #domorethanjustexist #morethanjustmefoundation #shareyourlove #climbing #bffs #mexico