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View of Iztaccíhuatl, the sleeping lady, from Puebla, México

Jump out of a plane? Check. Run a marathon? Check. Travel internationally? Check. But I had never before scaled a mountain.

And now that I was, the mountain taunted me.

The sheer drops were more frightening because there was no parachute. The hours of movement at high altitude more physically demanding than a marathon. The lack of language to express my exhaustion and mental breakdown limited me to cuss words.

“F-ing mountain. Damn f-ing mountain.”

The first ascent seemed challenging, like Frodo scaling the mountains of Mordor. And after trudging up that mountain four hours, it definitely turned into more of a horror story one step after the other, up the 4000 meters.

“Fuck me. Fucking hell.”

Four hours up, and I had to convince my husband to turn around.

“It’s almost 4pm. If we don’t go back now, we’ll be climbing in the dark. I’m not going up any more.” I dropped to my bottom to show him I was serious.

He climbed a few more vertical meters, while I felt like a petulant toddler.

Sitting in the gravel, considering my options, I was thankful orcs didn’t actually roam these parts. I pulled out my phone — no service — so I took a few action shots of Adrián climbing up even further. Twenty minutes later, he turned around and we climbed down. One slow aching step at a time.

“Shit. Damn. Fuck.”

“You have to learn to cuss in Spanish.”

Valid point. We were in México and despite my dark complexion, Spanish is definitely my second language.

“Ok, but let’s start with this damn mountain first. Izz- taa?”

“Iztaccíhuatl.”

“Izz-taa-see-waa???”

“Iztaccíhuatl.”

“Izz-taa-see-waa-tll”

“That’s it.”

And so began the slow progression down accompanied by my pained language lesson littered with the F-bomb.

But we made it. We survived. I barely ached in my body. Just one skinned knee and a torn hole in my jeans.

— —

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The second time I climbed the mountain Iztaccíhuatl, I cussed less. Mostly because I knew what to expect and brought the proper gear.

The week’s rains had helped dampen the dusty trail and gravel. This time, my feet gripped the rocks and I used my legs more efficiently.

We ascended with fewer stops, and I excelled at squatting and peeing behind some jagged rocks. (Let me tell you, getting splashed by your own pee is no tea party.)

When we made it to the main refuge, we sat down for the first time in four hours. We were now as far as we had come the first time with the goal to summit.

The next leg of the ascent took another hour, climbing from 4000 to 4800 meters in a steep vertical. Up and up and up. I zig-zagged my way up the incline, looking for stable footing. My right foot had a case of plantar fasciitis, and the entire trek was spent patiently picking a place to plant my foot on flat ground.

The cross of Guadalajara greeted us near the top of a rocky terrain, but then, nowhere to go.

“Where’s the trail?” I asked.

“I’m going left. That guide said go left.”

“Ok. I think he said first straight back.”

“But there’s nothing there. Just rock.”

And then we saw her climb down the wall, throwing her trekking poles down first and using hands and feet to find stable holds.

“Is that the way?”

“Yeah, the path is straight up rock-climbing. And then to the left. Follow the yellow paint.”

“Ok. Thanks.”

“Be careful on the way down. That’s when people get lost. Stick left on the way down. You can’t see the cross from up there, and people think they can go right, but stay left.”

One final obstacle. Fuck this.

“I’m not climbing.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“This whole way up I’ve watched my foot. I’ve taken my time. I’ve been fine. Rock climbing is different. My foot might grab with my toes or my heel. I don’t wanna risk it.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.”

Adrián began scaling the rock wall. One hand-hold at a time, he made his way over.

“It’s not too bad once you’re up here.”

“I’m good. I’ll wrap my foot and wait.”

Foot-wrapped, pee-break taken, ten minutes later, I was bored.

I adjusted my pack, trekking poles inside, flexed my right foot, and found my first hand grip. Shit. Now that I was here, where do I put my left hand? My feet? This was no indoor climbing wall. No harness to catch me if I lost my grip.

Even though the climb was tougher than anticipated, by sheer will of not wanting to fall, I made it. And once up, I looked for the yellow dots just like the female climber had told us. One there, another up there, where was I?

“Adrián?”

Thinking I should turn back, I spotted his red cap.

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“Hey, beautiful! Come up here. The view is great. I was about to turn around now, but if you want…”

“Okay. Let’s do it.”

The final climb lasted another 30 minutes. Steady walking, one foot in front of the other. Breathe in. Out. Keep moving.

The mountain Iztaccíhuatl is also called the sleeping lady. The legend goes that she heard her love was killed, so she laid down to eternal rest. If she was lying on her back, you can see her profile in the sky. We made it from the feet to her knees — 5000 meters up.

I’ve jumped out of a plane. I’ve ran 42 kilometers. I’ve visited five countries. Never have I felt this intense sense of accomplishment.

“¡A la chingada pinche montaña!”

My body exhausted, my brain focused, but we had made it up the damn mountain.

That elevated pile of rocks of a dormant sleeping giant had become my greatest adversary and the most fulfilling victory.

Even though we reached her knees, we have yet to reach the highest peak — two kilometers further to her chest.

Iztaccíhuatl is calling me to her heart, and I hope one day to meet her.

Born a Midwestern American, now a permanent Mexican resident. Outdoor adventurer, language enthusiast, and lover of classical music.

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