“How is it so beautiful?” I wondered as I took in the view of Pico de Orizaba, the highest mountain peak in México. The conical peak rises from the land and touches the sky with the snow-capped peak blending into the clouds.
The mountain rises from a vast hill, but unlike most mountain ranges, this peak stands solitary in the field of flowers. This dormant volcano not only left me breathless because of its natural beauty but also its height. The summit stands at 5,636 meters as the second tallest volcano behind Mt. Kilimanjaro and the third highest mountain in all of the North American continent.
The drive to reach the park entrance took us just over one and half hours from our home. The highway makes the distance go quickly, and once we reached the small towns, there was hydraulic concrete roads, which were often better than some city streets. Even the winding road up the mountain was paved with gray paving stones, making for a pleasant and picturesque journey.
“I wish we had these beautiful roads on our way to every mountain!” I joked to Adrián.
“I think it’s because of the telescope.”
“There’s a large telescope near Pico de Orizaba. They probably put in all the paved roads to be able to bring in all the scientific gear. And I think international scientists visit out here, so yeah, probably that’s why the roads are so much better out here than at the other mountains.”
As we approached the park entrance, we came to a fork in the road with a small security station in one direction. We pulled up and asked where we were and where we needed to go to the park to climb.
“No está aquí. Sigue el otro camino un kilómetro y puede estacionar allá. Aquí es la entrada para el gran telescopio milimétrico.”
We had found the entrance for the large millimeter telescope, and we would need to go about a kilometer more down the other road to be able to park our car to climb the mountain. The telescope is a scientific endeavor with the University of Massachusetts and was one of the groups that worked to photograph the first black hole.
When climbing Pico de Orizaba from the southern side, you can see the telescope on a nearby hill within the national park. Once we had parked the car, we registered and set off to climb for an hour.
We began at a fairly high altitude, so the first 40 minutes in and my breathing was getting strained and a headache began to form. We followed a trail for the first 40 minutes and then took off on our own to climb nearby hills. Getting to the top of the hill, we could see the top of the summit, but we knew it was better to turn back before the sun began to set.
The hills were covered in purple wildflowers, some spiny underbrush and a few pines. The soft earth felt like I was walking in dense sand, most likely due to the hundreds of year old ash on that terrain. We saw no wildlife but heard a few birds. Besides a random birdsong, I was overwhelmed by the silence.
When we would stop, I felt like we were the only humans in the world. When we arrived, a family with three girls were getting out to walk a bit, and on our way back we saw a truckload of climbers making their way down the trail. Besides those two groups, the entire hour, we were utterly alone.
Every time I inhaled, I felt the clean, cold air enter my lungs and fill me up. Knowing this was our first venture to Pico de Orizaba made me eager to return. I can’t wait to attempt to climb higher and higher, and eventually scale this majestic peak.