Iztaccíhuatl: The Woman in White

Iztaccíhuatl: The Woman in White

junio 11, 2019

Images by: Nicolas Switalski
Text by: Nicolas Switalski and Mauricio de Avila

The name Iztaccíhuatl comes from the Aztec's native tongue, the Nahuatl, and it means Woman in White, due to its snow covered silhouette that resembles a sleeping woman. This inactive volcano is located between the state of Puebla and Mexico city, about 50km southeast of the country's capital. It is the third highest peak in Mexico with its summit at 5,286 meters.

Pictured above in the background is the Popocatepetl volcano, which is still very active, and according to the Aztec legend, got its name after Popoca, the brave warrior who fell in love with the beautiful princess Iztaccíhuatl. The legend says that Iztaccihuatl died of grief when she received the false news that her beloved Popoca had died in war. Popoca then took the late princess to the top of a mountain and placed her there on top of a flower bed and swore he would be forever guarding beside her with a lit torch. The princess' father, while looking for his daughter, found these two mountains and told his people that the gods had turned Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatepetl into volcanoes, so that they could be forever together.

A few months back, the Bike Logistics-Transition Bikes México team went on a journey to make the first ever, Iztaccíhuatl mountain bike ascent (and descent, of course), and the following pictures and words tell that story.

And so it begins, the long road winding up. Mau de Avila riding, or more accurately, Giddying Up his Transition Bikes Patrol to the top.

The weather changes were drastic, from one moment to the other clear skies could change into zero visibility because of the fog and newborn clouds.

 The last glimpse of where we started. La Joya is the last place where cars can access, this is the place where all climbers gather, pay their entry fee and register to enter into the park.

The air is thin and the terrain is not forgiving. Almost 90% of the way up was done mostly by pushing our bikes, there were very few, small sections that could be pedalled making the climb a real challenge. The fact that we were carrying almost 30 kilos of gear plus pushing our bikes and some of the steep parts were loose sand did not help either.


 Rock garden anyone?

The climb to the summit is a real challenge for climbers, not to mention mountain bikers!

 4,500+ metres above sea level, and we're not there yet!

Struggling with over 30 kilos on our backs made this a bit more challenging.

Stephan Sproll just catching his breath.

 Every step we took became harder and harder.

Our plan was to climb all the way up to the last shelter before the volcano's summit. This shelter is called "Refugio de los 100" or "The Shelter of the 100". We had never climbed this volcano before, and we didn't know what was beyond each corner, or how much energy should we spare for what had to come. Our guide, Manuel Neira; an experienced climber, mountain biker and good friend was the one we had to trust in terms of pace and energy consumption. 

Along the way up we passed many climbers that looked at us in awe, and asked us if we really were planning on going all the way up with our bikes, and more so, come back down on them. I was surprised at how most of them cheered us on and you could see it in their adrenaline junky eyes and adventure souls that they knew it was going to be a real challenge, but most of all, a lot of fun.

At last! The shelter, what a welcomed sight! El refugio de los 100 sits at +/- 4,785 meters above sea level. One of the most emotional experiences upon our arrival was when a group of climbers that had passed us on the beginning of the climb saw us arriving and started taking pictures of us and congratulating us on having achieved this adventure.

 A well deserved meal after the climb.


We arrived just before nightfall, we had climbed for over 6 hours and had not eaten anything but energy bars. A well deserved meal was the first and only thing on our minds. 

Everyone was so happy and emotional that we had achieved our goal and could not believe that this was just the start of the adventure as we had to get through the night and figure out what the trail on the way down had planned for us. 

Immediately after our "gourmet" dinner we felt the fatigue of the day on our bodies and decided to call it bedtime. We went into the shelter and we were out quite fast. I imagine it must have been a few hours later, as people kept arriving at the shelter and it got real cramped inside, we started feeling uncomfortable and the strong headaches began. Everybody was in the same state. Altitude sickness? Even experienced climbers were suffering, only to realize later that the shelter had gotten so cramped that there wasn't enough oxygen inside and we were starting to breathe all the carbon monoxide we were producing. Thankfully we realized this fast enough and opened all the vents in the shelter. We immediately started feeling better, but by this time it was already about 4:00 in the morning and our precious rest for the next day was shortened.

Our shelter was illuminated by the almost full moon


The rays of sun coming through the shelter's vents woke us up and we had had a terrible night's sleep and getting up was really hard, but we knew we had an adventure to finish. 

The plan was to go down a trail our guide had done on foot a few years before which led up to the trails of Amecameca which we knew by hand since they had been the stages of the last two Enduro races here. We just had to get there! 

The Popocatepetl volcano is still very active, and is constantly making small explosions. It has been this way for a while now, no telling when/if ever it will erupt.

And the fun begins...

 Diego was the first one to try this terrain out.

You could see the perfectly drawn "trail" (more like a goat path to be honest) we had to follow that led to a valley way down bellow. At first glance and from a distance the trail looked like a gravel singletrack that seemed fast and fun to ride down, but the first pedal stroke made us rethink our ideas and forced us to learn how to ride this terrain that we thought would have no technical difficulty, as it was way more loose than it seemed and there was no way of braking or reducing speed, we just skidded down with all the rocks rolling bellow our tires, just to enter huge, barely rideable rock gardens, one into another for about an hour. It took a few falls to get the hang of it, and it was definitely some of the gnarliest "trails" we had done, but eventually we got to the valley where the flowy singletrack started.

Mauricio de Avila riding into the fog.

Finally, we were there! Familiar trails. We had gotten there in one piece and had a amazing adventure in doing so.

These kinds of experiences make us stronger, they fulfill this urge we have as mountain bikers to seek the unknown in search of the perfect trail. Needless to say, perfect trails are all around us, but it's true that the sense of the unknown, adventure, and good friends make a riding trip much more worth it.

I would like to thank all the crew that made this epic story happen and for giving me the opportunity to take part in this.

The crew from left to right: Diego Sada, Stephan Sproll, Mauricio de Avila, Gerardo Flores, Manuel Neira, Octavio Rodriguez and Eduardo Baz