Forum Index > Trip Reports > PART 1 - Mexico Peakbagging - January 2017
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Gimpilator
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 12:35 pm 
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The following 3 part report is a collection of impressions, photos and video from a month long trip starting in the beginning of 2017.  The decision was made to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo in Ecuador.  There was only one problem with that plan.  Cotopaxi erupted recently and now the whole area is closed to climbing.   frown.gif   I suggested the Guatemalan volcanoes as an alternative.  Around the core Guatemalan part of the trip, John Stolk proposed he and I go to Mexico prior, while Greg Slayden offered to finish the trip with me in Costa Rica.  Note that Greg Slayden was not present for the Mexico leg and John Stolk went home after Guatemala.

The list of what we did including some distinctions:

Part 1 - MEXICO

Volcán La Malinche - 14,501'  (38th highest in North America)
Cofre de Perote - 13,780'
Pico de Orizaba - 18,491' (country highpoint, 3rd highest in North America, 7th most prominent on earth)
Volcán Iztaccíhuatl - 17,126' (14th highest in North America, previously my biggest failed attempt)
Pico de Aguila – 15,157’
Nevado de Toluca - 15,354' (28th highest in North America)
Cerro de Ombugo - 14,173' (a lava dome similar to the one inside Saint Helens)
Pico de Humboldt - 14,698' (a previously unlisted/unknown 14er)
Nevado de Colima - 13,976' (sub peak Volcán de Colima multiple eruptions)
Cerro Tancitaro - 12,598'

Part 2 - GUATEMALA

Volcán Pacaya - 8373' (active magma and lava bombs visible)
Volcán Tajumulco - 13,845' (country highpoint, 24th most prominent peak on earth)
Volcán Concepción – 13,287’
Volcán Tacaná - 13,343' (2nd highest in Central America)
Cerro Chemal "La Torre" - 12,559'
Cerro Chemal "Cerro los Cuervos" - 12,589'
Montañas Peña Blanca - 11,549'
Volcán Santa María - 12,375' (sub peak Santiaguito eruption)
Volcán Atitlán - 11,604'
Volcán Acatenango - 13,041' (sub peak Volcán de Fuego eruption)

Part 3 - COSTA RICA

Volcán Poás - 8871'
Volcán Barva - 9534' (the most intense bushwhack Greg and I have ever done)
Volcán Irazú - 11,260'
Cerro Chirripó - 12,530' (country highpoint, 36th most prominent on earth)
Cerro Piramide - 12,490' (2nd highest in Costa Rica)
Cerro Terbi - 12,352'
Cerro Buenavista - 11,453'


January 7 - Volcán La Malinche - 14,501'

John and I started with Malinche which is a very nice acclimatization peak.  We stayed for several days at the cabins near the trailhead before attempting the summit.  The park among the cabins can be a bit wild on the weekend.  It’s the first time I’ve heard karaoke amplified in Spanish.

Cerro Tlachichihuatzi below
Cerro Tlachichihuatzi below

The final stretch of the north ridge which spans between Cerro Tlachichihuatzi and the main peak is highly aesthetic.  A very nice hike!  From the summit we could clearly make out Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl rising above a dense blanket of air pollution to the west.  Malinche was simultaneously my 1200th ascent including repeats and 50th ultra-prominence peak.

John on the summit
John on the summit
Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl
Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl
in the Malinche cabins
in the Malinche cabins

January 8 - Cofre de Perote - 13,780'

With a decent 2 wheel drive vehicle, you can drive most of the way up Perote.  The summit block is a bit of a monolith, but a narrow stairway was constructed to reach the various towers at the top.  We ambled over to the south peak for a unique view of Orizaba before descending.

the south peak with Orizaba behind
the south peak with Orizaba behind
stairway
stairway
Orizaba viewed from the south peak
Orizaba viewed from the south peak

January 10 - Pico de Orizaba - 18,491'

We had planned to do Sierra Negra next, which is the 31st highest peak in North America, however there is a guarded telescope facility and private road which made the logistics too complex.  So we went to Orizaba.  I had climbed Orizaba once before, but for John it was the number one priority and being a nice route, I was happy to repeat it.  We employed the Servimont company to get us to the start of the trail. They drove us up in the evening and we made our climb the following morning.

camping
camping
Jampa Glacier
Jampa Glacier
mountain shadow
mountain shadow

There was a lot more fresh snow on the route this time and no track had yet penetrated “The Labyrinth”, which is a confusing area of rock formations and jumbled ribs.  Instead we ascended a steeper line called “The Canaleta”.  Before dawn, the cold was so intense that two of the plastic squeeze buckles on my pack broke.  Fresh snow had covered any previous existing track on the Jampa Glacier and there was an icy crust on top of the snow.  Just like the last time, we crossed only one crevasse, about 4 inches wide.

crater rim
crater rim
Sierra Negra below
Sierra Negra below

We came to the crater rim and it was still a ways to go.  Progress was slow above 18,000 feet and we were both breathing hard in the thin air.  At the summit John fulfilled a 30+ year dream and his enthusiasm was contagious.  I was glad to be back and share in his joy.  For a few minutes we were the highest people in Mexico, and almost certainly the highest in North America for that matter.

Stoked!
Stoked!
18,000 feet
18,000 feet
the canaleta
the canaleta

January 12 - Volcán Iztaccíhuatl - 17,126'

In November of 2009 I had spent 10 days in Mexico with several friends.  Sadly one of them failed to acclimatize properly and I was forced to climb Orizaba solo.  Then we got too late of a start and failed on Iztaccíhuatl.  For 7 years Iztaccíhuatl has stood out in my mind as my biggest failed attempt.  The permit office in Amecameca (permanently closed) gifted us posters prior to our 2009 attempt.  The poster is an enlarged photograph of Popocatépetl as viewed from high on Iztaccíhuatl.  For 7 years it has hung on the wall in my gear room to remind me that Iztaccíhuatl is unfinished business.

Popocatépetl
Popocatépetl

The Arista del Sol (Ridge of the Sun) route on Iztaccíhuatl is perhaps the finest route in all of Mexico.  I had been anxious to return and see the rest of it.  We trailhead camped with intent for an early start.  Several hours after setting up our tent a group of 3 appeared from the trail and said they had gotten lost on an alternate route.  To our dismay they pitched their tent 10 feet away from ours despite the huge parking lot.  They were obnoxiously loud until after 1am.  We got up around 3am.

predawn
predawn
"the knees" above
"the knees" above
Grupo de los Cien
Grupo de los Cien

We made it to the “Grupo de los Cien” hut just before dawn.  My previous turn around point was just ahead.  Instead of goofing around with the confusing scramble section we decided to ascend the scree chute alternative which some people use as a descent route.  This couloir starts at about 15,500 feet.  It’s long and loose and very challenging, gaining about 1000 vertical feet.  Half way up I bailed out onto a rocky rib hoping to scramble some solid rock.  John, stayed in the couloir plugging away at the scree.  My route turned into loose rock and exposed volcanic crap.  John made the right choice.

on the first glacier
on the first glacier
3 climbers
3 climbers

We climbed to the top of Los Rodillas (The Knees).  From here the route got really exciting.  We followed the ridge north which was narrow at times and crossed two glaciers, using crampons when necessary.  I carried an ax but didn’t use it.  At one point we unintentionally made a route variation which traversed a very narrow exposed ledge.  All the while, Popocatépetl was rising behind us and belching smoke and gasses into the air.

people calling it good at the south summit
people calling it good at the south summit
north summit
north summit

We came to the first of 3 main summit contenders.  Many parties claim the peak having visited only this first southern point, but a half mile to the north another peak is nearly the same elevation.  We continued across the glacier to the north peak and then passed over a western summit on the return.  My biggest failed attempt ever was now a success.


Throughout the day John had displayed incredible strength and stamina.  I couldn’t keep up with him once we were above the 16,000 foot level.  He was the first on the summit and even passed climbers who had spent the night high on the peak.

January 14 - Pico de Aguila – 15,157’

There are at 4 popular routes to the main summit of Nevado de Tolua which is also known as Pico del Fraile.  The longer north ridge route we chose follows the crater rim and passes over Pico de Aguila staying high most of the way.  Aguila looks slightly formidable from either side but doesn’t exceed class 3 if you take time to find the route.  We did encounter icy snow in the shade and had to wear crampons again.  Then we were cliffed out briefly after reaching the top, but quickly found an easy bypass to the west.

first view of Toluca main peak
first view of Toluca main peak
the larger of two lakes
the larger of two lakes
nearing Aguila
nearing Aguila
Humboldt and Ombugo below
Humboldt and Ombugo below
looking back at Aguila
looking back at Aguila

January 14 - Nevado de Toluca - 15,354'

As we neared the main summit we noticed crowds of guided groups coming up the two easier routes.  The last section before the summit had a little class 3 which was exposed and fun.

Fraile the main peak
Fraile the main peak
last bit
last bit
Toluca main summit
Toluca main summit

January 14 - Cerro de Ombugo - 14,173'

We descended a scree path into the crater which has two large lakes and a lava dome reminiscent of the one inside Mount Saint Helens.  I ran down past all the guided groups and waited for John near the bottom.  I wanted to climb the lava dome, so John and I agreed to meet back at the northern saddle between Aguila  and Humbolt.

Humboldt seen from Ombugo
Humboldt seen from Ombugo

I traversed the south shore of the larger lake and ascended the south side of Ombugo.  It was steep.  The top afforded unique views of the surrounding higher peaks.  I descended the north side and climbed back up to the northern saddle.  There were well over 200 people standing there milling about and using selfie-sticks.

January 14 - Pico de Humboldt - 14,698'

All throughout the day John had been claiming that he could tell Pico de Humboldt had at least 500 feet of prominence.  I was skeptical because that would mean that both the North American 14ers list and Google Maps was wrong.  The previous night we had been discussing the theoretical possibility of undiscovered 14ers or ultra-prominence peaks which had been overlooked.  If he was right about Humboldt, it would be a hell of a coincidence.

looking back at the main peak and Ombugo
looking back at the main peak and Ombugo
Humbolt, the secret 14er
Humbolt, the secret 14er

John measured the elevation of the key saddle with his barometric altimeter and then we ascended the west ridge to the summit.  It sure felt like a gain exceeding 400’!  According to his altimeter we had climbed nearly 600 feet.  Hot damn!  That night I emailed Greg Slayden, the creator of Peakbagger.com and our soon to be companion in Guatemala.  He was able to confirm our findings using a private government map set.  590 feet of prominence!

John on the summit of Humboldt
John on the summit of Humboldt

Somehow over the years, everybody has overlooked Pico de Humboldt which has enough prominence to count as the 35th highest peak in North America. Thanks to John we didn’t miss out on this peak.    It was pretty exciting to be a part of this important discovery. 

January 16 - Nevado de Colima - 13,976'

Unable to drive the entirety of the road with our two wheel drive car, we started hiking up the road from the camping area.  We had reached an altitude of about 12,600’ when we heard a giant explosion.  I can’t emphasize enough the GIANT sound of this explosion.  I have never heard anything like it.

false summit seen from approach road
false summit seen from approach road

John and I stopped and looked at each other, thinking the same thing.  Could it be the volcano?  It couldn’t be anything else…  Then we looked over at the ridge separating us from a view of the volcano and at that moment we saw a massive apocalyptic mushroom cloud rising.

“I think the wind is in our favor John”

I imagined being burned alive in a cloud of hot ashes.  We agreed to make a hasty retreat.  John took off down the road, but I lingered briefly to watch where the wind would take the ash.  It seemed to be blowing primarily to the northeast.  We were directly 3 miles north of the volcano when it erupted.  Depending on wind-speed and direction, we might be able to retreat a mile before the cloud reached us.  I turned around and started running.

Apocalypse
Apocalypse
Run for your life!
Run for your life!

I folded up my fleece buff and put it over my mouth and nose as I ran.  We were aiming for a cement building we had passed about 2 miles back on the road.  By the time we got there, the ash had dissipated somewhat and was raining down everywhere, making us cough a little.  We spent about an hour under the awning of the small building.

the main plume passing to the northeast fortunately
the main plume passing to the northeast fortunately
ash on a car near the building we took shelter at
ash on a car near the building we took shelter at

What are the chances of two eruptions in one day?  We still wanted the summit.  After some deliberation we turned back up the road and retraced our steps to the point of retreat.  From there we continued beyond the end of the road and around to the south side of Nevado de Colima.  Volcán de Colima, known locally as Volcán de Fuego (volcano of fire) was now in full view down below us.  I could see several new forest fires burning on its lower slopes.

Nevado de Colima
Nevado de Colima

We ascended a south facing couloir to reach the upper southeast ridge and then scrambled to the summit.  We spent an hour up there and were rewarded with a second eruption, this one much more docile (see my video).  Once again the ash rained down on us and I had to breathe through my buff.

on the south side
on the south side
in the couloir
in the couloir
eruption #2
eruption #2
pretty sweet
pretty sweet
here it comes again
here it comes again

After that first major eruption we were hesitant to camp a second night in the vicinity.  Sure enough the next morning both our car and tent were covered in fresh ash from a 3rd eruption.  Little did we know that only 3 days hence, on both January 19th and 20th, Volcán de Fuego would truly rain fire on the surrounding landscape in the largest eruption in years (see video below).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IK-hVLqR1so

January 18 - Cerro Tancitaro - 12,598'

Ugh.  If only we knew what we were getting ourselves into.  This would prove to be the biggest hassle peak in Mexico.  We were following an Adam Helman route.  We started in farming country and hiked through jungle and forest to reach a steep slope choked with chest high grass tussocks.  These tussocks impeded easy travel.  We had to crawl over some of the larger ones.  To make matters worse, at 11,200 feet among the tussocks, I nearly stepped on a Mexican Black Moccasin (Agkistrodon bilineatus).

the start of the tussocks
the start of the tussocks

I froze suddenly when I heard a faint buzzing sound which I at first took to be an insect.  To quote Wikipedia, “the animal will then quickly flick its tail creating a sound against its coils or surroundings”.  I looked down and saw a short fat black snake only inches away, retreating from where I was standing.  It had a long narrow tail of a slightly lighter color.  Bites from this species can lead to amputation or death.

We were only half way up the tussock slope.  We had another thousand feet to go before cresting the east ridge.  The idea of another thousand vertical in viper terrain without being able to see where we were putting our feet was an unpleasant proposition.  John was not happy, but I was just feeling glad the little guy hadn’t bit me.

near the summit
near the summit
summit
summit

Once we reached the top of the ridge we descended slightly on the far side and traversed westward to reach an old access road.  We followed the access road to the false summit, happy to get a reprieve from the tussocks.  From the end of the road at the false summit we descended along the south side of the ridge, completely avoiding the class 4 scramble crux.  We followed along the base of the cliff wall until we found a weakness which allowed a pleasant class 2 return to the crest of the ridge.  It was then just a short way over to the summit which was marked with a few crosses.  Clouds prevented any quality views.

January 20 – National Museum of Anthropology

On our last day in Mexico we decided to go to the museum instead of tacking on the extra peak we had planned.



Continue to Part 2

Some videos plus Part 3 coming soon...

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Magellan
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 1:41 pm 
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Wonderful stories!  up.gif  up.gif
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Jim Dockery
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 1:42 pm 
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Great TR up.gif  up.gif and congrats on so many successful summits!

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Fletcher
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 2:02 pm 
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Dude.. this is amazing. Well done.
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RichP
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 3:18 pm 
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Excelente, amigo.  up.gif
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Brushbuffalo
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 5:46 pm 
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Wow, another one of your adventures. How exciting to experience at rather close range one of Colima's eruption episodes during its ongoing  activity. The first one that startled and dusted you and John looks like an energetic Strombolian-type eruption or a relatively mild vulcanian type. The one you linked a video to looks to be a classic vulcanian-style. Eruption styles grade into one another, with Strombolian ( moderate eruption plume with airborne "blebs" of moderately-viscous lava) grading up from Hawaiian (mostly basaltic lava flows) to vulcanian (more explosive ejection of blocks, cinder, ash, and dust into the air). There are other styles. Interested? Try here

quote="Gimpilator"]What are the chances of two eruptions in one day? [/quote]

With Colima right now, the chances are pretty good.

Gimpilator wrote:
started with Malinche which is a very nice acclimatization peak.  We stayed for several days at the cabins near the trailhead before attempting the summit.  The park among the cabins can be a bit wild on the weekend

We had a group of young ones partying loudly right outside our cabin there, too.
Sleep's over-rated. zzz.gif

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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contour5
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 7:47 pm 
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Great stuff! You really managed to hit a lot of high points!
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awilsondc
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 8:35 pm 
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Back at it again!  Awesome adventures.  That eruption must have been pretty crazy to witness!  Looking forward to parts 2 and 3!   up.gif  up.gif  up.gif
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John Morrow
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 8:56 pm 
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Wow, so amazing, every moment of it!

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“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”-Mary Oliver

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
― MLK Jr.
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PostWed Feb 08, 2017 11:11 pm 
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Gimpilator wrote:
Sierra Negra below
Sierra Negra below

interesting to see this photo. Not what it used to be. My wife and I visited many years ago. No roads, no telescopes. We hired horses and arriero guide  in San Juan because there was no water and we had to pack it all in. We basically followed trails approximately where the road now goes. There are caves next to the lava flow in the pass between the peaks but we didn't camp there as there was garbage all over and we wanted to be more discrete so we went a ways away. Next day we climbed Sierra La Negra to acclimatize and the following day went up to the refugio and a little farther but bagged it. 4000+' of steep scree and blowing dirt. Explored around until the water ran out and walked out.
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FiresideChats
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PostThu Feb 09, 2017 1:28 am 
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Lots of fun to read. Dodging eruptions puts you solidly in the muy loco category.  up.gif
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Michael Lewis
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PostThu Feb 09, 2017 5:14 am 
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This is one of the coolest trip reports I've ever read!
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Nancyann
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PostThu Feb 09, 2017 12:45 pm 
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Michael Lewis wrote: "This is one of the coolest trip reports I've ever read."
ditto.gif
Thanks for taking the time to write this up, Gimpilator, what a memorable adventure, and glad your beard didn't get singed, or worse. eek.gif
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Bryan K
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PostFri Feb 10, 2017 10:25 pm 
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First of all, digging the beard buddy! Second, if we weren't already close friends, I'd think you were the most awesome guy alive, instead I'm just glad you didn't get burned alive by ash fall  biggrin.gif
Great stuff buddy, keep it up! Can't wait to peruse part 2 sometime tomorrow.

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PostTue Apr 18, 2017 11:03 am 
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I'd like to apologize to everyone who took the time to comment on this series of trip reports.  Basically I posted this report and then jumped right into research for the next trip.  Very sorry for being self-absorbed and inconsiderate.  I'm going to go back now and reply to some comments even though it's late in the game.

Brushbuffalo wrote:
Eruption styles grade into one another, with Strombolian ( moderate eruption plume with airborne "blebs" of moderately-viscous lava) grading up from Hawaiian (mostly basaltic lava flows) to vulcanian (more explosive ejection of blocks, cinder, ash, and dust into the air).

Doug, thanks for the details.  I figured you would know.   smile.gif

mike wrote:
Gimpilator wrote:
Sierra Negra below
Sierra Negra below

interesting to see this photo. Not what it used to be. My wife and I visited many years ago. No roads, no telescopes. We hired horses and arriero guide  in San Juan because there was no water and we had to pack it all in. We basically followed trails approximately where the road now goes. There are caves next to the lava flow in the pass between the peaks but we didn't camp there as there was garbage all over and we wanted to be more discrete so we went a ways away. Next day we climbed Sierra La Negra to acclimatize and the following day went up to the refugio and a little farther but bagged it. 4000+' of steep scree and blowing dirt. Explored around until the water ran out and walked out.

That's an amazing story.  I wish it was still possible to get the peak in that fashion.  I had no idea there were caves up there.  Fortunately it's still possible to go up there for the time being, but the new regulations make it a hassle.

Bryan K wrote:
First of all, digging the beard buddy! Second, if we weren't already close friends, I'd think you were the most awesome guy alive, instead I'm just glad you didn't get burned alive by ash fall  biggrin.gif

Thanks!  I'm really looking forward to hiking together again soon.  Seriously excited about that!

Thanks everyone else.  This trip was a wonderful experience for me and it's cool that I can share it with the local hiking community and know that future generations might be able to use it for beta.

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