FKT: Nathan Longhurst, Jason Hardrath - Pico De Orizaba Infinity Loop - 2023-03-29

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
23h 40m 14s

The Pico de Orizaba Infinity Loop by Nathan Longhurst

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In late March, 2023 I, Nathan Longhurst, along with Jason Hardrath, set out to establish the first Infinity Loop on Pico De Orizaba. This involved climbing up and over the 18,000 foot volcano, traversing halfway around the mountain on its middle flanks back to our starting point, climbing up and over a second time, and then traversing back around the other side. The route would involve 18,000 feet of climbing over 40 miles.


I arrived in Mexico City, drowsy after a red-eye flight. Looking out the window of the plane revealed a mind-boggling mass of humanity, city lights stretching impossibly far in every direction. Mind cloudy with the fatigue of travel, I found my way to the hotel where our film guys, Kevin and Hayden, were staying. After some much needed relaxation, it was back to the airport to round up Alden, who would provide support (in every sense of the word- moral, physical, and emotional), and Jason.


Getting ourselves and our mountain of luggage (including hundreds of pounds of food) from the airport to the mountain was a hectic whirlwind of lost bags, confusing bus schedules, and stammered attempts at communication. Eventually, almost miraculously, we collapsed in beds in Tlachichuca, the quaint village at the base of the mountain. 


The next day, we made the long drive up to the south side of the mountain, to where the route up and over the peak intersects with the circumnavigation trail. Here, we would meet Alden to restock food and water after each descent. We jogged around to scout our routes and get some acclimation, then headed back down to Tlachichuca.


The following morning, we packed up all our gear and headed up to the north side of the mountain. After a couple hours of bumpy 4x4 roads, we reached our base camp on Pico de Orizaba’s northern slopes. Home for the next few days was a sturdy, rustic hut with stunning views of the peak, and of the valley far below. Mornings dawned clear and bright, with clouds building throughout the day. By afternoon, thunderheads reared up in billowing, dark masses, with cracks of lightning persisting into the evening. At night, the twinkling lights of villages dotting the Mexican countryside stretched to the horizon, blending seamlessly with the starry sky. It was a dynamic, yet peaceful place.


The weather steadily improved throughout the week, and after a few days of acclimation, we were eager to take off. After a fitful, nervous night of sleep, we finally started up the mountain in the early morning darkness. Our first climb up and over the peak was fairly straightforward. On the upper slopes, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise. A sea of clouds filling the valley below gave the impression that we were floating on an island in the sky. After a few moments of satisfaction on the lofty summit, we descended the dry, loose south face, the volcanic dirt providing a gloriously fast descent. Energy was high, and we felt very optimistic. 


Once we started the circumnavigation, the pleasantly cool morning gave way to a hot, dusty day. We descended lower and lower. As we neared the lowest point of the trail, the sea of clouds rose up and swallowed us, the cool, moist fog providing glorious relief from the hot sun above. I felt like a piece of fresh produce under a grocery’s misting spray. It was lovely. We steadily made our way around the peak, occasionally catching glances of the summit towering thousands of feet above us. At one point, the trail wound through a village precariously perched on the side of the mountain. Farmers tilling their steep, slanting fields watched us jog by with looks of bewilderment. Gradually, we climbed again as we wound in and out of deep valleys. By evening, we had returned to the hut, where Hayden and Kevin treated us to a hot meal, clean socks, and a few wonderful minutes off our feet.  


Darkness was quickly descending as we began our second climb. Slowly but steadily, we pushed upward through the thinning air. The clouds that had filled the valley had dissipated, and the lights of the villages seemed impossibly far below us. We were in a different world, some alternate reality made only of the crunch of snow underfoot and the irresistible pull of the summit somewhere above in the darkness. Time stretched, seconds morphing into hours. Eventually, inevitably, we stood on the apex once more. Fatigue, darkness, and a frigid wind provided a stark contrast to the warm, sunny morning that now seemed impossibly long ago. We descended quickly, eager for air and warmth.


After our second climb up and over the towering volcano, we had only 8 miles between us and the finish, and 3 hours remaining before our 24-hour goal time. Based on the mostly efficient travel on the other side of the mountain, we were optimistic that we would make our goal. We met up with Alden, who provided snacks, water, and a warm fire. Spirits high despite fatigue, we sped off into the cool night. The first major climb went well. However, as we crested a small col and began a steep, loose descent down the other side, the trail vanished. I checked the topo map, and saw we had indeed missed a sudden zigzag in the track. We cut back through the brushy desert, but upon crossing the track several times, there was no trail to be found. As we continued forward, the trail remained very sporadic. We would occasionally pick up a section, begin following it with sighs of relief, then once again lose it with a wave of frustration. It quickly became apparent that making our 24 hour goal would not be easy. 


Constantly checking the map to find the most efficient lines up and down through the complex maze of gullies and ridges that cut the flanks of the volcano, I led the charge towards the finish line. I was perfectly in my element- moving efficiently through the difficult terrain, constantly making route decisions and corrections despite having very little visibility of the terrain ahead. The clock ticked mercilessly as we neared our destination. 


As we crested one particularly painful climb, with less than an hour left, our radio crackled to life. Moments later, a twinkling headlamp appeared on the horizon. It was Hayden, waiting on the ridge above the hut. The finish was in sight. A burst of stoke and adrenaline carried us across the final basin, up and over the final climb, and down to the hut for a finishing time of 23 hours and 40 minutes. It was a beautiful moment of gratitude and elation.


It was a joy to create, plan, and execute a new and aesthetic route on such a stunning peak. Many factors came together to make it possible, and I am very grateful to our crew, Kevin, Hayden, and Alden, for providing logistic, technical, and moral support. Jason first dreamed of this route, and I am very grateful to him for sharing this deep experience with me, for being an excellent partner, and for the mentorship and friendship he has given me. This trip wouldn’t have happened without such a stellar group of friends. Thank you all!