Risk Off – Crapping Out On Orizaba


In December, I failed to summit Pico de Orizaba, the highest point in Mexico and third highest point in North America.  I made it to about 17,800 feet while its peak was just beyond me at about 18,400 feet.  I knew I was physically close, but the only thing that kept me going from about 16,000 feet was my willpower.  Whether I was at the onset of a chest cold or had a mild case of hypoxia or it just was not my day, my body started to tell me to stop long before my mind did.  After I descended down to 16,500 feet to wait for the rest of the team to summit and return down, I checked my pulse oximeter and it read 70%.  That means at 17,800 feet it had to be under 70%.  Earlier in the day at our 14,000 foot basecamp, my reading was a more normal 92%.

Sure, summiting would have been nice since it was the goal, but I decided to cut my losses.  It is psychologically very difficult to cut any kind of losses.  Instead of selling investments when they go down 10%, most people hang on to see what happens even if that means eventually getting wiped out. 

Minimizing losses is just as important as maximizing gains because it keeps you in the game.

When it comes to climbing peaks, the losses you are trying to minimize are injury and death.  Orizaba is not known to be a technical nor deadly mountain by any stretch, but a 25 year old American fell to his death just a few weeks after my friend and I were down there.

The only things that were going through my mind when I decided to turn around were that I was slowing down the team, it was not a good spot to stop because that part of the glacier would have been shaded and too cold for too long and that I could be a potential risk for the team higher up.  It was the only time I have ever turned around for something non-weather related.  The mountain is still there if I decide to attempt it again.