Popocatépetl, México – The smoker and the sleeper: Mexico’s sister volcanoes

In December 2000 Popocatépetl had its most violent eruption since 500 years. A part of the crater lid exploded and the volcano blasted stones, ash and smoke into the air. Only a month later a similar incident occurred. Some less brutal explosions followed in the next years, but in January 2008 5.452 m high Popocatépetl was back with new strength and spew an eight kilometres high ash cloud into the air. Again and again villages had to be evacuated, and since 1994 there is a security zone of 12 km around the crater that makes it impossible in the foreseeable future to climb the crater or even get closer to it.

Just beside the 5.286 m high sister volcano Iztaccíhuatl is situated that’s regarded as sleeping. Izta has a glacier hilltop like Popo that can be climbed with technical equipment and experience. A road crosses the saddle between the two cones. It’s called Paso de Cortés since the Spanish conqueror penetrated from Puebla and Cholula over this pass to Tenochtitlán, today’s Mexico City. From Mexico City, around 2250 m high, we climb via Amecameca to 3700 m to the National Park Office. The peaks of Mexico’s second and third tallest volcano are nearly always wrapped in clouds, and smog from Mexico covers the bases. Just for a few seconds it clears up and we can see the continuously smoke emitting peak of Popocatépetl. When continuing east we are astonished that the paved road is replaced by a gravel road that has got severe damages since rainy season started. But there are enough pick-ups on the road to make us believe that the path is passable, but sedans or RVs should check before taking this trip.

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