The use of poles in mountaineering

Poles, our great ally in the mountains

The use of poles offers many advantages. What are the benefits of using poles?

Reduction of the workload

Several studies prove that the reduction of the load on the legs during ascents is around 14%, while during descents it is around 20%. Therefore, the use of poles allows us to prevent muscle injuries in the joints, specifically in the knees.


Our balance improves because we have four points of support.The probability of falling decreases, especially on descents, and therefore increases our safety.



All this translates into better performance: we save forces that will allow us to complete our ascents or expeditions.


Upper Body

Naturally, the use of poles means a slight increase in effort in the upper body, if you use a good "poling" technique. The poles are not designed to be leaned on with our full weight.


If we observe experienced climbers, we will see how the pole "accompanies" their movement, resulting in a harmonious step, in which the poles are an extension of their arms.


A climber who uses poles regularly will be in much better condition at the end of his career than one who has not used them.

Which volcano is harder, Iztaccihuatl or Pico de Orizaba?

Let's start with the basic measurements. In both cases we will base ourselves on the normal route; the Portillos route on Iztaccihuatl and the north face route on Pico de Orizaba.

Iztaccíhuatl measures 5,220 meters, and is usually climbed from approximately 3,970 meters from La Joyita, where the main parking lot is located. The vertical drop is, therefore, about 1,250 vertical meters. The estimated distance is fourteen kilometers, seven uphill and seven downhill.


The Pico de Orizaba measures 5,636 meters; the ascent usually starts from the Refugio de Piedra Grande, at 4,240 meters. La ganancia vertical es de unos 1,396metros. The vertical gain is about 1,396 meters. The total distance covered is also about fourteen kilometers.


The Pico de Orizaba Orizaba is objectively harder,as it requires overcoming a greater vertical gain at a higher altitude. In addition, the last five hundred meters of the Jamapa Glacier are inevitably uphill. As veteran Joaquín Canchola of Tlachichuca rightly says, "'El Pico is a madriza!" (climbing Pico is like taking a beating!).

However, to assess the overall difficulty or hardness, another fundamental factor arises: which descent is harder? After all, every mountain must be descended, once the summit has been reached.


On the other, on Iztaccihuatl, one must traverse the Ayoloco Glacier on a combination of ascending, descending, and even horizontal terrain (the well-known "Belly" of the glacier).

The answer is debatable, but many of us maintain that Pico de Orizaba is easier to descend than Iztaccihuatl. Why? Because the descent is a steady downhill, over relatively easy terrain, while Iztaccihuatl requires several partial ascents, such as Monte de Venus or La Rodilla, and semi-technical terrain around the Cruz de Guadalajara (4,900 meters). In general, the descent of Pico was faster and less strenuous than that of Mujer Blanca.


In addition, there are other factors to take into account. For example, the beginning of the Portillos route route is less steep than its equivalent on the Pico, which allows us to dose the effort. The state of the terrain, depending on the weather, is another factor that can make the ascent and descent of El Laberinto tremendously easy or highly complicated.


And you, fellow mountaineer, what do you think? Which is harder for you, Iztaccihuatl or Pico de Orizaba?

North or south face of Pico de Orizaba?

Many times our clients ask us which side of Pico de Orizaba is more convenient for them, the north or the south.

These are the advantages and disadvantages of each option:

Advantages of the south face of Citlaltépetl:

  1. 400 meters less elevation gain than the north face
  2. much faster descent (three hours compared to five)
  3. less hours of duration (ten versus thirteen on average)
  4. less loaded backpack (you don't need neither harness nor ice axe, and you carry less water)
  5. quieter base camp
  6. you can climb the Sierra Negra (4,580m) to acclimatize the day before the summit

On the south face we camp in the Valle del Encuentro (4,000m), where the annual Mexican Mountaineers' Gathering is held. The night of the summit we ascend in a 4x4 vehicle to the parking lot at 4,600 meters, and from that point we start.


Advantages of the north face of Citlaltépetl:

  1. more beautiful alpine scenery
  2. possibility of ascending a glacier
  3. experience of walking in a roped team

On the south face we camped near the Piedra Grande refuge (4,200 meters), and from that point we left for the summit night.

To sum up:

  • If your goal is to secure the summit, or you have not been able to train and acclimatize sufficiently, and if walking on snow is not important to you, the south face is your option.
  • If you want an extreme physical challenge, to enjoy alpine landscapes and to have the experience of walking on a glacier with a rope, the north face is for you.