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Distrito Federal (México) Highpoint - Cerro Ajusco - 3931 m (12898 ft)
26 Mar 2005, around noon. México highpoint #2*.
Saturday morning, Tom Buckley, Blanca Robleda and I set out for the highpoint of the Distrito Federal (D.F.) of México. The D.F. is the "state" that "encloses" México City. The city actually spills out beyond the official D.F. region, and it isn't an official state, kind of like Washington D.C., I guess. The area of Cerro Ajusco is to the south of the city, between Mexico City and Cuernavaca. Apparently there are urban legends about bandits in the area, and Blanca's mom was concerned that we planned to go there. How much truth to this there is, I do not know. We didn't see anyone suspicious, just plenty of other hikers.
Although we know that the high point of Cerro Ajusco is the high point of D.F., we have conflicting information about which subpeak is the true highpoint. I saw a single reference to Cerro La Cruz del Marqúes on a website somewhere, along with imprecise coordinates. Tom has a book about hikes in the area that implies that Pico del Águila is the high point, and this seems like a better source, so we aim for the Pico.
Blanca is driving, and we head out of the city, past a Six Flags theme park, towards a road that circles the peak, possibly named the Carretera panorámica del Ajusco. We find a sign for the Albergue Alpino Ajusco, northwest of the summit, which our book suggests has some information. We find none, but do get some photographs.
Pico del Águila (L) and Cerro La Cruz del Marqúes (R) from near the Albergue.
We continue around the road, and come to the Cabaña el Alpinista. This seems like a likely spot for some information, and a conversation in Spanish informs us that there are indeed trails starting here (unmarked) so we leave the car here and set out at 10:20 am.
The Cabaña el Alpinista.
After passing a sign marking a hike/bike trail circling the peak (the only sign we saw all day), we head northeast up a traveled drainage. At first I thought this was the right trail, but it wasn't the main trail, which probably existed to our northwest along the ridgeline. This slope was reasonably steep, and was annoying to descend, so I'd try and find the main (but probably unmarked) trailhead in the future. At 11730 ft, our course turned more east. It became clear that we were not on the main trail, but we continue on what trails we did find or cross country. There were lots of paths that had obviously been used, so we just try to pick the easiest way. At 12250 ft, Blanca decides to stop, and wait for us to return from the summit. We continue east some more, until at 12540 ft we head northeast up an open slope towards a large white cross above us. In general, there was probably a much better trail on the ridge above, generally to our northwest, that would have been a more pleasant route, but we did not see the trailhead, and so missed it.
Blanca hiking up the slopes.
Yes, these really are blue skies, just outside Mexico City!
Some nice views along the hike.
Tom near the summit of Cerro La Cruz del Marqúes, the D.F. highpoint.
I step up to the highest point, and check out the view. There is nothing south of us close to as high in altitude, and only one possibility to the north for anything higher, although that peak does look somewhat lower. Popo and Ixta are visible in the distance through the gray haze that envelops Mexico City. There are eight or so people on the summit, including someone who looks like some kind of park ranger. Tom asks him about the identities of the peaks. We find that we are currently on Cerro La Cruz del Marqúes. Pico de Águila, which we believe to be the true highpoint, is to the north. I had pulled out my brand new highpointer's flag, ready for its first picture, but then put it right back when I hear that I am not done. Visions of bandits send Tom back to check on Blanca, thinking that he had not made the true highpoint, and I continue on alone.
View of Izta and Popo from the highpoint.
View of Pico del Águila from the highpoint, with Mexico City enveloped in gray haze below.
A closer look. The trail went to the left of the rocky outcrop.
I continue on to the Águila, which is more difficult than La Cruz. There was an easy to follow trail along the ridge which led to a class 2-2+ gully up to near the summit, not as difficult as I had thought. Atop the Águila, it is clear that La Cruz is in fact the true highpoint. Visually, it is obvious, and the GPS agrees. Although "unnecessary", except to confirm that I had reached the true highpoint, this was a fun side trip. There is a lot of painted graffiti on the rocks here, but no other hikers and some nice views. I take some pictures, return down the gully, and then head directly towards where I think Blanca and Tom will be waiting, bypassing La Cruz on the way back.
View towards the northwest from near the summit of Pico del Águila.
Near the summit of Pico del Águila.
View of Cerro La Cruz del Marqúes from the summit of Pico del Águila. La Cruz is clearly higher.
Izta and Popo from the summit of Pico del Águila, through the smog.
The pollution levels are actually relatively low here, as the week before had been a holiday.
Modern-day tzompantli on the summit of Pico del Águila.
When I return to where Blanca had been waiting, I find another group of hikers instead. So, I continue back towards the Cabaña, on the path we took up. This was an annoying way down, the footing on the loose dirt and rocks was poor. Back at the Cabaña, I find Tom and Blanca, enjoying some beer and quesadillas under an umbrella. I join them, and give Tom the good news that he had made the actual highpoint.
After an hour or so, we get in the car and head back into Mexico City, and in half an hour the sky had changed from blue to the usual dingy grey.
This hike is a fantastic escape from the toxic atmosphere of Mexico City. It would make a fine acclimatization hike before any climb of the volcanoes, for that matter. Up at the top, there is little pollution as there is nothing to hold it in. The Cabaña makes a nice trailhead, as being served beer and food right after coming off the trail has a certain charm! People generally speak little English.
The next day, Tom, Blanca and I head to Estadio Azteca, to watch México defeat the USA 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier. Estadio Azteca Game Report
According to the legend of the volcanoes, Cerro Ajusco is the present-day form of a cruel nobleman who wanted to marry the princess Mixtli. Instead, Mixtli loved Popoca, but a tragic error led her to take her own life, thinking that Popoca had been killed. Popoca carried Mixtli's lifeless body into the mountains, where it became the volcano Ixtaccihuatl. Popoca, as the volcano Popocatépetl, has ever since watched over her, while the nobleman Axooxco was transformed into Cerro Ajusco.
Some notable coordinates (DD MM SS.S), measured by GPS with a
barometer. These are much more accurate than any I found beforehand.
Cerro La Cruz del Marqúes - N19 12 27.2 W99 15 29.4 - 12898 ft (3931 m) - The actual highpoint
Pico del Águila - N19 12 46.8 W99 15 25.2 - 12776 ft (3894 m)
Cabaña el Alpinista - N19 12 11.8 W99 16 13.9 - 11347 ft (3459 m) - A mighty fine trailhead, if you ask me
* Although the D. F. is not technically a state, it has a status similar to Washington D.C., I am counting it as a highpoint anyway. It is challenging enough, and Mexico City is such an essential and huge part of México, that I give it full credit. I used my GPS altitude instead of any official figures, as those tend to be inconsistent.
Explora Las Montañas De México - Guía de Recorridos de la Zona Centro. By Antonio Juárez Bonilla.