Did you know that the highest volcano in North America is located in Mexico?
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Pico de Orizaba, one of the most fascinating mountains in the world!
1. The mountain is located in central Mexico
Pico de Orizaba is located in the south of Mexico in between the states of Veracruz and Puebla. It’s located just 110 kilometers (68 miles) to the west of the Gulf of Mexico and about 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of Mexico City.
It’s on the edge of the so-called Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a chain of volcanoes that runs all across the country from west to east. It has a neighbor as well, located just 6 kilometers (4 miles) to the west of Pico de Orizaba.
At just 4,640 meters (15,223 feet) tall, the Sierra Negra is significantly lower than its enormous neighbor!
2. It’s the third-highest mountain in North America
Pico de Orizaba stands 5,636 meters (18,491 feet), making it the third-highest mountain in all of North America.
Only Denali in Alaska and Mount Logan in Canada are higher.
3. It holds a couple of other amazing records as well
Apart from being the third-highest mountain in North America, Pico de Orizaba is also the highest mountain in Mexico and the highest volcano in North America as well.
In South America, there are numerous higher peaks in the Andes, one of the most famous Mountain ranges in the world. If we include Europe, it’s just a little bit less high than Mount Elbrus (5,642 meters / 18,510 feet), the highest mountain and volcano in Europe.
4. Pico de Orizaba is an inactive composite volcano
One of the most interesting facts about Pico de Orizaba isn’t just that it’s an inactive composite volcano, also referred to as a stratovolcano, but that it will likely erupt again in the future.
Previous eruptions happened in the years 1846, 1687, 1613, 1589–1569, 1566, 1555–1545,1539–1533, 1351, 1260, 1187, 1175, 1157, 220 AD, 140 AD, 90 AD, 40 AD, ~780 BC, ~1500 BC, ~2110 BC, ~2300 BC, ~2500 BC, ~2780 BC, ~4690 BC, ~6220 BC, ~6710 BC, ~7030 BC, and ~7530 BC.
It’s fair to conclude that it might as well erupt any time now, even though that’s impossible to predict!
5. It’s the second most prominent volcano peak in the world
It has a topographic prominence of 4,922 meters (16,148 feet) and topographical isolation of 2,690 kilometers (1,670 miles), making it the second most prominent volcanic peak in the world!
The only more dominant peak is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world with a height of 5,895 meters (19,341 feet).
Overall, Pico de Orizaba is the 7th most prominent mountain in the world.
6. It can be seen from ships in the Gulf of Mexico
One of the most reparable facts about Pico de Orizaba is that it can be seen from ships arriving from the Gulf of Mexico at the port of Veracruz, 110 kilometers (68 miles) to the east of the mountain.
Another remarkable fact is that it’s usually covered in sunlight while the city of Veracruz is still covered in shade, an amazing sight to behold!
7. It’s one of the few volcanoes in Mexico that has glaciers
There are only 3 volcanoes in Mexico that have amazing glaciers, and Pico de Orizaba has a total of 9!
These are Gran Glaciar Norte, Lengua del Chichimeco, Jamapa, Toro, Glaciar de la Barba, Noroccidental, Occidental, Suroccidental, and Oriental.
You won’t find a lot of snow on the south and southeast flanks of the mountain though. The reason is that it easily melts there because of solar radiation, meaning the glaciers are all located on the north side of the volcano.
8. Pico de Orizaba has the largest ice cap in Mexico
The Gran Glacier Norte is the largest glacier and ice cap in all of Mexico. It’s huge as it covers an area of about 9.08 square kilometers (3.51 square miles) and it starts about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) north of the rim of the volcano’s crater
The ice thickness of this massive glacier is believed to be on average about 50 meters (160 feet) and it descends from a height of 5,650 meters (18,540 feet) to about 5,000 meters (16,000 feet).
That’s quite an ice cap, don’t you think?
9. There are multiple microclimates on the volcano
Pico de Orizaba has a lot of different climates, depending on the altitude and location. There are several tropical forests at the foot of the mountain and alpine vegetation at a higher elevation.
Above an elevation of 4,300 meters (14,100 feet), an alpine tundra dominates and the temperatures are freezingly cold with a yearly average of −2 °C (28 °F). Snow can be found on the north and northeast sides but melts on the south and southeast sides due to solar radiation.
Between 3,200 and 4,300 meters (10,500 and 14,100 feet), the yearly average temperature is between 2 to 5 °C (36 to 41 °F), meaning there’s hardly any snow at this height.
10. The crater of Pico de Orizaba is huge
The crater of Pico de Orizaba has an elliptical shape and is enormous. It has a maximum diameter of 478 meters (1,568 feet) and a minimum diameter of 410 meters (1,350 feet) and covers a total area of 154,830 square meters (1,666,600 square feet).
The crater is also pretty deep with a maximum depth of about 300 meters (980 feet).
One of the most amazing facts about Pico de Orizaba is that the elliptical shape of its crater is mainly formed by the Jamapa Glacier which is leaning to the northeastern side, causing constant pressure to the flank of the crater.
11. Two Americans were the first to reach the summit of the volcano
One of the most prominent Spanish conquistadores, Hernán Cortés, passed the foot of Pico de Orizaba in the 16th century. It delayed him multiple days and it was the sign for the Spanish to build a network of roads to avoid the mountain altogether.
The first explorers of Pico de Orizaba to actually climb the mountains were American soldiers F. Maynard and William F. Raynolds, who managed to reach the summit during the American occupation of Mexico in 1848.
The first man to raise the Mexican flag on the mountain was a German Immigrant named Martin Tritschler, who actively participated in the war against the United States.
12. Pico de Orizaba is a popular mountain for climbers
Pico de Orizaba is one of the most popular mountains in North America for climbers, mainly because there are a variety of different routes for multiple levels of experience.
The most popular route starts at the base camp named “Piedra Grande Hut” (“Refugio”) and goes via the Jamapa Glacier. This camp is located at an elevation of 4,270 meters (14,010 feet).
An extremely difficult route is described as the “Serpents Head” and includes 10 very steep walls of ice. Not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!
Want the easiest route?
The southern side isn’t nearly as steep and doesn’t contain glaciers at all!