Mummy mystery lingers on as snow blankets Mexico peak

One of the two mummified corpses found near the peak of the 5,636-metre Pico de Orizaba, also known as the Citlaltepetl volcano, on March 5, 2015. — AFP pic
One of the two mummified corpses found near the peak of the 5,636-metre Pico de Orizaba, also known as the Citlaltepetl volcano, on March 5, 2015. — AFP pic

CHALCHICOMULA (Mexico), March 14 — A blanket of fresh snow has fallen on Mexico’s highest summit, preserving the mystery surrounding the discovery of two mummified bodies near the peak locked in a frozen embrace, frozen in time.

Could they be two of three climbers buried by an avalanche 55 years ago? For now, the answer will have to wait because fog conceals the top of Pico de Orizaba.

The storm has delayed an expedition to recover the cadavers discovered last week, raising concerns that the remains could be lost again on the 5,610-metre (18,400-foot) volcano, also known as Citlaltepetl.

As rescue teams await better weather to begin their expedition, it is adding to the anxiety of friends and families of climbers who vanished five decades ago.

“We fear that the cadavers will be covered up again... and that they are forgotten again,” Luis Espinosa, a veteran mountaineer who has searched for three friends missing since 1959, told AFP.

The slopes of the mountain, which straddles the states of Puebla and Veracruz, were white with snow on Friday while the summit was walled off by dense fog.

The snowfall forced the closure of the Mexico City-Puebla highway for several hours on Thursday.

And the expedition to recover the bodies, initially planned for this weekend, was indefinitely delayed as four metres (13 feet) of snow fell on the mountain.

“We know a lot of people are worried. There are many relatives who could think that it’s an easy task. But a rescue at an altitude of 5,000 metres puts everybody’s lives at risk,” said Ricardo de la Cruz, the federal civil protection director general.

The first body was discovered by chance by climbers on March 1. After they reported seeing a head protruding from the glacier, an official expedition was sent and discovered the second cadaver embracing the first one.

The avalanche

Luis Espinosa, 78, is convinced that the bodies belong to his missing friends and hopes the third one can also be found.

“It’s them, without a doubt,” the chemical engineer said, showing a newspaper he saved from November 4, 1959, which describes the “intense search” for Alberto Rodriguez, Manuel Campos and expedition chief Enrique Garcia following an avalanche.

He said red cloth found on a body matches the colour of Garcia’s sweater, worn 55 years ago.

The theory was backed up by Gerardo Reyes, who maintains a registry of climbers on the north side of the volcano, where the bodies were found.

He showed yellowing pages in which mountaineers have written their names since the 1930s.

“We don’t know of anybody else who has remained lost on the mountain, neither foreigners nor Mexican nationals,” Reyes told AFP in his refuge for climbers.

But he acknowledged that some people go up the mountain without registering and could have vanished without anybody knowing.

The mayor of nearby Chalchicomula, Juan Navarro, said he received calls from people as far away as Spain and Germany asking for information about the bodies.

Spirit of the mummies

The mystery has prompted the government to restrict access to the volcano because some people have been caught trying to sneak up to see the bodies.

“We have caught some climbers trying to go up. They were going directly toward the mummies,” a Chalchicomula town official told AFP.

Alberto Rangel, one of the climbers who found the first body, said his group tried to keep their discovery as quiet as possible because “we know how daring climbers can be.”

They were 200 metres from the summit, climbing a 50-degree glacier, when they decided to come back down because some in the six-person team were injured.

It was on the way back that they spotted something that looked like a coconut on the snow. They deviated from their route to investigate and discovered that it was a mummified human head.

After they took a picture, one of the climbers slipped and tumbled 300 metres down the slope. He escaped with slight injuries. Was it pure luck to get away so lightly?

“I’m not a believer or anything like that, but I don’t know what to think,” Rangel said, chuckling at the “protection” provided by the spirit of the mummies. — AFP