The Ride That Will Change Your Life|
Thursday, August 05, 1999
Mexico's Copper Canyon cuts deep into the earth only 8 hours drive south of the U.S. Boarder. This network of over 200 "minor" canyons and 5 major cracks part the Sierra Madre Occidental so severly that most of the area was unexplored until the last 10 years, and some is still un-seen by the white man. To clear things up let me say that by "minor" canyon I mean between 2000 and 4000 ft. deep; yes that means that the 5 major canyons range from 4500 to 7000 ft. deep (3 of them are deeper and steeper than the Grand Canyon of Arizona).
I was 15 when I got a job guiding (on foot) at a hiking lodge on the rim of the canyon near the old logging town of Creel Chihuahua (elevation about 7500 ft.). Two years prior to my visit I had begun my new kick, mountain biking; so on my day off I went into town and found a shop that rented bikes and guides (owned by Arturo an ex-pro racer who speaks perfect English). I explained to him that I was still a beginner and that he should take it easy on me. To this he replied "oh no problem, you'll do fine, no problem. Come back tomorrow and we'll ride form here (the town of Creel) to your lodge (22km away by highway)."
22 Kilometers didn't sound too tough. The highway followed the continental devide so elevation change was minimal (for the area), so I accepted and knocked on his door the next morning before the burros woke up.
We packed our supplies; 2 water bottles a peice, a topo map, 2 extra tubes a peice, a tool pack, a pump, and of course... a bag of pinole. Pinole is no less than magic. It is technically nothing more than toasted corn that the natives of the area, the Raramuri Indians, grind up, but for some reason it issues more energy than any of the scientifically developed carbohydrate drinks, shakes and gels that we have up here (and faster to). As we rode a few yards out of town via the highway I asked Arturo how long the trail was to which he replied. "what trail?"
Arturo went on to explain that the reason why he wasnt charging me for our little excursion was because he planned to do a bit of exploring to develop a new trail on which to take tourists. Then to keep me happy he added "oh, about 30-40 kilometers, no problem, you'll be fine." We veered off the highway on an old logging road that wove through a grassy valley amidst Raramuri huts. When we came to the end of the relatively flat valley there was a small gate after which the small Arroyo that we had been following turned into a dried up waterfall (a.k.a... a cliff).
We cut a tad to the left and proceeded to climb up what was now a goat trail through a pine strewn crevice between the 2 gigantic boulders that once made the waterfall. Out onto the mesa it was smooth sailing, a slight downward gradient kept us moving at highspeeds through te pine forrest that over looked the canyon that we were fast approaching. This is where Arturo's "30-40 kilometers" made me worry; because as we came to the rim of the Rechowata canyon, I realized that 30 kilometers in this country also meant at least 4 kilometers of elevation change... no matter what route you chose.
We followed the Indian trail down into the first of the 3 "minor" canyons that we would cross that day. 4 ft. rock ledges, in the middle of the trail, made me extatic that I was going down, instead of portageing up. I was also relieved to see that once we were across the river there was an old logging "road" up the other side. Calling it a "road" is a great misnomer; though at one time I may have considered it a wagon trail, throw 30 years of neglect on a passage that would have never been classified as "road" in the first place, and we were still looking at a very difficult climb (about 2000 ft of it.).
After one more mesa, and one more canyon, we were atop the mesa just before Cusarare Valley where the lodge was located. We turned away from the lodge for a moment to get a look at Cusarare Falls, the 90ft. waterfall that turns Cusarare Valley into Basirechwata Canyon. We stopped to rest atop the 1000ft. sheer rock face that hung above the tourists enjoying the TOP of the waterfall. We could not even see the ones swimming beneath the mist at the bottom. After the steepest descent I have ever ridden to this day, it was a short ride up the valley to the lodge where hot dinner was waiting. Yes, we left at 9 am, and it took us until dinner time to cover that 30 kilometers.
Since then I have been back to the area many times and tried many different rides, all of them equally challenging or greater. There are even rides that take you into the bottom of one of the major canyons by road, or trail. If you plan to ride in the Copper Canyon, GET A GOOD GUIDE. Topografic maps are not accurate and if you are going into the heart of the major canyons you will need to find native guides to folow on foot (yes, they can keep up, if not go faster). Most native guides only know part of the way and you will have to find another to take you the rest, so bring lots of gifts, and a few pesos. Also be sure to speak with someone knowlegable on the area about interaction with the natives as once in the deep woods many of them have little or no contact with americans (or mexicans for that matter). If you really want to get on their good side, bring a sack of balloons and give one to each little kid you see, it will entertain them for days.