Going Down – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico


This post is part 5 of 9 in the series Copper Canyon, Mexico

Whenever you put the words “canyon” and “hike” together you know it’s going to be steep. That’s a given. It’s also a given that you never completely appreciate a canyon by simply peering over its rim.

With that in mind we added local guide Gustavo Lozano and local pony man Pepe to our motley crew and hit the trail bound for the Urique River at the bottom of the Urique Canyon, nearly 4,300 feet below us.

Unlike other canyon hikes that we’ve done–including twice into the Grand Canyon (once from the South Rim and once from the North Rim) and, more recently, to Havasu Falls–this time we had the luxury of a mule to drag our camping gear down and back up.

Initially we had reservations about this. Over almost two decades of hiking and trekking around the world we have always carried our own packs–partly out of pride, partly out of an uneasiness about forcing an animal to do our work for us and partly out of sheer cheapness. The mule wasn’t our idea but since it was there we added our packs to its load with an apologetic little nod and took off with just day packs on our backs.

Unlike other canyon hikes we've don, like the Grand Canyon (twice), our more recently Havasu Falls, this time we opted for a Mule to drag our bags there and back. Tha's Pepe from Cabañas Diaz and Dave Hensleigh of Authentic Copper Canyon on horseback. We opted to use our legs instead.

Pepe from Cabañas Diaz and Dave Hensleigh of Authentic Copper Canyon (in the back) traveled on horses. We opted to use our legs but we did ultimately let the mule carry our camping supplies.

 

The first hour of the hike and two miles or so of trail took us up-and-down into the canyon past sparely populated Tarahumara/Raramuri villages surrounded by steep fields until we reached a saddle in the ridge with a huge mesa in the middle of the canyon visible to our left. This, we learned is a stop on a massive new gondola (teléferico) being built.

When it’s done next year it will be take people in 60 person gondola cars more than a mile from a station on the rim near Divisadero to  the mesa top in the midst of the canyon. Besides 360 degree views of the colorful rock, lush vegetation and awesome depths in this section of canyon, there are also rumors of a restaurant on the mesa.

Even more incredibly, there appear to be plans to ultimately extend the gondola from the mesa all the way down to the river at the canyon floor taking people down and back up in smaller 10-person gondola cars. Time will tell.

For now, the only way down is on foot or horseback so we pressed on.

After 2+ miles of an up and down trail into the canyon, past Tarahumara homes and fields, we approached the Mesa that sits in the middle of the canyon (right). A new tower being built for the cable car (teléferico) into the canyon is visable.

Look closely on top of the mesa in the upper right hand corner of this photo and you can see a tower being built for the new tourist gondola (teléferico) that will ultimately span a massive section of canyon.

A view down the cayon from the saddle with the mesa on the left and Dave Hensleigh of Authentic Copper Canyon and his trusty steed on the right.  (click for full size panorama)

Looking down into Urique Canyon with the mesa and gondola tower on the left and Dave Hensleigh of Authentic Copper Canyon and his trusty steed on the right. (click image for full size panorama)

Dave Hensleigh of Authentic Copper Canyon looking deep into the Urique Canyon.

Dave Hensleigh (upper left) of Authentic Copper Canyon never seems to get tired of the Copper Canyon even though he sees it almost every month with the groups he brings down from the US.

Any reservations we may have had about not carrying our own bags disappeared as soon as we left the saddle and continued descending past the mesa. That’s when trail conditions went from “steep canyon hike” to “treacherous rock-strewn vertical obstacle course.”

Honestly, this trail was one of the hardest we’ve ever done, not because it was any steeper or any longer than other canyon hikes. Actually, it was much shorter than the Grand Canyon. What wore us out was the quality of the trail. Much of the hike required total focus just to stay balanced and upright as we hiked down steep inclines that were covered with 4″ of sliding round rocks and gravel then strewn with ankle-twisting mini-boulders. At times it was like walking down a slide covered with ball bearings and volleyballs.

Did we mention the giant swarming wasps and often sheer and substantial drop-offs along the trail?

Suffice to say we were glad for our boots and poles and our point6 wool socks as we slowly picked our way down, down, down–ultimately losing almost a mile in elevation over the course of about five miles from rim to river.

Karen hiking into the canyon. The trail was on of the hardest we've ever done, not because it was any steeper than other canyon hikes, but because of the quality of the trail. Much of the hike required total focus as it was like walking down a steep incline covered with ball bearings.

Karen carefully picking and choosing her way down the steep and unstable trail to the Urique River in the bottom of the Urique Canyon.

Below the mesa, about half way down the canyon, this side valley leads us down to the botton, yet the Urique River is still not visible far below.

About a third of the way into the canyon the trail veers off into this side valley which leads to the river. Even this deep into the canyon we still can't see the Urique River.

The canyon is so steep that the Urique River doesn’t come into view until we’re nearly at the bottom.

The canyon is so steep, the Uriqur River doesn't come into view until you are nearly at the bottom, about 6 miles and 4,300 feet below the rim.

Our first view of the Urique River, 4,300 feet below where we started on the rim.

After a long, hard, hot hike, even without carrying our bags, we reached the Urique River at the bottom of the canyon.

After a long, hard, hot hike we cooled off in the clear water of the Urique River at the bottom of the Urique Canyon.

We camped on a perfect little sand bar, by the side of the river.

After a long, hard, hot hike we cooled off in the clear water of the Urique River at the bottom of the Urique Canyon.

 

The full moon rising over the canyon. We were about to go from almost complete darkness to a moon-lit night you could read a book by.

A full moon rose over the canyon making it almost bright enough to read.

Comfortably camped on a sand bar by the Urique River, under a bright full moon.

Our comfortable camp on a sand bar by the Urique River under a full moon that was so bright it actually made it hard to sleep.

 

After a great night of grilled chicken and a nice bonfire and no run-ins with scorpions we awoke knowing only half the job was done. We’d managed to walk into the canyon, now we had to manage to walk out. Despite our best intentions to get a bright and early start to avoid as much heat on the mostly-exposed trail, we still didn’t get packed up an on our way until after nine.

Walking up the trail proved easier than walking down since the risk of sliding was reduced so we were able to make fairly decent time, ultimately returning to the rim–hot and tired–in about five and a half hours. The mule, with our bags, made it in less than three.

The following day it was time to hike back out of the canyon, led by our guide Gustavo.

What goes down must go up....local guide Gustavo Lozano leads the way back up and out of the Urique Canyon.

The view from the mesa where the canyon crossing gondala is being built. There is a view down to the bottom where the Urique River is visible more than 3,000 feet below.

The view from the mesa where the gondola that's being built across this section of canyon will ultimately stop. A sliver of the Urique River is visible more than 3,000 feet below. (click image for full size panorama)

 


Hike into the Copper Canyon – Areponápuchi to Urique River

 


Series Navigation:<< Death Drive (sort of) to Batopilas – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, MexicoGorditas, Guesthouses and Gorgeous Views – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico >>

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2 comments on “Going Down – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico

  1. Pingback: Going Down – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico (Part 4)

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