Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Fowl Weather
by Ram

On the eve before of the second day of the four days of canyoneering in Mexico, word came down from Rich that transportation for next day was inadequate. I hardly could blame the guy. Circumstances were conspiring against him. He had worked so hard, and with no personal benefit, to provide an unbelievable experience to folks from all over the globe. On other rendezvous, many people would drive their own vehicles. But on this trip to south of Monterey, Mexico, almost everyone, those coming from Europe and America both, had flown in. The pace and sensibilities were a bit different. Getting upset would accomplish nothing. I would go on the logistically easy, two short canyons the next day. But how to ensure that I get to the two best canyons on the last two days? The last day, in particular, many folks would be leaving. That disengaging thing that happens when trips near an end. No, I can’t let that happen. I am here to see EVERYTHING!

Selfish and indulgent to the end, I circle my prey. Rich is surrounded by a small army of folks saying “But I have to” this and that. I continue to circle as I watch him make arrangements, concessions, and promises, deftly meeting the concerns of all. When the crowd thins, I watch Rich exhale. Then I pounce. I sit next to him. A huge grin on my face. He looks at me, concern etched on his face again.

I tell him I want nothing tomorrow. I will be a trooper.

He relaxes, smiles and says, “But what DO you want?” He knows me.

I answer. A guarantee of transportation the last day to get in the final canyon.

He says, “Done. You can borrow my Excursion, if necessary.”

I say, “Done,” and ask how I can help him now.

He says for me to drink a Tecate.

I comply.

The seeds are sown for a mini epic three days hence.

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Judy and I join Rich, Koen, Randi, the Emperor, Carlos, Diving Dave, and Skunkman on the third day, for the area’s best canyon, Matacanes. This canyon is spectacular. Jumps, slides, rappels and swims in the turquoise waters are capped off—as the river goes underground—into two long caves. A canyon to rave about. A canyon worth the trip—all by itself. A world class canyon.

That evening at the group banquet, scramble did I to put crews together for the trip’s last canyon the next day. Many were flying home. Others had had their fill. Some planned to revisit Matacanes again, so good was it. But I had not done Chipitin yet. This canyon, the most technical of the five, has seven raps and a 250–foot waterfall finalé. The falls is the area’s premier and garden spot. Water flows over thick moss and then free falls in front of a huge alcove, with caves hidden in its recesses.

The group doing Chipitin that third day were late getting back. Finally they came in, weary and a tad frustrated, at 10:30 PM. They had been unable to pull the two 300–foot ropes at the final rap. Poor Koen had lent them the rope and was leaving the next day for Hawaii where the ropes were key for a canyon descent on one of the smaller islands. Part of the stuck rope crew signed on so as to retrieve the ropes. We scrambled to find rope adequate to the task. We thought we had ... thought so anyway.

We met early he next day and drove out for Chipitin at 6 AM. Judy, Skunkman and I, together for the fourth straight day. Barb, with the dislocated toe, could not and we missed her. Joining us were two Dave’s. D & M for future reference. And of course Denise. Denise who returned from Chipitin the night before at 10:30 PM. Socialized until 3:30 AM and then was back at the canyon this early AM—more stamina than I.

The drive up to the trailhead for Matacanes, Chipitin, and Hydrophobia involves going up the hill for a dozen miles on pavement, then onto a rough dirt road down 6–7 miles, and then up 6–7 miles to a small hamlet of Potrero Redondo, perched high on the mountainside. These final 13–14 miles can take upwards of 1.5+ hours. The final couple of miles, on narrow winding road, on a bed of dirt and limestone, with great exposure. I heard the road was 50 years old and, as such, was well constructed, but all those religious crosses and shrines along the way speak of the unspeakable.

We arrived, searched around a bit, found our way to the canyon, and suited up. A couple of nice raps into pools. The canyon was steep. There appeared to be no flowing outlets to the pools. The water must seep through the bottom. A big pothole was tricky to exit, maybe a 5.6 climb, with the key hold below the water line and found by touch. The longer, mid–canyon raps gave us cause for pause. It seemed our ropes were short. Maybe we have gotten the wrong ones? Finding out now? Well, it would have been better to measure before now, but we were on a schedule. A schedule to disaster? Shouldn’t be. There were two 300 foot ropes left behind, right? But what if they were gone? Someone could have claimed the booty already. Did we have enough rope to set up the needed guided rap if they were gone? Scary.

We did not want to be stranded atop a huge drop without retreat. So we went into ‘caution’ mode. The plan was made. Dave D. and Skunkman descended the single–line 125–foot rap. Skunkman stayed at the bottom to relay messages. Dave D. rapped the next drop with a radio. He continued to the awesome slide, just before the final drop, but couldn’t quite see the ropes. He went around and upclimbed the last rap. We scouted a possible bushwhack up the poison–oak–filled, steep slopes—not attractive. We came down a level and cleaned the rap. A rope went down to Dave D. and it was confirmed. The big ropes were still there. We went down the slide and awaited our turn on the big rap. A steep but not vertical section with water hitting you, followed by some vertical moss, and then you were free—in the midst of spray, with a huge cave behind you—and you landed on the edge of a huge pool. A big slice of heaven. The ropes were pulled and we were on our way up the switchbacked trail to gain the 1000+ feet of altitude back to the village. The pay for the play, but all concerns should be over, right? Sure!

Judy and I were up front. The cautious way we approached the lower canyon had burned hours of time. It was later in the day than usual for our exit. 15 minutes before I toppe out at the village, it started to rain. As I arrive at the vehicle, it started to pour. Skunkman was down below with the key. I stashed my pack by a tree. Judy joined me and we sat under the edge of a tin roof that sheltered a variety of farm animals—effective shelter. I stared over at the road. The rain slammed down into what is one huge puddle. Suddenly, a rooster came over a rise and charged at us, squawking loudly and threatening us. We, brave souls that we were, held our ground and he went around the corner of the shed to find his own more private shelter.

Our partners arrived and we loaded into the Excursion, trying not to soak the inside of the vehicle too badly. We discussed our options. Wait, hope the rain stoped and try the drive later? But what if it didn’t stop? What if it got worse? What if it got dark. This was the vehicle that was taking us all to the airport the next morning. We decided to cautiously probe the road. Who to drive? See how they run!!! No one, with the exception of Dave D., wanted any part of it. But Dave D. was half our age and his boldness that helped us get through the canyon ... is that what we want applied now? He would have done fine, no doubt, but the oldsters wanted to keep this task among ourselves—a mortality thing, or something. I took the wheel—purely by default, mind you. I am informed that this big boat was two–wheel, rear–wheel drive. Charming!! I started her up and pulled out, when we heard a huge squawk. A whole barnyard of small animals, mostly chickens, scampered from under the car. They had used it as shelter. I didn’t think I killed any of the critters, but I was not sure as the hood of this thing blocked all views below.

Soon a pattern was established. Going downhill involved near full braking at speeds of 1–2 MPH and, whenever we went over flat rocks, the vehicle slid—controlled slide, we hoped. Better have the wheels straight for that. The mud was a little better but not much. All uphills were taken in quite a different manner—like a bat out of hell, 20–40 mph, and NO slowing or stopping until it flattened out. By flattening out, I mean a steep hump, between the uphills and downhills. You couldn’t even see the road for the hood. You aimed to land the hump of the hill in the middle of the car. Sharp turns at the humps caused careful 9–point turns to make the corners. Repeat drill. On several occasions, especially the most exposed spots, everyone but the driver would walk—no sense in having more than one fatality, after all.

An hour in, my hands were clamped like claws, my calves were cramping, and my nerves were frayed. I now clearly understand the expression ‘white knuckles.’ I handed the wheel over to Skunkman. He did the dance. Soon we were at the Matacanes pick–up spot. Our friends had abandoned us to our fate and hitched toward the hotel. Can’t say I blamed them. It was really unlikely that we would make it down. Now we had to try to make it up and out the final 7–mile hill of mud. Steep hairpin turns awaited. The rains came again. I take the wheel. With much aggression, we slammed up the hill, fishtailing the corners, and finally onto pavement. It had taken near three hours to drive those 13–14 miles. Yikes! We would hear that many from other groups would be stuck on that hill in the coming hours.

We pulled into the hotel and filed out. Denise pulled Rich’s chain and told him “We didn’t mean to do it.” Unawares, I stopped to say hello and he looked at me with a look of such venom and stormed off to inspect his rental. Not being privy to the joke, I shouted after him that I was not finished cleaning up the vehicle yet. I noted to myself, not to get on the wrong side of this dude. When I saw him next, he was all friendly and I returned the keys.

The next day was travel day. 18 hours after waking, I would be in Capitol Reef to meet Mr. Cole and a day away from a week in Glen Canyon. What an amazing and wonderful world.

I would like to thank Rich, Chuy, Rubin, the ACA, and everyone involved in putting this event together. Fantastic people, fantastic canyons, and a fantastic time.


Ram

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