Route : Garganta del Diablo, Rumerosa, Matacanes, Gavilán, Pterodactillo, Hormigas, Mandarín
After visiting Laberinto y El Salto for a second time, Gerardo and Emmanuel dropped me off in the small pueblo of Laguna de Sánchez where I proceeded on foot for the next leg. After 3 enjoyable canyons in the area the previous week, I was setting out on a more ambitious venture. On a piece of cardboard back in Santa Catriana, I’d jotted down a rough plan that spanned seven days. My pack was heavy, but morale still high, I trod lightly down the dirt road. Almost immediately, I was stopped by a pretty girl selling some tidbits from a small tray hung around her neck. The last thing I needed was more to carry, but we talked for a while, she pointed out how long it would take to reach the next pueblo: Lagunillas (where the cabañas “Mesa de Oso” are located). It sounded further than I’d thought… But undeterred, I set out on the short-cut she’d pointed out to me. The path dropped down into the ‘laguna’ which looked like it was typically dry and utilised for agriculture (Juan later told me he’d dived here!). I soon retuned up to the main road, thinking I’d be best off trying to hitch a ride. After a kilometre or so it worked! and I got a lift to the end of the valley where I was welcomed by an over enthusiastic dog.
I tightened my pack straps as the road steepened, switchbacking up the side of the valley. I paused several times to enjoy the views. I knew I’d never make it, but a vehicle crossing the valley gave me hope. The mum, and two daughters stopped. They were heading to Mesa de Oso! What a relief! The girl driving was 13(?) and handled the mountain roads very well. The views were fantastic!
We reached the cabañas, and I thought I could support them by camping there. The price the man quoted was ludicrous. Well over the amount I’d paid for a room in San Rafael. I couldn’t do it. I thanked them again and headed past the drop-in for Rumerosa and into the small community of Lagunillas. A man told me that there was no water, which seemed strange as communities like this generally are situated next to a water source. At the other end of town I was relieved to locate a stream. Maybe he hadn’t understood me? Following it down a ways, I found a somewhat flat spot between some rocks next to a tyre, and settled in for the night.
The next day I cached most of my gear and hung my food in a convenient overhanging tree. The plan was to visit Garganta del Diablo – “The Devils Throat”. I’d almost decided to leave this one out as I’d read you needed a party of at least two to escape the keeper pothole. Taking to a couple of ppl (Samuel y Ximena) it sounded tricky but possible by using a redirect and a pack toss. Eager to test myself, I set out into the valley past donkeys, a crashed car being salvaged and a number of cows returning home for some salt (?). Without asking a guy on a motorbike gave me a lift the rest of the way. The small engine wasn’t powerful enough for the steep sections and we pushed with our feet to assist and I even walked one section.
I was dropped off at a house. The old man there confirmed that I could drop into the drainage here and I was soon scrambling down the creek. I was happy to find water and made sure I drank.
The creek was steep with many downclimbs. There were some larger drops too, but all easy to bypass. There were some nice sections, some with flowing water and others dry, but it was more cañada then cañón. Eventually I arrived at at a large dryfall (P1). I was happy to see a natural anchor; bandela around a tree CL. After lowering my companion stick (I was ferrying it to aid the pothole escape), I dropped down. It was a little over 40m. I didn’t have enough rope, but it was easy enough to downclimb the last section. Inspecting the next drop that immediately followed, there was no apparent anchor. I looked around for threads, trees, rocks to build a cairne anchor, but nada. High on the left I saw some trees… Maybe I could abseil down to reach the lower one? I ascended and climbed past my anchor and down into the gulley CL. Demonstrating some poor rope management in the scrub, I planned several pitches that traversed the slope at about 45deg. I abseiled from a tree and managed to swing and catch the next tree. For the next pitch, I threw my coiled rope, using it as a grappling hook to catch the next tree… The next section looked tricky… If I slipped it would be a big pendulum. I looked down. Maybe I could reach the bottom from here? I doubted it but thought I’d get close enough to warrant a try. Adding my muel tape to the pull end, down I went. It didn’t reach, but ending a few metres from the ground, I tied the pull end to myself and slid the last bit. Phew! I’d made it! I hadn’t even reached the canyon proper!
Traversing a stagnant pool a waterfall entered CR. ‘Maybe this would be a better way in?’, I thought (I asked Samuel later, who confirmed there was a shorter approach). Having lunch, I soon continued on my way. The pool at the bottom of the next pitch forced me to swim, but as I continued, rappelling a couple more times, the water vanished and I arrived at the canyon proper, peering down into the Devils Throat.
I decided to rappel down into the pothole to have a look. I was silly and abseiled double rope, running into the knot where my pull cord was attached near the bottom. I passed the knot and used a munter on my pull cord, the main rope passing through my descender. One rope on each side of me I could vary the friction for each such that the rope wouldn’t pull through the anchor.
The climb to escape the pothole looked tricky. I approached it to have a crack, but began sinking into the mud to my ankles. Not wanting to find out how deep it was, and figuring I’d never make it with lubricated shoes, I decided to ascend back out. My pull cord was more dynamic than I’d thought causing a bit of rope wear.
This time I traversed a ramp towards the redirect, only clipping the rope in my second attempt. (I pendulumed the first time). Hugging the small flute my left hand grasped the nose for purchase. I almost slipped off, but managed to pull myself up onto the lip of the pothole. I’d made it! I spent a moment admiring the canyon, it’s character, completly different to the other cañóns I’d visited around Monterrey. The limestone was smooth; clean, mostly void of any calcite deposits. It was the first true slot canyon in México, and was beautifuly sculptured. I was very happy I’d decided to visit!
Three closely spaced pitches followed, the first two both ending in water. I only got wet to my thighs on the first, and with some creativity stayed dry on the second. (Stole some bandela from a tree stump). After a short dry horizontal section, I was suprised by a second pothole escape before the cañón again became more vertical.
I experimented with a ‘retrievable camera’. It actually worked well… Probably only because the anchor was a chain dangling down. A stagnant pool followed, bubbles of methane bubbling up as I trudged through the decaying sludge. I explored a small cave before braving the next stagnant pool, swimming the last bit. (My photos tell me another pitch followed). Walking through the last section, the canyon opened quite abruptly. Signs of cattle telling me that I’d survived. Instead of gaining the road, I continued down the creek a little further, enjoying some downclimbing before a very short exit to the road visible on my right.
The day had taken longer than I’d expected. By the time I walked back to my cache (coyote on the way), I decided I’d be better off staying put, rather than moving camp to the start of Rumerosa as I’d planned.
The next day I woke early. It was going to be a long day. I shouldered my heavy pack and after passing through Lagunillas followed the route down to Rumerosa. There were some decent camp spots on the side creek before reaching the main drainage.
Not far downstream from the junction, I peered into a constriction of dark rock and clear azure water. With some deliberation I jumped the second pitch (about 5m into water about 1.5m deep).
This first section was probably my favourite. The canyon soon opened up into a deep gorge. At the 8th rappel, I didn’t check the end of my rope and by the time I spotted the loop that had formed in the end, it was too late. I continued retrieving the rope, but as feared, it stuck. I climbed up CL. The rock was chossy, and after a fairly committing move I paused at a small tree. Looking up, I climbed a short way before retreating to the tree: It was too scetchy and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to reverse my moves. From my vantage point I assessed the other side of the cañón. Above the pitch, it looked like there was a gulley entering CR. The traverse to it looked okay and I decided to try climbing up a gulley down canyon to reach it. First I had to get down… My foothold came lose and I returned to the tree several times before I committed to the move. A small break to gather myself and I headed up the gulley on the opposite side. Scrambling up through the loose nettle covered scree, I zig-zagged up. Traversed down a little, climbed a small bluff, contoured and eventually slid down the gully I was aiming for. Jumping the last 3m into a pool. I’d made it. Abseiling the waterfall a second time, I carefully pulled the rope down.
Several more pitches followed. The canyon opened for a while and signs of cattle were present (~between rappels 11y13). The canyon ended with some fun jumps in a short constriction. Soon I reached the first pitch of Matacanes. (About 6hrs from the Lagunillas. I ended up doing 14 abseils and many jumps).
Having visited Matacanes the previous week I moved quite quickly, actually enjoying the canyon more than my first time through. I began seeing wet spots on the rocks and was suprised to catch a large commercial group before the first cave… It was probably about 3pm at this point. They were starting very late… I jumped in front of them, resting in the cave as they rappeled down CL. We talked for a while. I thought about traveling with them, but they took so long to move through the first cave (did the slide this time) that I decided I needed to go ahead to select a camp with daylight.
The canyon was a lot of fun. After the second cave, I caught a second comercial group and talked with them as we continued downstream. Before dark I set up camp at one of the numerous sites by the trail. (About 4hrs from the first rappel, maybe 20mins to Las Adjuntas). 4hrs later, at around 11pm, the commercial group passed. Only one light for the 10 people.
The next morning I forced myself to pack. It was Sunday, and I was hoping to catch a lift with people visiting the area. Carrying more trash out, I was suprised at the transformation one week had made. From no one the previous weekend, Las Adjuntas was now packed. It must be crazy in summer. (Apparently 1000 people visit Matacanes per day! Madness. Many rescues. According to some retired guides I talked to). I sat on the bridge and waited and waited. I was tired and was convinced there would be traffic. 4 or 5 hours passed. More people arrived, there was a drowned side-by-side, I was given some papas and a drink. Later, I was invited to join a group. Happy for the distraction, I sat around their fire. I kept an eye out but think I missed the one car that passed. In the end it was getting late and I reluctantly started trudging up the hill. About three quarters of the way along, I got to sit in the back of a side-by-side. I talked to an old couple trying to get some info on a cave, but couldn’t really understand them. I managed to find the entrance fairly easily with the info I had and set up camp nearby. Another coyote.
In the morning I spent some time pushing my rope through the 3m of webbing I’d scavenged from Garganta. I was a little concerned about the edge and it was the best thing I could think of. As I rigged the pitch a shepard herding goats came up to me. He told me about another stream cave nearby.
The chamber belled out, making the pitch free hanging. The entrance looked like a collapsed ceiling and I was expecting it to continue uphill and downhill. But apart from some sparkling rim stone pools on the upslope side, the passage actually continued fairly steeply downwards. There were some tight spots but you quickly emerge into a large chamber, which is the end of the cave. I got a little angry at my camera; condensation had formed in the lens and it was pretty much useless.
I climbed back out, packed up camp and began the walk to La Trinidad. There were many dolines as I left Potrero Redondo. I inspected a couple that looked promising, but didn’t find anything. I was beginning to wear out and entered a state of walking meditation. The weather began to close in, a thick fog concealing my surroundings. On the other side of La Trinidad the fog had congealed so much that it turned to drizzle. I took refuge in an abandoned (?) building for an hour or so until it subsided.
Leaving the road, I bush-bashed a ways to the drainage before Hormigas. Locating a road on the next ridge that would probably be a better way to access the cañón.
The plan for the afternoon was to locate Pterodactillo. I had a rough idea where it was and also had a photo looking out of the entrance. The plan was to use the photo to get myself into the right position. I’d done this with Pinnacle Cave in Nevada and I hoped it would work again.
Heading past the drop-in for Hormigas, I found a great grasy area prefect for camping. I dumped my gear and with more of a spring to my step, continued upwards. I found a trail heading off to the left, but it petered out and I returned to the road. As it turned out, this was the correct way, and I would return this way in a couple of hours. I walked a km or so up along a donkey trail and then cut across to the cliffline. The fog had partially lifted; the views where fantastic! Some large birds circling high on thermals, for a second made me feel as though I were in the Jurassic period witnessing pterodactyls. I walked parallel to the cliffline enjoying the vistas and the prominent La Piedra Parada.
Soon I could see Hormigas cutting through the cliff and began matching up features from the photo I had. I had walked quite a bit past the correct spot. Finally I spotted an area that seemed more cleared and flattened by trampling feet. I found a snapped branch and a small shrub that had been partially cut through by a machete. Lining up the photo of more, I was quite confident I was in the right place!
I contoured around back to the road, setting up camp and chilling for the afternoon. I’d later wish I’d returned to visit the cave… For the next morning, I awoke to thick fog. Should i skip the cave? No. That seemed silly now that I was here. Could I wait it out? I had neither the food nor time… Abseiling down the cliff I couldn’t see anything except some bolt holes and shrubs on the cliff-face. Locking off my descender I started swinging to enter the large opening in the cliff. There were several rub spots and the rope twanged as it sawed across the rock. For once, I wished my rope was a larger diameter. I gritted my teeth and with an elevated heart rate I finally clawed my way into the cave entrance. Taking deep breaths, I made sure my rope wouldn’t swing back out into the void where I wouldn’t be able to reach it. (Juan later told me a group had to be rescued because of this!).
The entrance was larger than I’d expected and a flat area would even permit camping. Despite the absent views, I was glad I’d made the effort to visit: The cave was rich with mostly dormant speleothems. I climbed first up and then down into a pit. To continue however you traversed high on the left past some organ pipes to a second pit. Light was entering from a second entrance high on the left. I decided not to rap the pit and continue exploration. Enjoying the entrance a while longer (and wishing I’d visited the day before) I soon began the ascent.
I packed up camp, put on my damp wetsuit and began walking down the creek. The cañón reminded me of Chipitin, but it felt more open. It would have been more enjoyable if it weren’t for the pipe than ran through the entire canyon. If you look carefully you can see it in the photos.
Despite reading that the final pitch was more than 30m, I forgot and descended on my doubled 60m. I dropped my camera caribiner on the way down but couldn’t see it anywhere. Thoughts of it vanished as I neared the bottom and realised my rope was significantly short. I locked off, pulled up the tails and tied one to my harness and added my doubled pull cord to the other. I passed the knot lowering myself as the rope slid through the anchor. The pull was tricky and I ended up walking down the next drop with the pull tied to me, jumping the last bit. Whilst coiling the rope, I admired my surroundings. Looking into the pool, I spotted something looking back at me… It was my red caribiner! I dived down and grabbed it.
I continued downstream. There weren’t any more rope pitches, but lots of jumps into travertine pools. It was very nice. Somewhere put past La Piedra Parada the stream dried. There was a stone wall on the left and I soon took a road that led me back to the main road.
The drainage was still dry when I crossed it. A little further along, I took the trail down to Charcol Azul which is a popular swimming hole located where the water surfaces. This is the start of the cañón Naranjo o Mandarín. Whilst very nice, I found this route to be more of a creek walk. It was still very pretty with lots of jumps and travertine features, but few actual cañón sections. I exited where the road gets close and a bridge crosses a prominent drainage entering from the right.
I trudged slowly up the hill, gaining about 500m of elevation before setting up camp on a large flat rock by the road. It would have been a very nice spot if it hadn’t been for all the broken glass and trash. I hadn’t seen it setting as it was dark when I arrived. I wish Mexicans as a whole had a little more respect for the environment. I tried hitching a ride with a truck, but it was a strong “no”. So I settled in enjoying some fireworks before sleep. String winds woke me several times during the night and I was already awake as the horizon began to glow.
My pack felt lighter as I headed down the other side of the mountain. I had tried contacting Samuel last night, but despite line of sight with Allende, I hadn’t been able to get signal. I past some fancy houses as I made my way to the highway. Past the bridge across Río Ramos I scored a ride. The man dropped me off at the bus station. My phone didn’t work so I paid for a bus to Monterrey… For some reason it was over double the fare I’d paid to Santiago. In centro, I tried finding a supermarket, but after an hour, gave up and caught a bus to Fernando’s house. I was tired. Perhaps I’d been a little too ambitious.