It was music to our eyes. A horizontal mine shaft that a mountain bike could be ridden into. The official-looking opening into the Porfirio Diaz Tunnel was stuck onto a hillside in the middle of Batopilas, Mexico. Sure, it’d been abandoned for 70 or 80 years, but that wasn’t really of any consequence to us at the time. The entrance was circular and at about 12 feet in diameter, a little bigger than we’d each envisioned as we’d contemplated the place previously. A flat dirt roadway- perfect for mountain bikes– led into the darkness. Even though it had the ominous appearance of almost being eaten by the solid rock, it ‘s beckoning call was persistent and ultimately won us over.
It was Christmas break of my sophomore year in high school when Jake and I took off from Denton, Texas in his parent’s VW Camper-van bound for Mexico with a stop in Douglas, Arizona en route. The plan was to meet up with a more mature person, whom I sort of knew who lived in Douglas and then travel from there down to Guaymas, Mexico. Once down in the Mexican town, we’d have some quality beach time and experience all of the neat adventure stuff that could be had in the area. (Note- I’m not entirely sure how the parental permission thing was worked out, since we were only 16, although I remember that it was a good thing that we were going to be under the supervision of someone older). In the van, there was scuba gear packed away under one of the seats in cardboard boxes, places to sleep, and we must have had some food. We simply planned to beach camp, swim, and dive in the surf and enjoy some tropical weather while it was cold and windy in North Texas.
It was a Fall Sunday during what should’ve been the slow part of the year. Our Colorado lodge in the Tarryall Mountains had burned to the ground a month or so before and I was up there dealing with it. I was sharing an old log cabin, which had not burned, with an 18-year- old intern—so, I was not alone. On the day in question, I was piddling around doing various things that needed to happen in the midst of rebuilding. That afternoon, Lee (the intern) had some leisure time and came up to the building site to let me know that he wanted to go on a simple and physically easy hike up the Ute Creek Trail toward Bison Peak and would plan to be back to the cabin before dark. Since he’d been on several backcountry trips with us in the past and I wouldn’t be needing his help with the work that I had planned for the afternoon, it sounded reasonable to me. And so, I gave him my blessing.
Ryan had never bonked before, at least in the metabolic shock overexertion sense of the word. When he started to bumble around and kept losing more and more of his edge, I knew that something was up and figured that’s what had happened. Not really realizing what was going on, he kept on trying to mountain bike further up the Colorado Trail, although with diminishing returns. The big patches of snow that still littered the trail, even though it was June, were probably a good thing since they ultimately turned us all around. His disrupted mental and physical state likely made the retreat more palatable to the 13-year-old, since he wasn’t one to be prone to turn around before his goal was reached, regardless of whatever difficulty he faced.
“You’re not lost if you don’t care where you are,” or something to that effect is a famous quote. I repeated it several times to myself as we kept walking into the thick fog, headed toward the summit of Chiefs Head, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. I was bringing up the rear of a group of ten, mostly teenage backpackers. Usually, I was confident in where Mike was leading us, except that in this instance one of his Colorado Mountain School guides, Dennis, was at the back of the line with me and kept muttering about how we were going up the wrong mountain.
He hadn’t felt very strong ever since lunch. His backpack felt increasingly heavy and the big uphill into Pinto Park was yet to come. He was not a complainer and was intent on not becoming one at that point. He wondered if the weakness that he was experiencing perhaps had something to do with the water that he’d gotten out of the creek during the break before lunch. He realized that he hadn’t even looked at his water in the bottle before drinking it. What if it was full of all kinds of weird stuff, he wondered to himself?
A mysterious thirst is quenched.
The sixteen empty soda bottles sat on the counter in the Cerro Colorado store for two days, before the shopkeeper finally stuck them down with the others. They were a good conversation piece while sitting out there in the open, but when he found a spider in one, and since they needed to be moved anyway, he put them all into some empty slots in the Fanta case down on the floor. After he’d tidied things up, he thought about dragging the whole box of empties out from behind the Sabritas rack where the bottles would be more visible and could still be the talk of the town but realized that if he did so, it would just be in the way and would make things look disorganized. And so he just drug it out and stuck it in the back room.
The second part of an adventure climb in the Wind River Range
From down at the bottom of the climb, we’d envisioned what the scramble up to the rope-up spot and to a lesser extent the first pitch would be like and were mentally prepared for both. But things above that point were fuzzy, although we were confident that it would all become more apparent once we got up there. Better not to confuse the issue with too much of a plan, we’d determined.
Climbing an unnamed buttress in the Winds…..
In Two Parts………..
There’s a place deep in the heart of the Wind River Range that we called Golden Lake. There are no marked trails that go there, and if you look on a map of the area, there’s nothing with that name. There actually is a lake there, although it has another name. It sits in a glacial cirque, or basin, along with two others at the top of an obscure drainage leading down to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. The main lake of the three is full of Golden Trout. Thus, the name.
It wasn’t the easy way out of the predicament, but we chose the more physically painful of the two options and climbed up the steep ridge and then over the saddle that led us out of Paradise Park and down into Hell Canyon.
This is how we got to that point: