The entrance to a horizontal mine shaft that we could ride our mountain bikes into was music to our eyes. The stone opening to the Porfirio Diaz Tunnel sat solemnly on a hillside in the middle of a barrio in Batopilas, Mexico. Sure, it’d been abandoned for 70 or 80 years. But that was of no 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 it to be previously. A flat dirt surface/pathway- perfect for mountain bikes– led into the darkness. Even though the place had the ominous appearance of almost being eaten by the solid rock, its 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. We were geared up and driving his parent’s VW Camper-van (with their permission) bound for Mexico with a stop in Douglas, Arizona en route. The plan was to meet up in Douglas with an older/more mature person, whom I knew from the summer camp where I had worked the previous summer. The three of us would travel from there on down to Guaymas, Mexico, where we’d camp, have some quality beach time, and experience a bunch of “neat adventure stuff.” (Note- years later, and as a father, I’m not sure how we got our parents to agree to the plan. Although I do remember it being 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.
Missing a Tutuburi
The countryside opened up as the Silver Trail left the Valley of the Churches. Our group of seven had passed a young Tarahumara man (the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon) earlier in the day. And I’d asked about Nacho Kino, an old Tarahumara whom I’d met while mapping the Silver Trail a few years before.
I could tell the story from my first Alps trip about the Swiss barmaid hovering around outside of my tent late one night asking for my tentmate, Matt. Or the one about Matt and I racing our Swiss guides back down from the top of the Argentine Miroir (a famous rock climb) to a nearby café where our group was waiting. Both occurred amid an adventure trip that the two of us were leading. It was made up of people of varying ages, including teenagers, a doctor who was even older than me, and my non-alpinism-experienced wife, Lori.
I’ll leave the details of those two events up to the reader’s imagination and, instead, tell the one about Lori, Doctor Bob, and Big Chris crossing a glacier.
We topped the ridge on the dirt road and began dropping quickly into the valley on our mountain bikes. We all knew that it’d continue to get warmer and greener as we descended from the Bolivian highlands, but our thoughts were mostly focused on what awaited us at the end of the ride. The anticipated post-ride rewards were different for each person- a warm bath, cold beer, hot coffee, a dry room. And so, we thought of those things, and little else as the town of Sorata came increasingly into view.
Climbing on the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, 1985.
At an elevation of 22,841 feet, Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres. As South America’s tallest peak, it’s also one of the Seven Summits (highest point on each continent). Via most of the routes normally followed, it’s a mostly non-technical undertaking, although it is big. It’s sheer size, location, and the persistent presence of a cold, wet, and snowy wind known as the Viento Blanco have led to a variety of medical problems for climbers throughout the years. This particular expedition occurred in February 1985.
This is the story of that climb:
I was in Mexico’s Copper Canyon with a group of adventure traveler “Chavochi’s” (non-indigenous/devil people as some of us gringos are fondly known among the Tarahumara). Some things happened while we were down there in Batopilas Canyon and the town of Batopilas, which may or may not be related to each other. I think they are.
The names of places……
The various names that are attached to places are intriguing. Some are obvious since they either reflect a physical characteristic or commemorate an individual of importance. But, others not quite so. Many place names tell a story in a few short words—some less straightforward than others, but each worthy of knowing. Here’s a few such stories that I’ve heard. Listen, and maybe you will, too………………..
Exploring the Cerro Rico mine.
For whatever reason, my wife, Lori, and I ended up in Potosi, Bolivia, on that particular part of our vacation. After considering various things to do around the city, we ended up selecting the “mine tour” option. The city is over 200 miles south of the capital city of La Paz. At 13,400 feet of elevation, it’s one of the world’s highest cities. And, as we came to find out, it’s dominated by Cerro Rico, a big mountain which has been mined regularly for silver ever since the days when the Spaniards were the rulers.
“You’re not lost, if you don’t care where you are.”
By this point, we were some 20 miles from the last little outpost of a town that we’d been through. But theoretically, at least, we were about to come to another. Jerry had the best available maps of the area loaded onto his GPS. But it only told us where we were relative to whatever data it was loaded with. The adage, “garbage in, garbage out,” came to mind and was soon followed by the vision of a web page that simply said, “no data available.”