The Copper Canyon is four times larger than the Grand Canyon. It is perhaps best known as the home of the Raramuri, or Tarahumaras, an incredible people that are world renowned for their ability to run ultra long distances.
The Raramuri were featured in the 2009 best selling book, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. Over the next month, Trauma and I will be posting various articles in regards to our upcoming journey. To get things started, see below for an overview of the Copper Canyon Traverse (CCT).
Copper Canyon Traverse (CCT)
OBJECTIVE: Full length traverse of Mexico’s Copper Canyon region.
To the best of our knowledge, such a trip has never before been attempted. Due to the “unpredictable” nature of the region (see below for details), both Trauma and I have been working on our respective Rabbits Feet and Shamrock collections. Indeed, Trauma has reportedly gone as far as to order eight custom made cuben fiber horseshoes from his longtime sponsor, Granite Gear, especially for the journey!
USUAL SUSPECTS: Justin “Trauma” Lichter & Cam “Swami” Honan.
Between the two of us, we have hiked more than 85,000 miles in some 60 countries around the globe. Our respective journeys have taken us from Lapland to Ladakh and from Kenya to the Karakoram Range.
On a personal note, I couldn’t ask for a better person to accompany me on this trip than Justin Lichter. Over the past decade, Trauma has combined some incredible long distance journeys around North America, with some equally impressive international expeditions such as his traverses of Central Africa and the Himalayas. For more details on some of Trauma’s trips, check out his website JustinLichter.com.
ROUTE: The total distance of the CCT will be between 360 and 400 miles (644 km). We estimate the journey will take us between three and four weeks, during which time we will be resupplying on three occasions. The traverse will be a combination of hiking, canyoneering, packrafting, bushwhacking and weaving our way around clandestine drug fields, which unfortunately are not uncommon in some of the remoter corners of the Copper Canyon system. Our proposed route will link together all of the region’s major canyons (see below for details) and will take us from the region’s northwest corner to its southeastern limits.
Topography: The Copper canyon is not only significantly larger, but in many areas it is also deeper than it’s more famous cousin in Arizona, USA. The region derives its name not from any copper deposits that were found in the canyons, but instead from the reddish ‘copper’ hue that distinguish many of its walls.
What’s in a name?: The english name for the region, “Copper Canyon”, is a bit of a misnomer. In actual fact, the ‘Copper Canyon’ (or Barrance del Cobre in Spanish) is only one of six major canyons (along with numerous minor ones) which constitute the entire canyon system. The major canyons, in alphabetical order, are as follows: Batopilas, Candamena, Cobre, Oteros, Sinforosa and Urique.
Climate: The Copper Canyon region has multiple climatic zones, ranging from alpine at the top of the canyons to sub-tropical on the canyon floors. During the winter months it is not uncommon for there to be snow on the high plateaus and canyon rims, whilst 6000 feet below it is still t-shirt and shorts weather.
Raramuri: The Raramuri people number approximately 70,000. They are said to have lived in the Chihuahua region of northern Mexico for at least two thousand years. The have their own language, culture and belief system. Traditionally they have practiced a migratory lifestyle of spending the warmer months on the upper plateaus and the cooler winter months in the subtropical-like canyon floors. In recent decades, their way of life has been increasingly threatened by the influence of mining corporations, lumber companies and drug cartels. An article titled A People Apart, which appeared in the November, 2008 edition of National Geographic Magazine, gives an overview of the social, economic and environmental challenges facing the Raramuri in the 21st century.
The Runners: The name Raramuri (or Tarahumara) literally translates to “runners on foot” or “light footed ones.” A more appropriately named people anywhere in the world I know of not!
- Hunting: The Raramuri have been known to practice persistence hunting. They will literally hunt a deer until the deer keels over from exhaustion. No small feat considering that much of their tracking is done on rocky trails going up and down 5000 feet deep canyons!
- Sport: The Raramuri’s sport of choice is called rarajipari. It is a running game (no surprises there) that involves kicking a baseball sized wooden ball along the steep trails of the canyons. Rarajipari is usually contested by multiple teams with at least four members per side. Games can last from a few hours to a few days, depending on the agreed upon finishing point.
- Corn Beer: If this pastime doesn’t sound challenging enough, the Raramuri often participate in Rarajipari after consuming liberal quantities of Tesguino (or corn beer) during ceremonial occasions. I can tell you from personal experience back in 2001; Tesguino is far from a taste sensation. The fact that the Raramuri can take off and run for hours or days after partying it up all night on this less-than-stellar beverage, is perhaps the most incredible of all the amazing miscellanea regarding these unique people.
- Footwear: The Raramuris do their running in tire-soled huarache sandals. Indeed, the current craze of ‘barefoot running’ and ‘zero drop’ shoes can at least partly be credited to the lessons learned by Christopher McDougall (see above: Born to Run) during the time he spent in the Copper Canyon region.