Date: December 2-5 (3.5 days)
Distance: 65.9 miles (106 km)
Daily Average: 18.8 miles (30.3 km)
Total Distance: 250.4 miles (403 km)
Urique High Route
Leaving Divisadero, our route skirted the western rim of Urique canyon. As we rambled along amongst the ponderosa pines, we passed through a handful of tiny villages. Other than a couple of guys armed with AK 47s loitering around the plaza of Churro, things were generally on the sleepy side. Indeed, even the aforementioned gun-toting gentlemen looked liked they had just awoken from a Rip Van Winkle-like slumber.
When the time eventually came to descend, we were faced with a 3,000 ft drop and a spectacular south facing vista over Urique canyon. Ideal moment for a snack break.
After wolfing down a couple of chocolate bars and taking a good look at the topo map, we began what I like to call an “educated bushwhack”. Before long we hit a faint cattle trail, which soon turned into a well trodden donkey path. We switchbacked our way down for 90 minutes before reaching the scenically set village of Naranjo. From there we descended much more gradually along a dirt road, arriving at Urique not long after 7 pm.
Once in town we made a beeline for the Restaurant Plaza. There we enjoyed a much anticipated feast; Justin had a beef caldo and I had a combo plate of beef and seasonal vegetables. The meals were accompanied by a mountain of tortillas and washed down by chocolate milks and Tecate beers. A fantastic end to what had been a long day.
In recent years, Urique has become most known as the location of the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. Featured in the internationally best selling book Born to Run, the race was founded by Michah True, or Caballo Blanco, an American ultra-marathoner who lived periodically in the Copper Canyon from the mid-90’s until his death in 2012.
Since its inception in 2003, race numbers have grown from less than score to more than 500 in 2013. Following Caballo’s passing the race was renamed Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco, and there are numerous plaques around Urique commemorating his contributions to the community.
The following day we made a late start out of Urique. Knowing that we only had a relatively short 35 mile stretch to Batopilas, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast consisting of eggs, pancakes and multiple cups of coffee.
Within two hours of our departure, we were asked if we wanted to purchase marijuana on multiple occasions. We politely declined, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at both the size of the bulging bags on offer as well as the bargain basement prices the vendors were asking.
By mid-afternoon we had arrived at the beautiful Los Alisos, home of well known local identity and farmer extraordinaire, Prospero. Abundant fruit trees, vegetable gardens and a lazy, tropical-like atmosphere reminiscent of southern India, we spent the best part of 45 minutes kicking back and chatting with Prospero about all things Copper Canyon. Eventually we headed on our way, however not before our gracious host gave us a bunch of mandarines and grapefruits for the journey.
An Unseasonal Downpour
After ascending some 5000 ft out of Urique canyon, we eventually gained the plateau just before dark. We soon found a camping spot and prepared dinner. Not long after it began to pour down. What we assumed would be a passing shower, turned out to be a continuous 24 hour deluge, a very uncommon occurrence in the Copper Canyon outside of the July to September rainy season.
The following morning we packed up in the rain. With temps in the high 30’s F (low single digits Celsius), we maintained a steady pace without taking any breaks. In such conditions, the key is keeping your core temp regular; neither too hot, nor too cold. Thankfully after about 4 hours of non-stop splashing, we began the long descent off the windswept plateau. By the time we reached Batopilas it was 4pm. Although the precipitation had continued unabated throughout the day, the temperature was now a much more comfortable 70 F plus (20C). What a difference a 5000 ft can make!
We checked into the welcoming Hotel Juanita. The stormy weather had resulted in a town-wide power outage. We didn’t care. We had a roof over our heads, hot water and the promise of another big meal.
Soon after becoming situated, we went our separate ways; Justin in search of our resupply box on the other side of town, and yours truly on a fact finding mission to gather information about the upcoming stretch out of Batopilas. With the rivers already running high due to the big rainy season, they would now be unfordable for at least a few days. We would need to alter our route yet again for the final section to Guachochi.