Volume 41 Number 2 Article 3
Mexican Through Trips
12th-27th February 2004
Team: Beardy (RRCPC/ULSA), Dinny (RRCPC/ULSA), Ben Young (RRCPC/ULSA), Helen Young (ULSA), Caroline Thomas (ULSA), RogerThijssen (Speleo Nederland
For years I had heard tales of Mexican caving, a country with more Karst than it knew what to do with. The world's deepest cave might lurk here in one of its high mountains, but the search for this would have to wait for another trip, as would visits to Mexico's many other caving gems. The main goal of this trip was to complete the fabled traverse of El Chorreadero. This through trip is over 3km long and over 1000ft deep, with most of its depth lost by jumping down pitches into deep plunge pools - exciting? I thought so.
Five of us flew from Leeds Airport to Amsterdam where we met Roger before flying on to Mexico City. The following day we all caught another flight from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez, a large bustling town close to our goal. Eventually after a bit of "tourism" the great day arrived, we were up at the crack of dawn, lugging our equipment across town to the bus station and raced off to Chiapa de Corzo, where we met our taxi drivers for the next part of the trip. We'd arranged a lift to somewhere close to the top entrance and along the way we intended to visit the lower entrance to stash some clothes. So much for good plans! The road to the lower entrance was closed at that unearthly early hour of the morning so we stashed the clothes about a kilometre or so from the lower entrance. After a few minutes faffing we were on our way again. The taxi took us up a huge hill with loads of hairpins, I think we wanted to get out at the 33km mark on the road (but this mark was missing). Eventually we drove past a huge junction (near to the 35km mark) on the road. Here we turned left and soon veered off on to a dirt track to stop by the Rio Escopetazo some way upstream of where we wanted to be.
Being keen and foolish we set off downstream on foot, the walk/scramble/ bushwhack was quite interesting. We saw lots of farmers working the land and much wildlife, although I was glad that I missed seeing the venomous Coral Snake that some of the party saw. However, it was rather a long walk in by this route and about two hours later we reached what looked to be the start of a deep canyon leading to the cave entrance.
In the shade of the canyon we donned wetsuits and vassed up and after a minor dispute over some Vaseline we plunged into the cool waters of the canyon. In a matter of minutes, we were confronted by a large drop. The rock was all smooth and water worn, and after a considerable amount of searching we concluded that there were no bolts and a well-hidden natural would have to be used instead. Dinny was soon racing off in to the darkness to try and see if it was our cave. Above the cave entrance was the deep cut water-worn canyon in which we stood, higher up on the downstream side of the entrance it looked like the canyon continued on the surface but in a more vegetated fashion. We think that this is where Slugs team abseiled a 100m drop to gain entry to the cave. His verdict was inconclusive but it looked good so we pulled down the rope from the entrance pitch and all took to the water. Before long we were racing along through the cave, lots of swims, climbs and then the jumps began. After a couple of mini jumps to warm up we were soon faced with some more substantial jumps. Some members of the team took some time to take the leap of faith required, often accompanied by a rodent like yelp. Later as the jumps got bigger the yelps changed in to almighty screams of fear and by the end of the trip some jumps were managed in silence. Time was getting on and after a couple of pitches we came to a big pitch c.20m which was worrying as the biggest pitch described on the survey was 35ft. Now that we were completely committed, I had visions of us being in the wrong cave with all that that might entail.
Fortunately salvation was just around the corner when we found an old and dubious troll right angled hanger and frayed piece of tat, not normally an appealing sight but on this occasion it calmed my fraught nerves. More jumps and pitches followed, frequently the pitches were rigged from convenient naturals. We soon came across some awkward pitches, these were tricky as they had no belays but were tricky climbs for the less confident members of the team. The solution was for Dinny to try the jump or climb, then the rest of the party descended using Beardy the human belay. With the party safely down the pitch yours truly then had to brave the ridiculous down climb or jump.
We enjoyed plenty of long swims, admiring the huge tree trunks wedged in the passage, the place must provide an awesome spectacle during the rainy season. Eventually we arrived at the Salle Halacones one of the few really large chambers in the cave. It took us some time to cross the chamber whilst marvelling at the impressive size of the chamber. We had just the "third wallows" to do and although time was getting on we were still really enjoying the fun nature of the cave. More fun jumps followed, until we came to a series of bigger pitches that landed in deep pools. The in situ equipment in this section was much better. Soon an unusual noise began to be heard, it was the sound of thousands of small birds that were living in the roof of some of the large chambers, we were obviously close to the entrance. The final pitch had to be abseiled down a huge piece of flowstone into a lake. A few moments later we emerged out of the lower entrance into a dark starry night. The lower entrance looked quite impressive and we were unlucky not to see it in daylight. Beneath the lower entrance is a local picnic spot with concrete steps leading up into the cave. After a short period of stumbling around in the dark we managed to find the road, although Dinny had hidden his clothes far too well and took some time to relocate them. We managed to flag down a bus, even though it was pitch black and we were six scruffy cavers with loads of wet gear and we were soon back at our luxury hotel.
During the second week of our stay we visited Taxco, a town famous for its silver and silver mines. 30km away lie "los Grutas", a popular show cave. The tourists are taken to a large fossil cave, however 100m lower two enormous rivers resurge from two enormous cave mouths "Dos Bocas" which are located about 100m apart. After some confused negotiations with the show cave management (they were worried that we might join the large list of people who had died in the river caves) we were able to descend to the rivers. Our first trip was the Rio Chonta which we did in the upstream direction and then immediately in the downstream direction. This gave 12km of excellent caving in a large tunnel about 30m in diameter with a large but slow river winding it way through the cave. Dinny and I did the cave dressed just in thermals and accordingly needed to cave at high velocity in order to avoid hypothermia. Within minutes of entering the cave we had abandoned Ben, Helen and Roger (all clad in lots of neoprene) to their fate. On our way back downstream Dinny and I first passed Helen and Roger who were determined to make it to the upper entrance. Later we met a disconsolate Mr Young, his hydrophobia having got the better of him, sat forlorn in the base of the impressive middle entrance. Our outward journey was made mainly on dry ledges above the stream avoiding most of the long swims that we'd done on the way in. Dinny and I surfaced after five hours of extremely pleasant caving, not a crawl in sight.
The following day we returned and took a taxi towards the top entrance of the Rio San Jeronimo. It was a thirty minute walk down a big hill. At its base we followed a dry riverbed downstream until we joined a huge fast flowing river. We got changed next to a plethora of crosses to the fallen cavers who had perished in the torrent. Before long we plunged into the cool waters which soon entered a deep canyon. The fast flowing water swept us downstream and barely 100 metres into the canyon Dinny and I stopped to don wetsuits, Roger was already suitably attired. Further on the canyon's roof changed from blue sky to a huge 50m diameter roof tube which slowly cut down to join us. Before long we were wandering through a huge tunnel 50m in diameter often swimming or climbing over boulders. On a couple of occasions we had to leave the stream and bypass obstacles by huge ledges high above the stream with interesting climbs back down to the river. About two thirds of the way through the beds of limestone seemed to tip vertically and the roof dropped dramatically. Soon we were walking in a two metre high by thirty meter wide passage and the draught became seriously strong - carbides were blown out. But this didn't last long, the caves former grand dimensions were soon regained.
After three and a half hours three happy cavers emerged out of the lower entrance in to a gloriously hot sunny day (not a bad place to be in February!) After changing and climbing back up to the road we "enjoyed" some tequila con naranja and beer with locals who were celebrating a fiesta but that's another story
So that was our caving trip - three caves, 21km's of caving in three days, no crawling and no prussiking - it sounds too good to be true. On a more topical note it's lucky that we didn't have any accidents as we had no permission for the trips other than our tourist visas, and I don't fancy trying the free accommodation currently being provided to British Cavers in Mexico.