12/15/2023 - 1/3/2024
12/15/2023 - 12/22/2023
Man, what a trip. Driving in the states was easy-breezy, although it did include long hours driving. I'd usually drive between 8 and 12 hours! Because I was planning to head West after concluding our time in Mexico, I spent the night at my caving partner B's house in Alabama, then we both caravaned to his nephew's house in Texas in one monster day of driving. We spent one night there, then strapped in Wells together for another monster day of driving with the hope to spend the night a few hours South of the border!
No such luck.
We arrived at B's usual border crossing as darkness was approaching. Getting our visas only took a couple minutes, but when it came time to get Wells temporary import permission, that's when the troubles began. They took issue with two things: The fact that Wells is registered as a passenger van rather than an RV, and the Gross Vehicle Weight Capacity was greater than their limit, which is denoted in Mexican law that they showed us. After maybe an hour of back and forth, they said they could get us across for a mere fine (AKA bribe) of $400 US DOLLARS. Not Pesos, Dollars. There was no way that was happening, so we said nope and the grouchy customs official turned right around and left.
We had to turn right around and go back to the US, thence to try another border crossing just a mile or two away. The folks there seemed friendly enough and we had high hopes of making it across, but then a military official beckoned us into his office, locking the door behind us (weird), and brought up the weight issue once more. He said it would take a really long time through the bank, or we could do it through him in 10 minutes for a mere fine (one again, bribe) of $200 US DOLLARS! Less this time, but still out of the question. We said nope and immediately got up and left.
At this point we were pretty discouraged and thought we may have to invoke our backup plan of canyoneering in Utah, but we wanted to try ONE more time. This time the next closest border West was about two or three hours drive, but with a convenient free camp ground about 5 minutes from the crossing. We crushed that drive then and there and crashed hard.
The next day, bright and early, we discussed this new border crossing. We decided that, since they were all annoyed about the weight rating, we might as well try just taking off the sticker that posts the weight rating, rub some mud into where it used to be to make it seem like it hadn't been there in a long time, then take our chances. The first two crossings had been pretty busy, but this one was muuuch slower and easy-going, I think because it was much more remote. The process went just as it had with the first two, but when they went out to take pictures of the van, the opened the door to find the sticker missing. They looked around for where else it might be, then eventually just gave up and went back to the office to talk to a superior.
We were left in the dark for much of it, but eventually a higher ranking military official was brought in and he took issue with the registration being as a passenger van and not an RV, as the others had. The only difference here was that he didn't outright ask for a bribe, he just seemed very doubtful that we'd be able to do it and said we wouldn't be able to get our temporary import permit. We weren't about to offer a bribe, which was clearly what they wanted, so we called their bluff and got ready to invoke our backup plan. At the last second though, he said let him try one more thing, and 20 or 30 minutes later we had our papers and we were on our way South, finally!! The next three days were spent crushing the drive through the majority of Mexico, aiming for a remote part of the mountains in Oaxaca, a state bordering the Pacific Ocean way down in Southern Mexico.
12/23/2023 - 12/29/2023
As we made our way to our camp spot for Anastasius De Mano De Mono, the roads got progressively worse and worse. We got off the toll highway and hit a winding mountain road that was good initially, then gave way to a potholed mess. Interestingly enough, after a few miles of that mess, it turned to great condition concrete road! But that was not to last either, as we turned onto a dirt and gravel logging road to get to our final destination. As we got closer, each turn we made took us to a less used and worse condition road until Wells was trucking along slowly on an extremely rutted dirt road with his tires riding on the highest parts to avoid bottoming out. With only a few hundred feet to go until camp, he got stuck by the rear axel jamming against the dirt. In the gathering dusk, we had to take turns laying down underneath the back and digging at the dirt with a small metal trowel while the person taking a break fetched logs to lay under the tires and in the ruts to improve the situation. After about 45 minutes or an hour of work, I put Wells back in gear and he was free! We made it to camp and excitedly got ready to rig Anastasius in the morning.
In the morning we got to work quickly despite the cold. We made our way to the entrance with our gear and set to rigging the first 3 drops, a ledgy series of short drops in quick succession, with a single 400ft rope. B hoped that this single looong rope would do for those first pits, then the last pit that he had not yet dropped.
I was immediately in love with the cave! It was full of what seemed like thousands of bats. Many of them were disturbed by our rigging efforts and were chittering and flying about as we rigged and rappelled. A After the first several drops we came across a large room with lots of beautiful formations that stretched high towards the ceiling about 80 feet up! The next pit series was more of a ramp, but it necessitated being on rope due to its steepness, and soon we were at the lip of the virgin pit. It was huge and airy, and went straight down into inky blackness. Not even my focused bright light could see to the ground!
We installed a bolt at the lip to tie the long rope to, and once that was complete I started rapping into the pit.
I took my time on the way down, observing the beautiful airyness of the pit and the incredible patterns different rock deposits made in the bedrock of the pit walls; I was enthralled! After about 90 feet of rappelling, I came to a ledge and stopped there. I still couldn't see the bottom of the pit with my focused bright light, so I dropped a rock and it took a whopping 4 seconds to hit the bottom!! That indicates that the entire pit from top to bottom could be as much as 450ft straight down.
We were fairly certain the rope wouldn't reach the bottom of the pit, so I went ahead and ascended back out, stoked for our next push trip in two days to hopefully reach the bottom! We exited the cave around dusk and whipped up some dinner, excited to go over our plan for how to reach the bottom of the big pit on the next push trip.
In the morning, though, just after B woke up and while I was working on doing the same, a car inexplicably pulled up and we got a knock on the door. Since B was already up, he hopped out and spoke with the two locals. They were wondering what we were doing there and whether we had permission from the municipal authorities, something that B played dumb to and acted like he simply didn't know that was a thing. Eventually they left, but they left us spooked as to whether they would return to kick us out or not, so we begrudgingly decided the best move would be to derig the cave and remove all our gear from inside, just in case they unceremoniously kicked us out and wouldn't be amenable to giving us the time to retrieve our gear.
This turned out to be a really smart move, as when we were organizing our gear at the bottom of the entrance sinkhole after derigging, voices called down to us through the thick foliage.
It was the same two locals who had knocked on the door in the morning, but this time they said we needed to go see the municipal authorities who were waiting for us, and it was clear they were going to escort us to them. Things between us were amiable enough, they seemed friendly, but we would have rather been left alone.
After we got all our caving gear packed away, the four of us made our way down the mountain back to Wells where there were two more locals waiting for us. We had more organizing to do to get Wells ready to roll, so we all hung around and chatted while B and I organized gear and dried what gear we could. After maybe 30 minutes of chatting and organizing, we were ready to face our fate and we drove off with one of the locals standing in the back of Wells. Before we could make it to the main logging road, a pickup truck blocked our way on the road and several locals hopped out and spoke with the local with us. He hopped back in, they got out of our way, and we drove on back the way they came while the pickup went back to grab the 3 locals we'd left near camp. Not 500ft further a small passenger van blocked our way, and it emptied a clown-car's worth of locals, one of whom was the president of the municipality! He spoke with us briefly asking what we were doing and saying it was dangerous there, but then spoke with the local with us and waved us on further up the road. At a crossroads with a large field the pickup and van sped up behind us and honked for us to stop, and for the next hour we discussed with them a bit but mostly they deliberated among each other. More and more locals kept materializing to observe the spectacle, a feat to my mind as we were in the middle of nowhere with no homes nearby, but at its height I believe the crowd consisted of no less than 25 people. From what we could pick up from their deliberations, we thought they might have let us stay with a guide for our protection or that we could stay on our own on a different hillside, but when they finally came back to us they wouldn't budge and said we had to leave their municipality. They wouldn't hear any different, so we battoned the hatches again and drove off further into the mountains with them bringing up the rear, presumably to make sure we actually left.
This all went down in the late afternoon, so we drove for maybe an hour before evening was dropping fast, and we eventually found a flat enough place to pull over just off the main road through the mountains. Since Anastasius in all his glory was off limits to us now, we had to convert the trip from a push trip to a recon trip, so we'd spend the remaining caving time left to us searching for more unexplored caves with promise.
Well, that didn't go super well either. We wandered the Oaxacan mountains through roads the like of which I seriously never thought I'd take Wells on, we got kicked out of another municipality and found absolutley nothing promising in a third before giving up on caving alltogether by December 29th.
It wasn't a TOTAL waste, though! While we didn't have anything tangible to show for our efforts, we did have a rather nice time in a small, cute mountain town while waiting to meet with the municipal authorities who would prove to be just as intractable as the first. We had to wait about 6 hours in all, just cooling our heels about the town. B hung out with a band practicing while I chatted and shared some mezcal with a 90 year old local who had lived his entire life in the town. I also got to play my new keyboard sitting on the front step of Wells and several locals tuned in for a while! In the gathering dusk B and I also shot hoops with some local children. We hoped seeming so chill and fun would ameliorate any bad feeling the authorities might have towards us as strange gringos, but no luck. The man we met with seemed to have had his mind made up before we met, and we were told to move on.
We tried one more area a good ways away from the other ones we tried, and the locals were really friendly there! They gave us directions to a cave (too low elevation to have good depth potential, but we were desperate at this point), and even let us park Wells on their gated property while we hiked to the cave! We couldn't find it, but we did have an excellent swim in a beautiful mountain river (until we learned there were leaches in it), and found a rock shelter with precolombian pottery sherds!
When we returned from our hike, we decided it was finally time to throw in the towel and check out two precolombian ruins and make an attempt at climbing Iztaccihuatl before returning to the states. On our way down from the mountains we snagged some Alebrijes, beautifully colorful, carved wooden figurines! B bought at least $200 worth :o
After sadly abandoning our dreams of doing cool caving things, we decided to check out the major archaeological site of Monte Alban nestled in Ciudad Oaxaca. Before I get into describing how cool that was, as an aside, I met a couple from Carrboro while waiting in line for my ticket! Their names were Deborah and Tom, and I recognized them as being from Carrboro because Deborah was wearing a Carrboro hat. If you guys are reading this: Hi!
Anyway, Monte Alban fairly blew me away. It was absolutely enormous, and the detail with which it was both built and excavated and preserved was incredible. There were tons of informational plaques to read that described what you were looking at, and there were tour guides everywhere guiding people and I was able to steal snippits of knowledge from overhearing them. I spent a few hours wandering about the ruins, probably 3/4ths observing the ruins and 1/4th people watching (which was excellent, there were all kinds of people there from all over the world!). After checking out pretty much every nook and cranny of the ruins over several hours, I was starting to get hungry so I went back to Wells and whipped up a snack. B was still in the ruins by then, so I checked out the vendor booths that were crowded between the parking and the entrance to the ruins. They had tons of trinkets which were cute, but I only bought a colorful alebrije that was surprisingly priced at about what we were getting them for in the mountains! Still no sign of B, so I set up my hammock and finished my book, Sea Monsters, set in Oaxaca about a girl who runs away from home in search of a band of escaped Ukranian circus dwarves. Eventually B showed up, we drive-proofed Wells, then made our way towards Ixta to try for the summit the following day, which would be January 1st!
12/31/2023 - 1/1/2024
Time for Ixta, take two! If you want to read about how attempt #1 went, check it out here. Things started off a little out of whack. We planned to drive up to the trailhead, prep all our gear and have a big ol' dinner, then get up at midnight or so and push for the summit in one go. However, when we got to Paso De Cortez where you have to go to get a permit, we were informed you have to reserve a parking spot at the trailhead at least five days in advance! Given that new rule, which was created in 2023, we'd have to leave Wells at the parking area at Paso De Cortez, a whopping 6 or 7 kilometers away from the trailhead. That really threw a wrench in our plans, since we needed to leave from the trailhead early, but we still had to get there!
We got our permits and frantically packed food, gear, and camping gear we hadn't thought we would need! We got hiking as soon as we could and tried to hitchhike with every car that went past, but none of them stopped until several kilometers in when two Mexican climbers stopped for us. They were super nice and said they were trying for Ixta as well, but they planned to spend the night in the hut at 15,000ft, roughly half way through the route to the summit. Being a little stressed and giving it some thought, I told B we should do the same to give us better chances at summitting the following day.
Once we reached the trailhead, we were much faster at being ready to hike than our new compatriots, so we bid them farewell and hit the trail! I moved at a pretty steady pace, taking a longer sitdown break at logical intervals that worked for me, and B seemed to find a system that worked for him where he would be hot on my heels, take a short sit-down break, then catch up to me just in time to take another short sit-down break, then we'd share the longer breaks I would take. Part-way up, we bumped into some American climbers who were descending after summitting that morning! They informed us that the glacier near the summit was icy and sketchy, but they only had microspikes for dealing with ice. This worried me somewhat, since I had microspikes and an ice axe, but they had made it with no ice axe, so I figured I could make it as well! We forged ahead.
We were navigating the rocky, scrambly transition to the ridge near the hut just as the sun was setting, and our strength was starting to flag. Thankfully, we made it to the hut just in time for the sun to set all the way before the night cold really started to set in. We were sharing the hut with two happy-go-lucky Spanish climbers and a pretty quiet Mexican climber.
B was worried about how hard the climb thus far had hit him, and decided he would stay at the hut while I pushed for the summit in the morning. The Spanish climbers were nice enough to welcome me into their small group, and we decided to get up at 3am to try for the summit! I wanted to get up earlier, but they said they were pretty tired and wwouldn't get up before 3, so 3 it was!
It was a fitful night of 'sleep', as all through the night climbers were coming and going in the hut and made a lot of noise, plus it's pretty hard to sleep at 15,000ft anyway. I know I got at least a few winks because I remember I had a couple dreams, but for the most part I just lay there and tried to rest. In the wee hours I was getting more and more excited to start climbing and I'd check my watch every so often to see if 3 was almost here!
Soon my phone alarm finally went off, signaling it was time to get started climbing mountains! I was immediately up and packing my sleeping bag away. I remember seeing my new Spanish friends across the hut as they slowly awoke and one of them sat up, looked across the hut and was immediately greeted with my, probably maniacal, grinning face as I packed! Unsurprisingly, I was ready to go well before they were, and I stood around outside the hut snacking while I waited. Soon, though, we were good to go, and we started slowly trekking in silence up the steep, ~700ft scree slope that looms over the hut.
About 45 minutes in, as we navigated the scrambly rock section to get to the ridge, I was suddenly stricken with nature's call. Not gonna lie, it was quite an interesting experience to relieve myself into a bag at 4am at almost 16,000ft!
Even though one of the Spanish climbers had the route downloaded to his sport watch, I remembered the route well enough and was full of energy, so I was first for our entire ascent. We spent most of it in silence, saving our breath for our muscles rather than conversation, only chatting during our few sit-down breaks.
Soon, still in the dark, we arrived at the glacier and my previous high-point. We concluded it was time to don our snow-gear (in my case, microspikes and ice-axe) for the snow and ice ahead! They turned back up the trail to gear-up at a spacious, rocky area, but I elected to gear up on the thin trail to avoid back-tracking up hill.
It didn't take me long to get ready, and, once they joined me, I was off across the snowy slope where people had left tracks. I followed it until there was an edge where the snow became significantly more steep, looked behind me, and saw that my Spanish pals were still right at the start of the snow! They seemed to be carefully discussing the snow quality, so I waited about 10 minutes for them to join me. I was pretty spooked by the snow and ice, being rather inexperienced and equipped only with microspikes, so I hoped one of them would go first. I tried to query them on which way we should go, but they didn't speak much English and my Spanish wasn't much better, so I ended up going first following where all the tracks went over the lip anyway.
Once on the other side it wasn't nearly so intimidating, but it was still very heads up. I was sorely wishing I had my full crampons, but I was sure with my ice axe I could make the microspikes work. As I carefully walked my way down the tracks, the tracks, and therefore my trail, started to fade as the snow gave way to bare ice. Soon I was standing there in a very steep icefield, and I could see what looked like a trail-ish thing about 20 feet lower than where I stood. I slammed the tip of my ice-axe into the ice with the sharp end of the handle against the ice below to form a handhold, then kicked my microspiked feet into the ice below, happy that I've climbed a good bit of slab at Stone Mountain, as this seems like the stupidly contrived ice equivalent of slab climbing. I alternated between creating a good handhold with my ice axe and kicking my spikes into the ice to downclimb to the ledge, which is mostly just a feature I could use to improve my situation, and followed it until it also petered out. This point was only 10 feet below another feature I could follow to where the angle lessened and I could walk easily to the bottom of the glacier, so I climbed up in the same style I used to downclimb and soon I was striding easily across the snow towards some rocks I could sit on for a break!
Once I finally arrived at the rocks, I looked back and saw that, once again, my Spanish compatriots had not yet begun to tackle this obstacle. They do have families, so I guess that might lend them to have more caution.
They slowly and cautiously made their way a few steps, but seemed very unsure. Eventually a large group of Mexican climbers from Puebla came upon them, and they all seiged the glacier, standing in a line, the first person kicked in steps with their crampons and ice axe to create an easy way down the glacier. I waited around for about half an hour until they finally joined me, at which time the sun had finally risen and we started to warm up!
From here on out it was easy money, just some up-hill walking at high altitude! I seemed to have more in the tank than my Spanish friends, because I soon left them behind going at my natural pace. When I finally reached the summit, I was right behind one of the Mexican climbers, with her friend just behind me! When she reached the concrete summit marker, she dropped her ice-axe, knelt in front of it, and kissed it. When I got there I let out a whoop and she joined in, fist bumped me, then gave me a hug! Then her friend arrived and I got a second fist bump and hug! I loved the camaderie. We hung out together on the summit for 10 or 15 minutes, chatting on and off (I learned some about the topography and the neighboring peaks), then I started getting cold so I turned back to start the long descent.
I'd left the Spanish climbers far behind by this point, so I turned on some music on my phone speaker and jazzed my way down. The glacier was still a little spooky, but the steps they kicked in proved very helpful on my way out! Maybe halfway to the hut, I started to feel some symptoms of altitude sickness. I was feelin a little nauseated, which grew worse with effort, and I started to feel strained even while walking down-hill. Before the long 800ft scramble/scree descent to the hut, I lay down for maybe 10 minutes and definitely had a cat-nap. I didn't feel to much better when I decided it was time to go, but I knew that the best way to feel better was to lose altitude and drink water. I was running low on water and was rationing it, so really the only thing I could do was lose altitude, even if moving made me feel like crap.
When I finally made it to the hut at about 1:15pm, B greeted me all chipper after having slept in and rested all morning. He gave me some of his spare water and an apple, which, combined with laying down for a while, had me feeling significantly better in no time! We packed up all our gear, then headed back down for the trailhead at last. After reaching the trailhead, we had to wait a little while, but eventually we were able to hitch a ride on a truck carrying a bunch of locals. We were really jammed in there, such that B and I had to stand with our bags on our feet, which made the 6 kilometers back to Wells pretty long, but soon we were finally back and we had an ambrosial dinner courtesy of one of the food stalls at the parking area!
Getting the summit of Ixta was definitely right at my limit, I seriously had to push myself to make it happen. While the glacier was a little sketchy, I feel like it was under control the whole time and I learned a ton from having done it! I'm really proud to have gotten it done and excited to do more in the future :)
1/2/2024 - 1/4/2024
We had completed the meat of our plans for Mexico, and we only had one stop left: Tajin! B had never visited this ruins because it lies off the path of where he usually goes when he visits Mexico, so he was stoked on it. On our way there, we drove on the highway outside Mexico City, and we got pulled over by cops. I knew we were going to be hassled like they had hassled me and Kelly two years ago(read about how that went), so I felt pretty well prepared to deal with their crap again. Plus, B had told me a nice trick to expedite such encounters: pretend you don't speak or understand any Spanish! We did just that, and it was easy as pie. They tried to levy a 9,000 peso 'fine' (about $400us, which is ridiculous), over whatever pretenses they could find to be honest. They tried taking issue with a fun blue light I got in Ciudad Oaxaca, that the van was technically a work van (it's my personal vehicle), and that we have to have a permit to drive on Mexico City roads (not on highways you don't!). I knew all that was bullshit, but they insisted that they had to impound Wells and they would keep him there until we payed the fine. I just said 'okay, that's fine' and they asked where I planned to go? Did I plan to go back to the US? and I told them I was going to stay with Wells, of course! Eventually it just came down to them asking if I'd pay the fine, and I told them I would pay it if they could give me a paper ticket for the fine. They said no they couldn't do that, so will I pay the fine? And I returned to how I wouldn't pay the 'fine' without a paper ticket. This went back and forth maybe 2 times before one of them said I was good to go and we left. The whole ordeal only took about half an hour!
Trying real hard not to get a big head from the experience.
From there we ripped it to a camp spot right near Tajin, then got up bright and early to check out the ruins! they were beautiful and expansive, but honestly didn't hold a candle to Monte Alban, especially in terms of infrastructure quality. There was ONE informational plaque at Tajin, and it was so old as to be completely ilegible; I couldn't even tell if it had any English on it at any point. It was fun to explore though, but we were both done after maybe 3 hours. There were about 4 or 5 times as many vendors at Tajin than there were at Monte Alban though, so B and I had a grand time wandering the booths looking at all their wares! I got some more gifts for friends and some tasty Mexican vanilla flavored liquor.
After we finished there, we took off for the US, and the rest is history! Getting back to the US wasn't too bad, just lots of waiting on bureacracy at the border which lost us several hours.
As of now, I'm writing this post in Las Cruces, New Mexico where I'm catching up on life. I'm getting ready for school on the 10th, giving Wells a much needed bath, doing laundry, checking email, doing all the things!
Next up I'm doing some climbing in Arizona, then hanging out with a friend from High School in Los Angeles.