Thursday, September 3, 2009

Barranca Yerba Buena Part 4 - Top of the upper falls

Upper falls of Barranca Yerba Buena. After my recent focus on Ajijic, I thought I would catch up on a few of the wonderful hikes we have been taking this summer. You can see our first three hikes to this canyon in the index under Hiking. Look for Barranca Yerba Buena Parts 1,2,&3. After those hikes, word spread about this wonderful waterfall-filled canyon south of Lake Chapala. We filled three 4x4 vehicles with a motley crew of hikers to make the climb from the eastern side of the plateau, a route we had not yet attempted. Our goal was to find a farm road that would take us up onto the plateau to the trail head leading up to the Inner Falls. We wanted to attempt a descent into the basin of the falls, if we could find a route.

So far, so good. After parking the cars we started up a promising farm road. Our only map was a Google Earth satellite photo, a method requiring some serious the photo interpretation skills since what might appear to be a road could simply be the shadow of a stone wall. I hoped we wouldn't spend the morning stumbling through various wrong turns and briar patches before finding the route up into the Barranca.

Raul, local farmer and guide extraordinaire. We passed through a farm gate and almost immediately encountered the farmer. Patricia, a fellow hiker who is a Mexican dentist from Guadalajara, immediately stepped forward and began translating our questions, adding a few of her own. I wondered if Raul, the farmer, might be put off by our effrontery in wandering through his land. Once again, I completely misjudged the attitude of Mexican country people in this area. Raul turned out to be a very friendly guy. He not only advised us of the best route to the canyon entrance, but he dropped his spraying equipment to the ground and announced that he would guide us. This was done with the nonchalance of someone saying he would walk us down to the end of the block to show us where we could buy a beer. This turned out to be a rugged 4 hour hike.

Stone water trough, site of our previous encounter with a celery-loving burro. On our Part 3 hike, we were approached by a friendly burro at this spot, so I knew we were on the right path into the canyon. Bob, a hiker not with us this time, had introduced the burro to its first experience with peanut butter-topped celery. Bob made a friend for life and gained the nickname "Celery Man". Notice the natural materials used for the trough and the fence. Rough but serviceable.

South side of Cerro Garcia, a view few Gringo Lakesiders ever get. This view is to the northwest from the rising plateau as we climbed. Cerro Garcia is a very prominent feature--the highest peak actually on the lake-- when it is viewed from across the Lake on the north side of Lake Chapala. Few Gringos who live there have any idea that this lovely valley lies behind Garcia and the other mountains which rim the south side of the Lake. This valley continues west until it joins the dry lakes and the cuota which run north and south between Guadalajara and Colima.

Becca, who has become one of the "regulars". Becca is a skilled outdoorswoman who also kayaks and is learning to rock-climb and rappel. Many of the regular hikers carry dual hiking poles that look like ski poles without the little ring at the bottom. This not only gives them extra stability on trails with tricky footing, but using the poles while they climb allows them to utilize their upper body strength and take some of the load off their legs. I'm a bit more "low-tech" and just use an old stick I found in the woods. Each to his/her own.

Upper Falls through the trees. As we climbed higher into the inner canyon we began to get glimpses of the Upper Falls. Near here, we tried to find a way down into the basin. The going was very steep and, because of recent rain, very slippery. A few of our more experienced climbers scouted ahead. After a bit, they reported that while there might be a way down, it just looked too dangerous given the number hikers in our party who had little or no rock climbing experience. While some of us were disappointed at not achieving our goal, others were clearly relieved. Raul, who climbed like a mountain goat even in his cowboy boots and never seemed out of breath, suggested that there were places up ahead that we might still want to see.

Christina on the verge. Raul lead us around the rim of the canyon and down to where the water fall drops over the edge into the pool far below. Christina, above, was a young German who was passing through the area looking for adventure. She found it when she hooked up with us at the beginning of our hike. Here she is sitting on the very edge of a large flat table of rock overlooking the falls and the pool about 150 feet below. The rock was about the size of a standard living room and easily accommodated our whole group for rest and lunch and enjoyment of the spectacular view. The drop immediately to her right is 90 degrees, straight down.

View from the table rock above the Inner Falls. The view is due north. The mountains in the background are the back side of those seen when looking south across the lake from the north shore. In the foreground, the canyon stretches out in the distance toward the small town of Citala and the valley.

Till, Christina's German boyfriend, stands at the precipice enjoying the view. Till and Christina were very nice, very polite young people and hiking with them was a real pleasure. I think Till enjoyed freaking out some of our party by his fearlessness on the edge. To his left is the sheer cliff face which stretched down to the pool below.

Water cascades from the creek over the edge and down in a brown-white mist. This shot was taken from across the canyon facing the waterfall. Due to a tree which blocked our view, you couldn't see more than the mist of the fall from the table rock where we sat, but we could certainly hear it. The Inner Falls were to our left and perhaps 8 or 10 feet lower than the table rock.

Raul, at his ease. When I think of Raul, this is how I see him: relaxed, with a gentle smile on his face. He was tireless, and we could barely keep up with him. I think he was amused at the antics of the strange group of Gringos he had adopted. Although he had brought no food along, he politely refused all that was offered to him until someone finally persuaded him to accept an apple.

Even on a sheer rock cliff, life persists. This rock overhang on the right side of the table rock managed to support all kinds of plant life, and probably some small animals too.

Close-up of rock face. Some of these plants resemble spider plants I used to grow in my California apartment years ago. There are also several varieties of lichens on the rock. Life will always find a way, even in the most inhospitable places.

Shallow cave on the cliffside. About half way up the cliff across from us was a shallow cave. One hiker was convinced that some markings on the cave were made by humans. I shot this at extreme telephoto range and then blew it up in my computer. The markings turned out to be plant roots. I wasn't surprised, because the cave seemed so inaccessible from below or above. Raul told us that back in the 1970s, some young people in the area had grown marijuana in the bottom of the canyon, because it was so difficult to reach. He also told of an older legend. Long ago, a campesino had stolen some treasure from a rich hacienda owner in the area. He climbed into the canyon and hid it in a cave such as this one. The treasure, as in all good treasure stories, has never been found. Raul said that one can still find the metal pitons pounded into the cliff face by those who attempted to climb up and find it. I love it that our Barranca has a treasure story! Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!

Back on the farm, at Raul's casita. Casita literally means "little house". Raul had built this from the voluminous quantity of stones in his fields. He added some posts to hold up the tile roof and left the front open for the view down the valley. Then he surrounded the little yard with the stone wall in the foreground. He had a bunk for sleeping, a few sawed-off logs for seats, and a sheet of metal over a circle of stones for cooking. The cabin was very cozy, if rustic. Raul actually lives in Citala, but uses this place when he wants to work late on his little farm, or when he just wants to sit in splendid solitude and enjoy his million-dollar view.

Rustic building methods, but they work. The posts were simply forked trees, with log crosspieces. The whole thing was tied together with twine. This being rural Mexico, it wasn't fancy, but there was very little expense involved.

We drove into Citala, thirsting for cold cerveza. We stopped at what has become our favorite little tienda. The owner seemed very happy at the sudden flood of Gringo customers with ready money. As we waited for our beer, these two young boys came by leading their horses. The one in front is only a child, but the horse knew who was boss and placidly followed his lead. This was pretty much the only traffic on the street, except for us.

The final reward. After a hard day's hike, nothing goes better than a cold drink and a rest on a rustic bench. Now that we have been back several times over the summer, the locals have stopped looking at us like we are space aliens. They nod and smile and raise a cerveza to us in greeting. We'll be back. This concludes Part 4 of the Barranca Yerba Buena posting. Please share the link to this blog with others if you'd like, and leave a comment below or send me an email if you enjoyed this.

This completes Part 4 of my Barranca Yerba Buena series. Comments are welcome.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. My first opportunity to ENJOY! your Diane

  2. Glad I found your blog. My husband and I are planning on moving to Mexico, and your posts on Querétaro were very informative.

  3. As usual - great pitures and great commentary

  4. Now this is one thing--exploring by foot--that I really enjoy and look forward to continuing in Mexico. Thanks for the inspiration, Jim.


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