Saturday, September 26, 2009

Climbing the cliffs of San Esteban - Part 1

Rugged cliffs and monoliths rim the hills overlooking San Esteban. This posting is Part 1 of a 2 part series on our hike into the cliffs of San Esteban. Several weeks ago, some of the more experienced hikers from both the Tuesday and Friday hiking groups teamed up to try our hands at the rugged cliffs above San Esteban. The little town lies a few miles to the north of Guadalajara. Robert, our rock climbing expert, brought his ropes and equipment in hopes of finding interesting climbs and rappels. San Esteban lies in a valley at the base of a hill which rises almost vertically about 1000 feet just behind the town. The top 500 feet or so of the hill is honeycombed with boulders, monoliths, and sheer rock faces.

Setting off through gorgeous farm country. About 15 of us piled into several vehicles and set off on this adventure. Larry, shown above, is a stalwart of the Tuesday group. Our route out of San Esteban took us along this dirt road, running along the base of the cliffs. Notice the fence posts. Mexican farmers don't waste money on expensive store-bought posts when a dead tree limb can suffice.

Mexican "fence post" cactus reminds us that we are in semi-desert. Although the country around us was lush with grass, corn or and other plants, large "fence post" cactus was also present. The cactus gains its name because it is sometimes planted in lieu of fences. Given its fearsome spines, it would be a good deterrent to straying livestock.

Large bee at work pollinating. This fellow was about the size of a large marble and completely ignored me as I moved in to photograph him at work. I am not sure what the flower is. Any enlightenment that can be offered would be appreciated

Dam resting quietly with a new kid. A female goat with young kids is called a dam in English. Females without kids are called does or nannies. In Spanish, a goat is called a cabra and a kid is a cabrito. We have found goats everywhere we have visited in Western Mexico. Goats arrived in Mexico with the Spanish. The hardy breed needs little maintenance, eats plants that will kill sheep or cattle, and produces hides, hair, meat and milk.Special restaurants called birreria serve cabrito, a delicacy here. It's pretty good.

Morning glories adorn a rustic fence post along our way. I have found Morning Glories everywhere I have hiked in Western Mexico. There are more than 1000 species, many of which are native to the Americas. They are found in temperate and tropical regions. What is typical of the Morning Glory is the trumpet shaped flower which opens in the morning--hence the name. The flower lasts only a day, but the plant is a prolific producer of flowers.

Cliffs of San Esteban. Periodically, through the trees, we caught sight of the rugged cliffs lining the ridge as we walked along the farm road. They formed an impressive rampart through which we had to find our way.

Finally, an opening. Robert, who had climbed here before, acted as our guide. After a mile or so, he found a faint trail through the thick underbrush and we turned up hill. Although the distance to the top of the ridge was not great, the way was steep. However, after 2 years of hiking and climbing in this area's rugged 5000-8000 foot mountains, I felt confident of my stamina.

A timid character. About half way up, the terrain leveled out into a plateau where cattle grazed. Our trail took us through the middle of the herd. This timid calf was very anxious about finding us between him and his mother. As soon as he could, he rushed over to her. He was quite handsome, I thought, with his large, beautiful, dark eyes and tawny hide. Since he weighed 2-3 times more than any of us, was armed with small but potentially effective horns, he could have been dangerous. But he was very young and frightened and so not very menacing.
Brahman cattle like this one originated in India and were brought to Mexico because they adjust well to the heat and are highly disease resistant.

A not-so-timid character. The bull of the herd was not amused. He watched us with a distinctly disapproving expression. Our strange appearance and accoutrements probably baffled him enough to prevent any menacing moves. Although this photo makes it appear I was close enough to tickle him under the chin, it is actually a telephoto shot. Contrary to some opinions, I am not that stupid.

Another critter, a bit smaller this time. My friend Tom is a regular Tuesday hiker and retired dermatologist. He found this little fellow on one of our rest breaks. I wanted to ask him a dermatologist question: do frogs give warts, or is it just toads? The frog is quite small, as you can see from the hairs on Tom's arm. If there are any amphibian experts out there, I would appreciate a name for this critter. (Photo by C. Jordan English).

And now, a giant. We were amazed by the size of some of the Oak leaves on the ground. As you can see, this one is several times the size of my boot. Oak forests lined the tops of the ridges overlooking San Esteban, as they do the mountain ridges overlooking Ajijic where I live. (Photo by C. Jordan English)

A rugged, rocky landscape. At this point we had entered the realm of the rocks. Strange and beautiful formations rose up all around us. I like rocks. This attraction has always puzzled Carole. Part of it is my interest in geology. However, I think mostly I just enjoy the lines and shapes and the pleasure of clambering up some formation to see what is on top.

Blue beauties among the rocks. These almost irredescent blue blossoms nicely set off the gray-brown of the rocks. They seemed to flourish near the crest of the ridge. Another flower needing a name.

More interesting formations emerged as we got higher. Tom (L.) and Bob (R.) clambered up to this slot in a rock face, looking for a trail. Bob is a retired veterinarian and former cowboy who has an endless stock of hilarious stories about his adventures in both professions.

Not yet ready for glory. This Morning Glory had not yet opened for business, as the sun had just reached its hiding place among the rocks.

A vast landscape opens before us. At this point we had reached a saddle in the ridge, and were beginning to move toward the giant monoliths higher up. Looking northeast, distant mountain ranges loom in the background. Asked to describe Mexico, an early conquistador simply crumpled up a piece of paper and tossed it on the table. Much of Mexico is covered by mountain ranges, separated by valleys, large and small. This rugged landscape resulted in native cultures and languages developing separately from one another. Mexico still has over 60 distinct languages among its indigenous people.

Taking a break before taking on the monoliths. We stopped to rest in this saddle near the top of the ridge. The area was a jumble of boulders of various dimensions, but it afforded us blessed shade from the hot mid-day sun.

This completes Part 1 of "Climbing the cliffs of San Esteban". In Part 2, we move through a weird world of boulders and monoliths. Rock climbing and rappelling are on the agenda, and for some among us it would be the first time. I will post Part 2 in about a week. Stay tuned!

I hope you have enjoyed this first part. Feel free to pass along the link to this blog to friends and family. If you'd like to leave a comment, you can do so either by emailing me at, or by putting it in the comments section below. If you leave a question in the comments section, please make sure you include your email address so I can reply.

Hasta luego! Jim

No comments:

Post a Comment

If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim