Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tabor Canyon Hike - with Three Men and a Baby

Sometime before I began to write the Living Loreto Blog, I went on a memorable hike with some neighbors up the Tabor Canyon which drains a large section of the Sierra Gigante Mountains, and is accessible near the highway about 10 km south of the Loreto Bay development.  That trip has remained a fond memory from my "pre-Blog" days here, and so recently, when one of my friends and neighbors was telling me about his experience doing the same climb, I asked him if he would be interested in writing a Guest Blog about this adventure – and I’m happy to report he said yes! Enjoy the results that follow:

If you read Drew’s first blog of the season, from October last year, I am the “Grant” that successfully drove with Drew for 4 days from Calgary to Loreto. Drew on the other hand would probably say that he successfully drove the trip with me! Nevertheless, Drew and I got to know each other quite well on this trip and all as I can say - we have no secrets - we are “bros”!

So when he asked me to write a Guest Blog about my recent hike in the Tabor Canyon I was easily persuaded at the time.  However, on my return home, I have been procrastinating for several weeks, but, I have now finally put pen to paper (fingers to keys?) but I must admit that I write this with much sadness - looking out of my office window (back home in Edmonton) at 3 ft of snow and temperatures dipping to minus 25 Celsius - I miss my time in Loreto very much!

My story begins about a month ago, as my son Tony (age 19) and I bid goodbye to the women in our family (my wife Joanne, my daughter Robyn, and her friend Megan) after we had all spent two weeks together in Loreto this Christmas. Tony and I had the good fortune of being able to stay an extra week while the two younger girls had to return home to Edmonton and attend high school.

One of the highlights during this week of father son bonding was a hike we did through the Tabor Canyon which is located about a 15 minute drive south of Loreto Bay. I always wanted to do this hike (which is considered one of the areas most impressive natural features) but I had heard that you needed a guide to navigate the large boulders and steep slopes.

Fortunately I was able to retain my good friend Robert (a local Loreto Bay homeowner, self proclaimed boat captain and now, mountain guide) who had hiked the canyon on at least 4 occasions. After stocking up with water, we jumped in Robert’s vehicle in the early afternoon and drove to the trail head at the base of the canyon near Porto Escondido. To get to the start of the hike you turn off the highway opposite to the Porto Escondido turnoff and follow the concrete viaduct until you can’t drive any further.

After we parked at the base of the canyon we met Kurt from Seattle, an avid bird watcher who was camping at Porto Escondido and had heard about the hike from other campers.  Armed with binoculars and a bird identification book, Kurt asked if he could join our group, admitting he had no idea where he was going.  As it turned out, Kurt never looked at a single bird through his binoculars on the whole trip - he was too busy watching his feet on the rough trail ahead.

Before I get into the details of the hike – let me give you some background about the canyon. From my rough estimate, the canyon is about 3 miles long with an elevation increase of over 1000 ft.  Not for the faint of heart, the hike requires scrambling over huge boulders, pools of water and scaling steep ridges strewn with crumbling rock.  At the higher elevations there are beautiful views to the ocean across Puerto Escondido.  My guide, Robert, said that the round-trip typically takes about six hours including rest stops.

The first part of the hike was the easiest as we jumped from boulder to boulder maneuvering the canyon slopes and the huge dry granite cauldrons had been carved by the runoff from torrential downpours collected in the mountain ranges above. But as we progressed further up the canyon the hike became more challenging as the trail deteriorated and at several places disappeared or seemed to be impassable.

However, the greatest challenge was just beyond the half way point where we encountered a huge cluster of boulders (as big as buses) that seemed impenetrable. As the rookies on the climb, we were ready to turn back, but Robert assured us that there was indeed a route through this massive obstacle. Bird dogging on our behalf, Robert left the group and confidently looked for a passage.  A few minutes later we heard a faint hollow “here it is” that sounded like someone talking from the bottom of a well.  To our amazement he had found the route through a series of very tight, dark crevasses that we later named the “Birthing Canal” for reasons that will become clear.

When I say that the passage was tight, I mean it was very tight! In fact, I had to throw my pack ahead, suck in my gut and use a rope to get through the 30 ft long by 2 ft wide squeeze. After I had made it through what we had christened the “Canal” it was then the turn for our new companion Kurt, and finally, my son Tony.

Tony’s journey through the “Canal” is a story on its own. Being Tony’s father, I can tell you that, as a child he was somewhat claustrophobic and so you can understand that he was not too thrilled about squeezing through a 2 ft wide crack between boulders the size of a house. But, in the spirit of the adventure, and with the competitive pressure of the three men who had preceded him, he carried on with great courage.

For me, his proud (and concerned) Father, it was almost like watching his re-birth when he eventually popped his head out of the now named “Birth Canal” and said “I did it dad, my fears are gone”. It was at that moment that I knew we were now bonded by this experience - Three Men and a Baby!

But this passage only marked the half way point of our hike and from this point on you really get rewarded for your efforts. Every few minutes I paused to look back and immerse myself, in the beautiful views of the sea of Cortez which unfolded more dramatically below us, as we climbed steadily higher. The higher we climbed the narrower and steeper the canyon walls became and many of the eroded pools cut into the solid rock were now filled with water – some of them were even large enough to swim in.

Due to our late start, we ended up hiking about half of the upper leg, before the light started go, and we began the long climb back down. Robert said that the remainder of the hike went on for about another mile beyond where we stopped before you reached a 1000 ft headwall that marked the end of the trail. By the time we had returned to where we had parked the truck, the total hike had taken about three hours with the return trip taking about half the time of the climb up.

Now I have done a fair amount of hiking in my life but this was a spectacular experience! Here in Loreto’s glorious Tabor Canyon, surrounded by boulders the size of a bus, I felt as though I was not only in a different world, but in another era as well. After having owned my home in Loreto Bay since 2004, and have visited many places in the surrounding area, this was my most memorable experience so far! Therefore, I can encourage any of you who are lucky enough to visit this amazing part of the world – the Tabor Canyon is a must see – but, if you are planning to make the climb let me offer the following tips:

• Tell somebody where you are going and when you are expected back

• For your first trip have someone with experience guide you

• Wear good hiking shoes

• Bring lots of water

• Wear long pants

• Plan your hike for early in the day