Adventures in the Mexican state of Chiapas

Behind the Scenes Instagram Gallery:

NOTE: This is part #1 of a two part Mexico Adventure. Read about the Mexico City adventure here (coming soon). 

Who: Caitlin and Myself meeting up with Matt Jurjonas, and Lesly

When: January 11th thru 16th, 2014

Trip Overview:

Boom!…..we flinch as another loud explosion surprises us with its proximity. The hard part is telling if it the originator is a firecracker or an old backfiring VW Bug. Considering the frequency of both in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas it doesn’t really matter.

Pictured below is the incredible city of San Cristobal De Las Casas right at sunset, situated at over 7,000ft:

San Cristobal De Las Casas

It is the end of our first full day and we have situated ourselves at the top of the most prominent hill in the city predominately occupied by the elegant Guadalupe Church. This vantage point is excellent for the sunset but also highlights the cities many sounds, the most common being the unpredictable firework commonly thrown from rooftops, tossed in alleyways or lit off in the main square. Our attention is quickly directed back into soaking in the sunset just as the Sunday night catholic choir starts singing in the background.

The Colorful European Inspired street of”Real de Guadalupe” downtown San Cristobal de Las Casas:

The Colorful streets of San Cristobal de Las Casas

Our first day set the pace for a furious six day trip into the wilds of the Mexican state of Chiapas. A trip interacting with the people living and surviving off of the jungle land, where we witnessed the junction of incredible wildlands with modern survival. A trip into the past and the similarities to the present.

San Cristobal De Las Casas:

Of all of the Mexican cities I have now spent time in (9 major cities), this is one of the most unique and by far the prettiest. Beautiful colonial style architecture with a mountainous jungle back-drop. The City is filled with numerous cafe-lined plazas, cobble-stoned streets full of food vendors, markets, and plenty of charm. Several times we found ourselves drinking cafe or cerveza and enjoying the sights and the common performance of jazz bands on any one of the major plazas. The Market in San Cristobal de Las Casas featuring the freshest food you can find such as recently plucked chickens awaiting the many charcoal grills:

Chickens at the Market in San Christobal de Las Casas

Every meal in this city was amazing. Tacos were the specialty and it is hard to pass up “Al Pastor”, pork seared by flame and served with pineapple. Below at Tacos Del Meson the chef slaves over the heat of the grill while serving up our dinner (pineapple slice is in mid-air):

 Tacos Al Pastor at Tacos Del Meson

We took a horesback ride to the city of San Juan Chamula which is unique as the city is autonomous in many forms from the Mexican government. Most of this is due to the indigenous culture that lives there which is an interesting blend of Catholicism and Indigenous beliefs, as such the town doesn’t allow photography as it is believed photos rob their souls. The main church was enchanting as the dark space contains numerous saint figurines, the floors are covered with pine boughs and is filled with incense and candles. The horseback ride to the city was pretty through the countryside full of hard-working families. Lesly on her horse as we approach the city of San Juan Chamula:

Horesback ride to San Juan Chamula

Two weeks prior to our arrival in the Chiapas region was the 20th year anniversary of a major revolution in the area. At the start of the new year in 1994, “Zapatistas” liberation soldiers stormed several Mexican military outposts in the region in protest of the “North American Free Trade Agreement” resulting in several days of intense military fighting. Caitlin and I were unaware of this history until NPR and others started broadcasting 20 year anniversary specials of the conflict, NAFTA, and making a big-deal of the current situation.
Decidedly, the media always makes things out to be bigger then they are and upon arriving in the area the many “ELZN” graffiti signs were noted, the countryside school grounds built by ELZN and the numerous anti-P.R.I. signs were prevalent, but outwards negative sentiment was not present. All the people we encountered were really amazing and trying to thrive through farming, trading and bartering. The countryside has taken a beating from all of the agriculture through extensive deforestation (we even encountered palm-oil plantations in the middle of national parks), and hopefully the sentiment of being self-sufficient continues and results in better management of the natural landscape.
Horseback Riding in the Countryside Surrounding San Christobal de Las Casas: 
Horseback riding the Countryside of Chaipas
Our last night in Chiapas we upgraded from the ~$7/night hostel thing to $20/night actual hotel room. We probably should have upgraded sooner…

Lagos De Montebello and Mayan Ruins of Chinkultic:

A long day’s drive and we finally got out to stretch our legs at the mayan ruins of Chinkultic. On the road in we made the biggest mistake of the trip by not picking up the 11 year old kid running alongside the car, corn bits and chocolate smeared on his face, trying to sell us his “guiding” services. Instead at the visitor center our selection of guides was a single toothless, middle-aged man who was a few days overdue for a shower; we respectfully declined his services and explored on our own. The ruins of Chinkultic are set high in an amazing valley surrounded by water and an elegant design. Ball courts and art with the original pigments are features in this off the path complex.

A Park Ranger sitting on the edge of the ruins that has a commanding view of the surrounding landscape: 

the Ruins of Chinkultic

At the end of the day we found ourselves at the lake we planned on camping at, the unexpected part was that the area you normally camp at was under water with the surrounding ground saturated. Caitlin and I scavenged for pine boughs to attempt to create a dry layer to set-our tent on (which worked quite well). We enjoyed a nice evening cooking on a campfire in solidarity on the lake.

The second day of exploring revealed these amazing Lakes:

Lagos de Montebello

Everyone in Mexico is Trying to Sell you Something (even building road bumps to slow you down long enough to run alongside your car), these girls were trying to sell us Catholic religion at the parking lot of one of the Lagos: 

Missionaries

We had a brief escapade into the country of Guatemala. It was muddy, rainy, full of chickens, and ended with a delicious meal…bucket list checked!

Food is always an important task while traveling and luckily for us there was an abundance of it everywhere. On the border of Guatemala we stuffed ourselves on chorizo and beans stuffed inside a corn patty while situated in a roadside shack just outside of the rain. As pointed out to us by the proud host was that the corn was directly from her small farm situated on the hill behind us. This older lady also explained to us the “reverse rainy season” where in the mountains (ie San Christobal de Las Casas) it was dry and the lowlands (border of Guatemala and our current location) was rainy.  We sat enjoying a hot lunch out of the rain while this hard-working woman of Chiapas says a few words in passing to the ladies cooking our lunch:  

Hardworking people everywhere

Cascada El Chiflon:

After a cold morning exploring the Lagos we drove for a few hours to explore this waterfall park we read about. The single most amazing natural sight that we visited was the Bridal Veil Falls at Cascada El Chiflon. The hike in along the nicely paved path in the best organized park we had visited went something like this: parking lot, beer stand, waterfall, picnic areas, beer stand, water fall, water fall, zip-line, big-ass waterfall. Those beer stands were excellent on the way back!

Myself pictured below on the closest observation deck below Velo de Novia Falls (ie Bridal Veil falls) which felt like you were front-row in a car-wash with the speakers blaring: 

Cascada El Chiflon with Rainbow

We hiked to the top of the waterfall as well, which we found yet another waterfall!

Caving Trip to Correrado:

The path was coated in slippery mud as we pushed through the darkness. Every 10-15 mins we would encounter a obstacle that required us to rock-climb over, crawl under, or carefully traverse along with the limestone rocks coated in this thick mud making this not for the faint of heart.  Of course we are deep in a ancient cave system where a river once flowed strong following a rare underground circular cave system. We were the only Americans in a group of ~12 with the others being from France, Germany, New Zealand, and Mexico with most being about our same age. Following a guide that Rambo knew from living in the city, we continued to climb-up this ancient underground waterway.

The course of events changed quickly once we rappelled into a massive underground cavern. At this point we joined up with the river and began a journey down the new underground waterway carved out by a more recent millennia of rushing water. Our first obstacle was tackled by the lone Frenchman in the group as he jumped off of a 15 ft waterfall into the dark pool below. I quickly followed to ward off the nervousness and upon splashing into the water realized this had just turned into a very fun adventure. The following several hours consisted of numerous cliff jumps (some in the range of ~40ft), rappel’s down slippery waterfalls, swimming under obstacles, shivering in the cold water,  and more cliff jumps. At the large jumps we would cheer each other on and finally got the Mexican mother on the trip to take one of the larger plunges! One last rappel brought us down the final waterfall and into the mouth of the cave where we started. Exhausted, cold, and very happy with this surprise trip.

Climbing the Cliffs of Paredes de Copoya:

Our last day in Chiapas was spent climbing the wonderful sandstone cliffs outside the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. We did some laps on routes, drank Indio, ate chips+beans+salsa, and enjoyed one last day outside.

 Hiking into Paredes de Copoya we were presented with some beautiful forest: 

Hiking into the Climbing Area Paredes de Copoya

Rambo showing us how it is done on the cliffs:

Climbing at Paredes de Copoya

 Conclusion: 

Chaipas is a beautiful place that warrants a potential spot on your list of adventures. Geographically it is spread-out, however the natural wonders of the land are quite amazing. Add in that the rock-climbing is just being established here (plenty of adventurous options) and that San Christobal de Las Casas is worth the visit by itself, and you have a deep cultural and adventure based destination.

Las Vegas Dreaming: Bouldering at the Kraft Boulders and Windy Peak

When: Sat November 16th thru Tues November 19th, 2013

Who: Chris, Hannah, Myself, Beans, Sasquatch and Zion

Where: Red Rocks Park just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada staying mainly at the Red Rocks Campground

What: A long weekend exploring and climbing in one incredible desert

Beautiful and Prickly — Barrel Cactus found in the Wilds of Red Rocks:

Barrel Cactus in Red Rocks Nevada

Day #1: The Kraft Boulders:

An early Saturday morning arrival to Las Vegas had us out to the Kraft Boulders before mid-day and right as everyone else decided to show. Pulling into the parking lot we knew that it was going to be a busy day at the boulders which is understandable considering it’s proximity to the city, convenience of parking, and an simple access trail to the huge boulder field surrounding the base of the mountain. After checking out a few key boulders on our hike in we settled in at a isolated boulder in the Gateway Canyon section where we spent several hours exploring the area’s problems.

As the day quickly progress the shade quickly engulfed our location. We moved back around the bend to the main cluster and played around on many more boulders, met lots of people who were visiting like we were, and had Sasquatch occasionally bark at the roaming packs of pad-people. Additionally we encountered an large amount of an unique flower bush that I was lucky enough to document the many different species observed (link to picture).

Kraft Boulders Red Rocks

Being in the desert this time of the year is a sensory overload. Direct sun with no breeze and it was 100 degrees, 10 mins later as the sun dips behind the peak you have to put on pants and a heavy jacket.

 Kraft Boulders at Sunset

Day #2: Windy Peak Boulders: 

Bumping down a dirt road for 20 mins is apparently all we needed to separate ourselves from the hustle and bustle of the previous day. After being around 50-70 climbers the day prior it was a relief to be the lone car parked at the trailhead for the Windy Peak boulders. A simple hike through amazing terrain found us at the Fish Head boulder. This 30 min hike was only slowed-down by the youngest dog in the group, Zion, as not having any idea what was causing all of that prickly pain.

Hiking into Windy Peak Bouldering Area

Only a dog with the name of Beans would still be smiling during the process of ripping cactus thorns from his pads:

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The Fish Head boulder is one of the most beautiful massive chunks of rock I have seen. Perched high on the hillside, it is easy to see from the parking lot and features a corridor of perfect climbs, perfect landings, and a great spot to hang-out in the sun.

Fish Head Boulder Red Rocks Nevada

Step inside the Fish Head boulder and one begins to see the true beauty. The climbing is a long wall of  progressively taller problems ranging in the moderate grade. Overhanging these climbs is the upper mouth of the Fish head making for an  impressive backdrop like none I have ever seen before.

The Starting Hold of Bait and Tackle, a perfect V1 with an incredible backdrop:

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Hannah Sending

Chris sending Mas Mu (v6), a striking problem right in the middle of the corridor:

Mas Mu v6 Red Rocks Sequence

The winter days are short and we climbed as long and as late as our hunger allowed attempting to spend every possible minute absorbing this boulder-strewn valley.

Fish Head Boulder

Moving our way back to the car we stopped at the Sting boulder, moving again as the sun began to fade. We scoped the Le Cheval area for future missions and finished out the session in the moonless dark on the Warm-up boulder.

Hiking out the moon rose and lit the path through the thick and wild lands of the desert:

Windy Peak Bouldering Hiking in the Dark

Day #3: Rest Day + Evening Session at Kraft + the Strip: 

Monday morning we woke up pretty sore from the previous 2 full days of climbing, packed-up camp, and headed to a local Disc Golf course for some fun. Great little course that was perfect for stretching the muscles but not overly exerting yourself.

Las Vegas Disc Golf at Mountain Crest Park

Just as the evening began to come upon us we headed back to the Kraft boulders, passing the crowds as they departed. A brief sunset singled as the last climbers left the area and we began our session. We climbed for 3 hours past sunset in solitude spending time on the Potato Chips boulder, the Warm-up Boulders, and the Barndoor boulder.

Sunset at the Kraft Boulders

The Glow of Las Vegas as Chris sends the dynamic Dusty Coffee (v4) on the Barndoor boulder: 

Kraft Boulders at Nighttime

High-Fiving an awesome trip:

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Three day’s climbing in the Red Rocks desert has really inspired me to make sure I come back and continue to explore.

Palisade Wine Tour by Bike and Fruita MTB

When: October 12th-14th, 2014

Where: Palisade, Colorado and Fruita, Colorado

Who: Giant Crew: Paige, Bobby, Andrew, Whitney, Ben, Beth, Dan, Cassie, Stephen, Sarah, Caitlin, and Myself

Trip Synopsis: 

  • Free Camping thanks to Government Shut-down — CHECK
  • Free Wine thanks to numerous awesome wineries — CHECK
  • Free workout courtesy of ~25 miles of biking on roads for free wine — CHECK
  • Free hang-over cure by Mountain Biking the beautiful trails of Fruita — CHECK

Whitney organized a weekend where we spent Saturday cruising through the wineries of Palisade and Sunday mountain-biking. Both were fantastic and we had perfect weather all weekend. A giant crew of us assembled in the desert just outside of Fruita which apparently was a popular thing to do that weekend (campground was over-flowing).

Palisade Wine Tour:

Wineries Visited:

Details:

The Whole Crew (less me the photographer) right after visiting Canyon Wind Cellars (and while still sober):

Palisade Wine Tour on Bikes

Enjoying the Front Yard of Canyon Wind Cellars:

Canyon Wind Cellars

Canyon Wind Cellars

Our crew taking up the whole road (it was mostly empty with no problems with the local vehicle traffic):

Palisade Wine Tour on Bike

Fruit Boxes along the road:

Wine Boxes in Palisade

The Beautiful Grounds of the Colterris Winery:

Colterris Winery Bike Tour

Bikes in front of the Outhouse at the very laid-back vineyard of Hermosa Vineyards:

Hermosa Vineyards Bike Parking

After visiting Hermosa vineyards we were pretty deep into our tastings and all a bit tipsy. The finally slog back down the valley to the cars (and Peach Pit Distillery) took us quite some time (at least an hour). Here is the river when we crossed it going back down to the cars.

Mountain Biking Fruita:

We all hit the sack early that night after our full-day touring the vineyards and the next morning woke-up to cool-temps and perfect weather for MTB. A crew that knew what they were doing took off and Caitlin and I decided to do Kesler’s run and circle back to camp. Well we deviated off of that plan and ended up doing Western Zippity (an additional 5-6 miles) before looping back to camp.

Caitlin bombing down the awesome Kessel Run (named after a Star War’s reference):

Kessel Run

Way-out in the middle of nowhere on the cross-country trail “Western Zippity”:

Western Zippity

Cassie on the upper-part of Kessel Run:

Kessel Run

Beautiful weekend on the western slope!

 

Backpacking the Cirque of Towers in the Wind River Range

Dates: July 4th-7th, 2013 (extended 4th of July weekend!)

Who: Caitlin and Andy

Where: Wind River Range Wyoming: Sandy Opening Trailhead

Trip Synopsis:

  • Day 1: Drive to Trailhead, arrive at 6pm, furiously backpack 6 miles into Big Sandy Lake before sunset
  • Day 2: Backpack over Jackass pass (~3.5 miles) into the Cirque of the Towers, explore the area
  • Day 3: Backpack over Texas Pass (no official trails), down into the next valley (~6 miles)
  • Day 4: Backpack back to the trailhead completing the loop (only 1/2 mile of duplicate trail!), ~9 miles of rolling alpine meadows. Drive home, stop at Farson for ice-cream, get back to Denver at 10pm.

Google Map Link

 

Cirque of the Towers Panoramic as viewed from Texas Pass:

Cirque of the Towers

 

DAY #1:

Six hours of driving through the desolate Wyoming plains and you begin to wonder if these mountains are just some sort of myth, or potentially a trap to lure unsuspecting tourists into the abandoned sections of Wyoming.  But, alas…eventually this dirt road turns into rolling hills and glimpses of large granite peaks begin to surface.

The Big Sandy Trail head was full of cars and we had an late arrival and an ambitious goal ahead. Our late arrival at the trail head was partially due to 4th of July celebrations the night before resulting in us not being fully packed until the morning of departure. Once we finally arrived, we threw our packs on, and furiously hiked the gradual steeping trail arriving at Big Sandy Lake just as sunset provided us a colorful evening.

Caitlin typically spends the 4th of July at Big Sandy lake in Minnesota, so she was glad that we made it to this Big Sandy Lake before this year’s 4th of July ended.

Big Sandy Lake with a Purple Sunset on our 1st Night:

Big Sandy Lake in the Wind River Range

DAY #2:

The next morning we had a very specific objective of climbing over Jackass Pass and camping within the actual Cirque. Jackass pass was beautiful and when one hikes it you understand the reasoning behind the name. The many ups and downs of the pass make sure that over the short distance you are getting a serious work-out. But all of that fades away once you catch a glimpse of the cirque. It was like I had never seen granite form such amazing shapes before.

Along the Trail up JackAss Pass:

Jackass Pass Wind River Range

The 1st Real Overlook of the Cirque with Wolf’s Head formation right behind us (it felt like you were at the top of the pass but there was still one major downhill then uphill before you were on the edge of the Cirque):

Cirque of the Towers from Jackass Pass

It took us about an hour per mile with breaks to get into the cirque (where the night before we did 1 mile per 20-25 mins). But once we were there it was as if we stepped into an isolated world. We weren’t the only ones there that weekend and it took some time to find a camping spot but where we set-up had some of the best views you could ask for.

Lunch Spot once we crossed over the pass and entered the Cirque:

Lunch Spot in the Cirque

Talking to a few other backpackers our age we found that there was a route over Texas Pass which was not marked on our map. After spending some time scoping it the night before we decided that we would change our route and go over this pass and make a circle back down to the trail head. We both went to bed excited for the unknown.

Day #3:

The next morning we awoke to a beautiful view and got ready to hit the trail early:

Pingora Peak Cirque of the Towers

The hike-up Texas Pass was one of the most beautiful sections of the trip. After rock-hopping through a massive boulder-field we criss-crossed a Swiss-like hillside full of flowers, lush grass, marmots, and dozens of little streams. We had joked that if we took a shot of whiskey every-time we crossed a stream we would have only made it 1/4 of the way up!

Caitlin leading the way on one of the many stream-crossings:

Texas Pass Cirque of the Towers

At the top of Texas Pass (picture of Texas Pass Continental Divide Sign) we had to cross a large snowfield but the views before that were the most rewarding of the trip. The actual pass is maybe a 100ft wide with steep walls causing quite a bit of wind to blow through there. At the top we saw relatively fresh Bear Scat, which is cool to see humans/animals on the same paths. On the other side it was a steep but relatively straight-forward walk down a massive glacial valley.

Billy’s Lake on the North side of the Cirque. The elevation change as we continued to head down the valley was subtle but impressive:

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A delicious lunch was had at the foot of Shadow Lake and we continued on the gentle trail for many miles only encountering two different NOLs groups. We set-up camp at the base on the valley in the middle of a number of beautiful little ponds along the river.

Campsite in the Wind River Range

A storm started brewing and we were prepping for dinner when we ran into a guy named Norm who was a good way into his Continental Divide Trail hike (read about his adventure here) (his specific trail-journal entry where he met-us).  A few minutes of talking and he was back on the trail trying to outrun the storm. Next thing we knew we were eating dinner under a thick spruce tree as the rain came down hard. The evening ended abruptly and it rained most of the night.

In a Lull in the Storm I caught this Reflection on on of the Small Ponds:

Reflections in Wind River Range

Day 4:

After the persistent rains all night we woke to a beautiful morning that warmed up quickly. We packed up quickly and were grateful for the smart food planning as 4 days of trash fit inside one small zip-lock bag. The hike back caught us off guard. Over 4 hrs to get back to the trail head (roughly 9 miles), however  3hrs were in this high alpine plain and then 1 hr of straight downhill. The high-alpine plain was intense with huge rolling hills and every time you approached a lake you dropped several hundred feet in elevation (hiking out of Dad’s Lake), only to climb back out of it on the other side of the lake. Repeat that 3 or 4 times and what we thought would be a simple down-valley hike turned out to be quite a bit more challenging. Regardless each valley provided amazing views and unique terrain that made the last day well worth the effort.

Myself in one of the large, rolling, never-ending Valleys on our last day:

Valley

Finally back to the vehicle we enjoyed a home brew that was mostly cold! Drove to Farson for an ice-cream break and made our way back to Denver.

As a Boy Scout many years ago I had spent a week north of here in another basin. We had a mantra of trying to avoid crowds and people when we were in Scouts and sometimes that left out the incredible places that tend to be popular. While this was 4th of July weekend, outside of Big Sandy Lake and the Cirque we barely saw any other backpackers, adding quite a bit to our experience. This is an incredible piece of the planet and well worth the effort to backpack!

Costa Rica: Six Nights of Sunsets Along the Pacific

Following-up to the mega-post on a trip to the Guancaste Peninsula, we were lucky to witness 6 distinct and beautiful sunsets. As we were located along the Pacific Coast, each night was a treat to watch the sunset.  In Nosara, the sunset created a gathering of nearly the entire village with all types of people gathering each night to enjoy the last rays of light as the cool air whipped over the sand. It was a treat to see every one of these sunsets.

 This is a follow-up to my detailed trip report here (which has a lot more then just pretty sunsets!): http://andylibrande.com/news/2013/07/costa-rica-tamarindo-nosara-barra-honda/

Night 1: On an Airplane somewhere between Mexico and Costa Rica:

Flying over Mexico

Night 2: 1st Night in Tamarindo, Costa Rica:

Sunset over Playa Langosta Tamarindo

Night 3: Wedding over Playa Langosta, Tamarindo

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Night 4: Nosara, Costa Rica, land of long sunsets with ever-changing colors

Tweak Broken Thumb

Waves Crashing over Sunset

Playa Guiones at Sunset

Night 5: Nosara: Night of the Pink, Purples, and Deep Blue

Sunset Surf Session

Sunset Playa Guiones

Night 6: Yoga on the Beach

Yoga in Nosara Costa Rica

Please check-out the full Trip Report here: http://andylibrande.com/news/2013/07/costa-rica-tamarindo-nosara-barra-honda/

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