Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nevado Volcano

March 26th to 28th

Ciudad Guzman is off the grid! 
Well it doesn't appear in guide books at least; it's a shame and I cannot see a reason for it's omission. Nicknamed "The Athens of Jalisco" it is the birthplace of several artists and intellectuals including Jose Clemente Orosco - the muralist whoes work we saw in Guadalajara. It's has a beautiful central plaza with a cathedral haunted by the souls of victims of earthquake disasters which are common in this region. The cathedral towers have been toppled several times and were last rebuilt in 1985.... 

But we didn't come here for cathedrals and muralists! We came here to tackle the 4240m volcano that sits on the fault lines responsible for all that earthquake activity - Vulcan Nevado. Last time I got this close to a volcano it erupted and I am hoping not to repeat that experience! 

In English, Vulcan Navado means "Snowy Volcano" which sounds too cuddly to cause me a problem and it's name derives from the fact that normally the high elevation means it is capped in white from December to March. Not now in these times of changing climate....

Ten kilometers of gradually rising tarmac, followed by a 17km dirt road take you to the entrance of a national park where you can camp and begin the 4 hour hike to the summit. The tarmac is a breeze. The dirt road is something else....

There is no water supply in the park and we will need 3 days supply, so we are carrying an additional 24 litres of water. Thats 24kgs or just over 50lbs. To gain some of that weight back we stash some non essentials in the bushes and start to tackle the 'road'. We are still riding heavy, and there are 17kms of endless switchbacks and poor surface to go; gaining 1700 metres (over a vertical mile) in the process.

It is without doubt the toughest road I have tackled to-date and that includes all the roads I rode in the Chilean and Bolivian Alps. Sue becomes a hiker a little earlier than planned and gamely pushes her bike for maybe 14 of those 17 kms. She remains cheerful throughout the ordeal and I start to doubt her sanity! 

I intersperse short uphill rides, with downhill hikes to help push her bike. I've used the word gruelling before, but I never really meant it until now. We snatch occasional glimpses through gaps in the trees of the valley floor below, and beyond that, mountains we can now peer over the top of to still more distant ranges....

After 7 hours of constant grunting and grinding, we have made 14kms and it begins to look like we won't be getting to the campsite in the park tonight. We look for a flat spot at the road side behind a stand of trees and call it a day. Coffee, pasta, sleep - in that order; but only just. Lights out - 12 hours of unconciousness.....

The new day dawns hazy as moisture that descended in the night begins to rise from the valley floors. It's a special sight as ethereal mountains emerge ghostlike from the gloom....

With the camp made, we drop luggage and ride light to the national park entrance 3kms above us. The locked gates are a bit of a shock, and we begin to fear the climb has been in vain. However, in typical Mexican style someone eventually saunters out to sell entrance tickets and put our names on a list in case we don't check out later. 

Sue says - "Let me in".... 


Then the hike begins! It's an easy path, but the altitude is just beginning to have an effect as the pine forests give way to alpine desert and we approach 4000m....

Ascending the last peak, we finally get to see the cone; four thousand two hundred and forty metre high Vulcan Navado. That's 14,000 feet!

It's not often you get to look down on the clouds without an airplane window in the way! It's a stunning sight that we enjoy in complete solitude. There is no breeze and the world is completely silent. It's an odd sensation - the complete lack of sensation; there are simply no sounds to hear. The world is struck momentarily dumb to gape in wonder.....

But time waits for no man, as they say, and eventually we must drag ourselves away from our reverie. We descend and return wearily to camp. 

Next day the ride down is a world apart from the ascent and the shark toothed pyramid shrinks rapidly in to the distance.... 

And still we ride down..... 

Ever downwards....

We end the day in Colima, some 90 kms away to the south after a day of real contrasts. From an alpine desert campsite at an altitudes of 4000 metres in the morning, to semi-tropical verdancy in a city at 500 metres by night. 3500 metres descent in just one day's ride on a bicycle. 

This is why we cycle tour. But now we need to sleep.....


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