Sunday, July 29, 2007

Matacanes

My wistful and recurring dream of canyoneering turned into reality at Matacanes. State of Neuvo Leon (Mexico) is home for innumerable canyons, for its blessed with Sierra Madre Oriental and Occidental ranges of mountains. Matacanes is one among them with an estimated hiking distance of 11 kilometers consisting two rappels of about 25 meters, leaps as high as 15 meters, a couple of sliding chutes, much swimming and wading in the churning green waters and some descent.

Matacanes is located south west of Monterrey. Take the Cola de Caballo road, off the highway to Tampico after Santiago downtown. Park your cars and get on the truck of Geoaventura, the adventure organizers. It takes another two long and tiring hours of journey on a 4WD truck. The dirt track of the mountain is extremely rugged, rough and risky, a high clearance vehicle is recommended and 4WD is a must. The Sierra Madre unveils her beauty mystically as we drive along the dirt road, the verdant green mountain ranges are are illuminated by the mild morning sunshine. Vivid birds, bugs and butterflies entertained us.We reached the tiny yet pretty town Potrero Redondo. On the outskirts of this town we were given the much awaited breakfast consisting of muffins, oat biscuits, bananas, oranges and juices. We were asked to fill "Thou shalt be responsible for thy death" forms, given helmet, rappelling harness and PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and few energy bars for lunch. Another half hour on a rocky terrain brought us to the place where we started our trek. We trekked for an hour before reaching the first jumping point.

The first jump was a tiny one of about 2 meters, but the interesting thing about it is, it is a "Point of No Return". The first jump leads to the top of the 25 meters waterfall, the Lagunillas Cascade. The sight from the top is an awe-inspiring one. Time to harness up, rope around the bolt anchor, start rappelling down. The guide standing on a platform at about three fourths the height disconnects the rappel and you gotta jump from about 4 meters down into the lake. A 25 meter swim would get t you to the shore. What follows this is an exotic travertine riverbed with fresh cold green waters and beautiful foliage. The river is sandwiched on both sides by humongous mountains giving rise to a picturesque landscape consisting of limestone drippings and shale rocks. There are few tiny jumps and under rock crawls before the canyon narrows down and takes us to the mouth of a gigantic cavernous opening - Matacan de Arriba.

It was time for second rappelling. There are anchor bolts in the middle, right and left of the entrance. Its a 20 meters fall, disconnecting into a pool. The cave that welcomes us with this descent is cold and dark, mostly composed of calcite. The next jump is a unique and a scary one, Jump of Fate, it is called. Imagine standing on a rock, all you see in front is a dark and hollow void and you have to jump into the pitch black nihility. A faint glow of the water fall next to you and its sound are the only beacons to guide. This 3 meters jump was truly a spine chilling one, after which a narrow chute guides you along to a pool lit by faint light of the opening.

After the cave there are a series of interesting jumps of ranging from 1 to 3 meters. We encountered a gigantic rock under which there was a heavy water spirt. Meticulously we crawled and we climbed a high rock. The scene from the top is an unforgettable one, deep bluish green waters churning and roaring its way between two narrow rock walls and the best part was that we had to jump into it. Without a second thought I sprang off the rock, it was the tallest jump till that point. The currents carried me effortlessly and the river became more lull as it flowed. As we slid and jumped and dived and hurled ourselves into the river, we reached the second highest jumping point.

It was a straight 10 meters fall, but the risk was the parallel rocks on the opposite side, the space for jumping was very narrow. It has to be an absolute vertical jump, straight down. Any angle at take off would land you on the rocks ahead with dire consequences. Uno, dos, tres...I was bubbling down the river before even experiencing "in the air" feeling. A few chutes followed that jump and a bigger one was waiting for us.

We reached a platform for the next leap and this was the scariest and most risky one among all. I stood on the platform and gazed below and what the ... Instead of seeing water, my eyes first fell on the huge rock bulging out from where I was standing and water is far ahead. The conversation with the guide was
Should I jump from here?

Yes
But I see a ro
ck there
The rock is only in the mind, not there.
I was a bit impressed by what he said. Without much thinking, took a run-up, jumped off the rock, into the water...a perfect landing!!!

To make the chute more exciting, the guides queued us up in files of 5, with legs stretched, the person in the front holding the legs of the one behind him/her. Exciting as it was supposed to be, the flip side, all our noses were clogged with water till the brains. After easing out the annoyance, we trekked a further ahead before we paused. Here the guide said "There are two paths you may take, one for the brave, one for the chickens". He said that to filter out men from boys, for in a few minutes we were encountering the highest jump in the canyon. It was 15 meters tall, risk free, adrenaline generating, courage demanding jump. The currents were not as strong as previous jumps but the height alone was the killer factor. The leap was quick, easy and exciting for me but was still not satiable. I saw the guide doing a more sportive jump on the other side...taking a long run-up and tossing into water. I could not help myself from doing that and it was a cool one...4 steps and toss yourself in the air!!!

The next good jump was a mandatory one before entering the cave. An easy 8 meters jump into a darker place with stronger currents. We waded along the profuse stalagmite walls and overhangs to the mouth of the cave Matacane de Abajo. The guide welcomed us to the cave...
This is the cave of drowned. Three have drowned till now. It is pitch dark and has many vortexes, if you get caught by chance, try to swim to the right!!!

The entrance of the cave had a chute which led to the deep stream. We swam and shortly we could see the faint light of the opening. We were calling out names of each other to make sure we are still not drowned. The cave was dark, narrow, cold and short. The ferns at the end of the cave reflect the light from the outside and gives a greenish glowing feel just before the exit. It looks absolutely marvelous, you feel as though there are green lights underneath. The headroom is very low, of about a foot at the exit. The second cave experience was a memorable one...a mixture of scare, excitement and amazement.

Another stretch of teeny-weeny jumps and chutes followed, after which we see the signs of civilization. We saw few backpackers camping close to the river and finally reached the road on which we trucked during morning.

A truck carried us to back to Hacienda Cola De Caballo hotel, next to which the dinner was arranged. We were so madly hungry that we grabbed tortillas from the oven straight and hogged it. Dinner consisted of sumptuous chicken roast, beans and rice. We engorged till we were full to throat.

If you have a day to spare, 150 dollars, tonnes of stamina, loads of courage, appetite for adventures, fear of heights, desire for risks then Matacanes is the place you gotta hit.

Map of Matacanes (credit: Christopher E. Brennen)
ACA Rating: 3C IV
Hiking time: 8-10 hours
Distance: 11 kilometers
Equipment: Helmet, harness, rope, PFDs, rappelling device

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