Monday, July 13, 2015

Urique-Batopilas Trail, Copper Canyon, Mexico

Hiker: Will Harlan, ultra-endurance runner and writer

Executive summary by darmansjah

This route was the original ultra that Micah True (aka Caballo Blanco) ran with the Tarahumara before moving the race to the more accessible gravel roads of Urique. The trail climbs 5,000 feet from the desert floor to the forested canyon rim, crossing gurgling arroyos and offering literally breathtaking canyon vistas. The steep, quad-crushing descent down to the Batopilas River offers equally stunning scenery. The river-carved Copper Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon but without a single trail sign or marker. I learned that lesson the hard way on my first hike, getting lost, drinking Giardia-infested water, and being held up by AK-47-wielding drug runners. —Will Harlan

Length: 30 miles

The Details: Yes, Copper Canyon is larger than the Grand Canyon, but it’s a bit of a misnomer—it’s a system of six major river-carved canyons in Chihuahua that include everything from pure wilderness to villages inhabited by the native Tarahumara people to a railroad running down in the middle of them.

This typically three-day trip—unless you are running like Micah True and Will Harlan—connects the two local communities of Urique, a sleepy town almost free of tourists, and Batopilas, a former silver mining hot spot that’s about a five-hour bus ride from the larger town of Creel. In between, the trail dips into the best of what these canyons have to offer: It winds through steep sandstone walls and past massive agave plants (as well as wandering near a ghost town and the occasional wild burro). As it grunts to the top of the canyon, the trail opens up for a view that has none of the busloads of gawkers and interpretive signage of the better known canyon across the border. You do need to be careful, both of the danger of bandits and, more likely, dehydration. Water is stunningly beautiful when it comes cascading into this desert—but stock up on it when you find it.

When to Go: Late fall (October-November) or early spring (March-April), when the temperatures don’t get too hot

About Harlan: In 2009, Will Harlan (aka El Chivo, "the goat") won the legendary Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco 50-mile race in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, an experience that is documented in the forthcoming film El Chivo. No gloating champion, his victory showed both his athletic prowess and a sensitivity and connection to the people who have lived in the canyons for centuries. The editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors, Harlan lives on a sustainable farm in North Carolina. He's also five-time champion of the 40-mile Mount Mitchell Challenge and holds the record for the fastest unsupported crossing of the Appalachian Trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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