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Copper Canyon

Divisidero to Misery Camp - December 29, 1986

We had a great day in front of us, blue sky and cool temps, not that it would not get a hotter as we sought to lose 6000 feet of elevation . . . if we could figure out how. We breakfasted and broke camp, hefting those all too heavy, but getting lighter, packs onto our backs for the long walk to somewhere. We walked back to the hotel overlook and then over to the gate that lead into the canyon. We guessed this was the trail . . . so down we went. After about ten minutes, there came a gringo and a local up the route with three dogs in tow. We stopped to chat and the fellow told us that he indeed had been to the bottom of the canyon with his guide and that he had been in the canyon for four days. He inferred that the route was complex and that he would not have found the way but for local assistance.

We bid him a good trip and kept descending. But now, we had three dogs in tow, a black one and his two pals who were obviously going to tag along with us for some part of the trip. No worries, I figured once they concluded we were not a font of food, they would ditch us in a heart beat. But, they were not dumb, they could see those overstuffed gringo packs and with their life experience, I think they knew there was a meal in their not so far future.

The terrain dropped steeply and the trail was rough. This is not a National Park Service trail in the Grand Canyon but a rough trail cut though hundreds of years of travel by local indians in and out of the canyon to trade with the train borne tourists and likely with the Conquistadors a few years before them. We would come to junctions during the course of the descent and we just stuck with the most traveled course that seemed to keep going down. We could not always see where the trail was leading as it curved here and there around fins of rock and down steep gullies leading to a flatter area that we gauged to be about 1/3 of the way into the canyon.

We reached the flat and as we were walking across we caught sight of a local fellow coming out of his home and waving to us. Was that good or bad, we did not know, but in the interest of being friendly, on his turf, we wandered over. His Spanish was as bad as mine but we were able to discern that he was the local Coca Cola vendor and soon we were in his hut where he had a couple of cases of 16 oz. bottles ready for us to select . . . Coke, Sprite, Fanta, he had it all. Next to the house was a burro with two wooden racks full of empties and we realized that we were at the hub of the Copper Canyon refresco distribution network. We partook and asked for directions down to the Rio Urique. He sent us back to the trail and pointed to a spot where the trail briefly ascended over a sharp ridge and then disappeared to who knew where.

We made it to the base of the ridge but before climbing we needed to refill our water for the rest of the day and possibly the night as well if we did not get to the bottom today. There was a slow moving rivulet of water connecting a few deeper pools and that was the only water source that was guaranteed. I looked into the polls and noted that plentiful little balls of goat shit lying on the bottom and looked at Dan. This was before the day of the pump filter so we had a choice to make . . . either use one or two water purification tablets per quart. We elected to use two on account of all those little turds. Once we were watered up, we trudged to the top of the sharp ridge and saw what we had come for, a route to the bottom of the canyon. The bottom was not close by any means, we had only covered about 40% of the vertical at most but we could see the bottom from where we were and we could see a trail that went there.

Copper Canyon from a distance seems to be a lush tree filled cleft but once you enter it you realize it is solid desert and the trees are really little more than scrub in any place that someone did not intentionally place a tree. It may appear lush but it is dry hard cactus filled canyon. We stopped for a bite to eat, me, Dan and the three dogs. After lunch we made our way down the steep trail and Dan started to visibly suffer from a problem with a knee. At the time, I did not know what he was going through, not until I experienced the same problem about 2 years later as the result of an all too heavy pack on the Kaibab train in our own Grand Canyon. His knee was killing him and little did I know that was only one of his problems. We made it about half way down to the river and had to stop. We poked around and found a spot just big enough to set camp, literally only about two feet from the trail. It was a happenstance flat spot, not a camp spot, but just a spot we could eke out a camp.

We debated whether to set up the tent but elected not to do so unless there was a threat of rain. In those days, the two of us slept out sans tent quite often, though it seems that I rarely do so today. We discussed out situation, two guys, three dogs, three good human knees, one bad human knee and now Dan's stomach was suffering the effects of the . . . the hamburguesas back in Chihuahua, the shit in the water, or gosh knows what. We were done for the day for sure and if things did not turn around soon, we were done for the trip.

Dinner was a quiet affair, I still had my appetite but Dan didn't really want anything. Dusk came and the five of us settled in for the night. I thought that the dogs would wander home, wherever that might be, but no, we seemed to be a group of five, sharing dinner, sleeping bag pad and at one point in the night, the pillow I made of my spare clothing . . . until the battle started. It seems that when you are a dog in Copper Canyon and you have latched onto a pair of gringos who are willing to share their food, you don't take to interlopers well. I'm not talking another group of dogs but a merry band of coati's who decided to raid our camp in the middle of the night. It started with growls that woke us from a sound sleep and soon escalated into a three snarling dogs, ears pinned flat and teeth clearly visible. Then they were off on the attack, running after the coatis in the dark until the offending raiders were vanquished from the camp. Now I understood the program, we were a team, we provide the food and they provide security against raiders, interlopers and any other animal that might want to share in our supplies. We slept through the rest of the night, you know the five of us, one happy family.