By Jerry Fine with photos by Lee Waite
The Climb: Day 4: Wednesday: Where is Nexcoalanco?
When we awoke about 6 am it was snowing, and had been for some time. A look outside revealed that a deep carpet of snow was covering everything. This increased our desire to get off the mountain. We had a final hot breakfast, and packed up. The packs were somewhat lighter since we had consumed most of the food and extra water we were carrying. We had a long day ahead of us distance wise, maybe 15 miles. You may sneer that it was all downhill, but remember that going downhill is a lot harder on the knees than climbing. The hut was at about 15,500 ft, so that meant nearly 7000 ft of descending.
It was cold gloomy and snowy outside, and any paths were completely covered with the white stuff, which was more than ankle deep. We had no idea where to go, and so we took off downhill following a watercourse. After a while we tried to traverse to the right. Our goal was to reach the ridge which led to Nexcoalanco. After an hour of descending we were now in heather, which stuck up out of the snow. We could see a low angle area at the foot of the slope we were on, and it looked promising.
Lee Waite on day 4 below Chalchoapan
We got finished with the steep part of the descent, and noticed that the snow was not as deep. We stopped beside a large rock to take some pictures, and continued downward. Some of the features of the land looked vaguely familiar, but we could find no wide trail such as we were expecting, based on our memories of 1989. We continued downward into a valley, and the snow was now almost completely gone. It was here that the partners suffered a major disagreement. Jerry claimed that we had not gone far enough to our right, and were going to miss Nexcoalanco. Lee was not so sure. We started to traverse, but getting out of the valley was not easy.
Now nothing looked familiar. After arguing for a while the partners let gravity take over and continued downhill. We were now seeing occasional trees and bushes. Cow pies were now in evidence, so we had the feeling of getting back to civilization. It was lovely upland meadow country, cut through with steep canyons, ridges and cliffs. We just didn't know exactly where it was. We finally reached a vantage point where we could see, in the distance an unmistakable road! But we were nearly cliffed. We did a tricky descent of a steep line of cliffs, crossed a wide meadow, and then, there it was, a dirt road.
We sat down to think things over and rest. We ate a few snacks and drank some water . Jerry was irrationally mad at his boots and wanted to throw them away, since he had also brought along a pair of running shoes which he put on. Lee talked him out of it, and the boots were tied to the outside of Jerry's pack, and survived to climb other mountains. The road in the direction that we thought Nexcoalanco lay, went uphill. We wimped out and followed the road in the other direction heading downhill. It was now just easy walking. We passed a 50 foot high waterfall, and entered into the forest. The gradient was not steep, and Jerry fretted that we were not losing altitude fast enough. The altimeter said that we were about 12,500 ft. We walked on, through the noon hour and early afternoon, still not sure of where the road would take us. We estimated we would end up somewhere between Tlalmanalco and Amecameca so it was no problem. Keep hiking.
We started hearing a noise in the distance that sounded like a truck. We heard it off and on before we actually came to it. It was a truck alright, and it was stuck in the mud. We mean it was really stuck, up to the axles. A small group of mud spattered Mexicans were working on it, trying to put down branches, etc. But you could see that it was going to take a powerful tow truck to get that vehicle out of the mud. We talked to them briefly, and found that, sure enough, the road we were on was not going to take us to Nexcoalanco. It was supposed to go to San Rafael, however.
We had actually already resigned ourselves to not getting the beer, but it was a disappointment. We made a semi-serious effort to help them push, but they said it wasn't necessary. We then offered to carry a message, but they politely refused. They were going to send their own guy instead of some unreliable gringos who had just come out of nowhere. We never found out what their business was up there, but later one of them passed us, jogging down the hill at a pretty good pace.
We kept on walking. The weather was cloudy, but the clouds were high, and finally as the afternoon went on we saw occasional patches of sunlight. We were not meeting any people, and at times we wondered where we would end up. We were getting tired. Jerry took a nice spill on some greasy mud at one point. Finally, in late afternoon, with the altimeter telling us we were still around 10,000 we met some people. There was a young Mexican couple who had come out from San Rafael on a hike. They wanted to speak some English so we obliged, socializing as we went down the hill.
Actually, the downhill road became quite steep at this point. These folks wanted to take short cuts which cut off loops in the road and were even steeper. We were in a real rain forest by this time. We let them persuade us to follow them on one little path which we instantly regretted. But we kept up, and finally emerged from the woods near a clearing. There were many people standing around. It was a soccer field. We had made it back to San Rafael.
The soccer field was actually surrounded by a stone fence, and there were no gates. But we climbed over it using a kind of stile, and emerged in a well traveled street on the outskirts of the town. We went straight to a little roadside store and bought
Lee Waite back at the Posada Familiar Yuri; glad to be back!
ourselves a coke. The store proprietress and her daughter were playing pick up stix. Mexican kids came up and talked to us as we drank. One brazenly asked for 500 pesos. I asked him if he meant old pesos or new pesos. (Mexico took off three zeros not long ago.)
Finishing the sodas, we started down through the town. We were probably quite a spectacle, dirty tired and footsore. We decided to walk all the way to Pueblo Nuevo, which was probably another couple of miles. They seemed to drag on forever. We passed the center of San Rafael, and were following the main highway, which was kind of a boulevard, down the hill. Who should we meet up with at this point but Salvador, the faux-nephew. He said, -Where were you? Jerry said, politely and firmly, -Salvador, you stood us up. We waited over an hour. Salvador said that he had been running late that morning. We explained to him that gringo mountain climbers like to get an early start if he ever had another chance to drive for one of them, that he should keep that in mind. So we parted semi-amicably.
At long last we reached the familiar turn off into the barrio. We pulled
in at a neighborhood store and bought two bottles of beer, and some snacks.
As we walked down the street, nearing the Posada, Jerry looked back to
the east. There, impossibly high and remote, bathed in the last rays of
a setting sun, was Ixtaccihuatl's snowy dome.
After the Climb
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Copyright 1997 by Lee Waite and Jerry
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