Mexpe - Mexico 2011
Mexpe 2011 - Tequixtepec
This trip began as far away as one can get from Mexico, in the frozen cave we call Castleguard. It is here that I met Christian Chenier, and Gael Herve. They had decided to come out and experience this amazing cave as there was a “year off” in the Mexpe expeditions. As cavers do, we all shared caving stories and Christian mentioned what the SQS was doing in Mexico, I was hooked. I saw them again during the summer at the British Columbia Cave Rescue Seminar, where we talked more about Mexico, rigging, rescue etc. They ended up staying for the Speleofest and by the time I had to leave to go back to work I was a paid member of the Societe Quebecoise de Speleologie (with rumors of a Mexico trip gearing up for the spring).
April 1st, Jesse Martin dropped me off at the Calgary airport, and I was away! Flying to Mexico City, hopefully meeting up with some of the other team (I had just names), then getting a bus to Tehaucan.
I hung out at the "arranged" location at the airport waiting until I saw someone who looked like a caver then I would approach them. Luck was on my side as I ran into Eric Legare, Estelle Dion, and Ben Trottier. Eric arranged for a taxi to TAPO then we boarded a night bus to Tehuacan, arriving at 02:30. We went to the hotel where Guillaume Pelletier and "La Rouille" were staying and slept.
The next morning we were updated on the plan, with the remaining pre-expedition tasks to be done, over breakfast. The purchasing was complete with exception of fresh fruit and vegetables, but we still needed to pack the 270kg of food in 30kg bags for the mules, and sort out a few remaining items. Eric and Guilluame were to travel after breakfast to get all the permissions needed from the various local governments.
Over the next day or so other cavers filtered in all the prep work was finished including a few emergency purchases do to the previously cached equipment was found flooded.
A 05:00 in the morning start saw us load all the equipment, food and ourselves into 2 vehicles headed for the Sierra Negra. We were riding in the back of the pick up as the sun rose exposing the high mountains we were to spend the next month with in.
Pavement turned to gravel which over a few hours turned to Jungle. We had arrived to the end of the road and began to unloaded the vehicles as Guillaume, Eric and some locals arrived with the mules to carry the loads the rest of the way. The local town had just received electricity in the last few years, maybe a road in the next decade? Slowly the 20th century is progressing into these remote areas, for good or bad time will be the witness. We loaded the mules and ourselves up and began the trek to our predetermined Base camp location. After unloading the mules the group set about setting up the basic camp necessities: Digging of the pit toilet, drop testing and inspecting the rope, digging the burn pit for the garbage, setting up tents, and the basic living area (which included making furniture out of the surrounding jungle). The following day improvements were made, projects completed, the equipment organized etc.
Finally the caving days began! There were so many days spent caving I could not dare to write of them all. I wished to share with you the other side of things less talked about, this is why I have only given highlights about the caves and caving, in fact I will not mention all of the caves visited, for further stories about the caves have a pint with me one day, or check out the links provided.
Cueva Football will always have a close spot to my heart, this was my first Mexican cave where I was being taught proper rigging from some outstanding Quebec and French cavers, where I pushed through a tight duck to find the way on. As well the first cave with which I (and other members of the team) received a standing ovation from an entire village for coming back alive. They would wait outside of the entrance until you returned. What a beautiful cave which was still "going" when we left.
Sotano Canyon S would be a cave you would love to find in your own backyard. Being in Mexico the tight, cramped conditions of the entrance series was deterring to some cavers. Christian Chenier dedicatedly pushed this cave giving me "private" surveying lessons. The rock in the lower section was amazing! The limestone had walls of intact fossilized shells and corals from the prehistoric times when this mountain range was but a coral reef. It looked as if we were moving through a still living reef.
Cueva Traversita was the longest cave discovered, which also contained the largest room found on the expedition. I was thoroughly schooled in the usage of the DistoX and Auriga on the PDAs. Through its wonderful exploration 3 entrances were discovered including the picturesque jungle shaft entrance with waterfall. This was also the site of one of the funniest moments on the expedition. A story for the Pubs!
Sotano Datong Oshko gave me my first "airy" pitch with its -110m entrance shaft. It was an interesting cave that I was able to assist in some mechanical enlarging of a restriction to keep the cave going from -130m to its final terminus at -324m. Derigging the cave with Eric and Guillaume was a joyous event with the large pendulums into space!
Back to the surface for us. Being in a new area (the Mexpe organizers were trying to get permission to come to this area for a few years) there was a lot of education etc that occurred to maintain the good relations (on our parts and for the locals as well). The expedition quickly set up a tortilla "arrangement" where we would buy tortillas from the local families every so often, trying to disburse the influx of money within the community. We would buy "treats" from the various "tiendas" in the small town as well (2-3). Eric, Martin Archambault, and Guillaume did school presentations teaching about caves, the processes, and also some of the techniques used in exploration. This included slide shows, show and tell, etc. Once a "safe" cave was found expedition members began giving tours to the local villagers. Here some local myths of flying snakes with wings were dispelled. The chamber which they were taking the people to surprised them not because of size, or formations etc. But because of the Sand. To get sand for construction of homes etc they would have to spend a day going down to the valley bottom (-1000m) from the village collect the sand then come back up the mountain with the mules. Here they were living on large deposits within the caves. It would save them days of work to harvest the sand from this cave.
Over the last few days of the expedition, after an awesome canyoning trip looking for resurgences my Big toe had become infected making hiking, caving and other day to day activities very painful. Well the infection and pain had to be dealt with, but with nothing but jungle around. I sterilized my pocket knife, rubbed my toe with rubbing alcohol and got to work. After cutting into the skin beside my toe nail, the lancing point was located, I then took a 16 Gauge needle from my IV/suture kit and worked it into the infected “hot zone”. Gael Herve thought all the puss and fluids squeezed out was gross. Relief, at last, I was handed some aloe vera, that was growing nearby, and rubbed it over the wound. A job well done.
In the final days the caves were derigged, a location to store the equipment cache was located, transportation off of the mountain was arranged. Then everything was taken down, packed, the pit toilet filled in the last of our garbage burned and buried. The following day the mules arrived to transport the equipment to the road where prearranged vehicles would take us to Tehuacan. We left the area with fond memories and the Mexpe project planning to return the following year. In Tehuacan the loose ends of the expedition were tied up before the bus was caught to Mexico city for some touring.
Landing in Calgary, AB I went to find my jeep that Jesse dropped off earlier that day, then drove to Canmore to my good friend Christian Stenners wedding reception. Big beard, shaggy hair, and no fancy clothes or a shower I fit right in.. no I didn’t. Six days later, while guiding my Jeep (home) was broken into and I was robbed. Passport, all ID, computer etc. this will make going to China a little interesting difficult.
Here is a link to the officail Mexpe project website: http://mexpe.org/en/