Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If There is a Cross at the Top, There's a Trail

After a few days of acclimating, it’s time to explore some of the hills in El Campo around the city. La Bufa looms above Guanajuato, an obvious destination for walkers and climbers. A white cross place firmly on the summit and some trails cuts visible from below, make it clear that there is a trail to the top. All mountain peaks around Guanajuato seem to have white crosses placed on visible rocky outcrops. “If there is a cross, there is a trail.”

Walkers can start their climb at the bottom of El Callejon Saucillo, up from Paseo de la Presa. Expect a two to three hour hike. Once at the top, walk across La Panoramica, through the Clínica ISSSTE’s parking lot and follow the red rock road as it passes by an electrical transformer station. Another way to get to the start of the trail start is to take any bus from El Centro that says, ISSSTE and get off at the end of the ride at Clínica ISSSTE and follow the directions for walkers.

The red rock single lane road rises at a steep but grade doable for a healthy walker’s normal climbing stride. Some huffing and puffing may be necessary as you climb higher past 6,500 feet in elevation. On weekend mornings healthy Guanajuantese run up this grade, sometimes with their coffee cups.

The route swings around the base of the mountain, and continues to rise. Over the ledge and above the road cut, Agave cactus with their sharp pointed asparagus looking blooms shoot ten feet high in the sky. Mesquite bushes with sharp needle points and some other high desert ground covers are the local plant life. A herd of cattle roam the road, a farmer occasionally can be seen driving his pickup up to drop bundles of hay and fodder. Walk gently past the soft switching tails, the gently munching and soft bovine eyes will follow you inquisitively. Talk softly and don’t make sudden moves to avoid panicking any nervous cows or bulls.

The road widens at a cave that has been turned into a shrine, with statues of saints and Christ tucked back in the crevice of the cave. Past the shrine the trail narrows but electrical infrastructure construction, concrete boxes and orange covered cable, let walkers know they are not in unexplored territory. For walkers that are uncertain of hiking on narrow mountain trails, turn around and enjoy the walk back.

If you are a more adventurous hiker, ready for some steeper climbing, carry on. Follow the obvious trail; it is more of a hike at this point. The trail follows a ledge and curves around to the back of the mountain. There are many side trails, so pick the obvious one with a grade going up that is comfortable. Stepping over rocks and following the trail, will take concentration, but pause every so often to take in the sweep of the vista below. If you have a city map in your pocket, pull it our and try to figure out urban landmarks below.

A large fallen rock makes a bridge over the trail, walk under remembering that rocks can fall at anytime. The trail becomes steeper with sandy scree between larger rocks in some places. Some orange trail makers help point out the best trail, but use your discretion and place your feet carefully. Under another fallen rock, there is a cool breeze through the wind tunnel, look up to the left, and follow the trail up to a wide shoulder.

Once up on the shoulder, the considerate hiker has left large orange arrows pointing up. Across pot marked rock there is no specific trail, just go up. A fire ring or two and and some broken bottles will give you the idea that lots of people have come this way. A small cross honoring a climbing professor who died on La Bufa, gives somber reminder to be cautious while climbing.

At the cross, climb up a narrow gap, and follow vague trail marks around to a sheer rock wall down. Steel rebar make hand holds for toe steps into the rock to climb down. Then it is up again for the final climb to see the white cross. The view on top is really not more wonderful than ones further below, but there’s a great sense of accomplishment when you tell your fellow travelers, “I climbed La Bufa!"