Copper Canyons Rim-to-Rim

An intense double-crossing of one of the world's largest canyons, requiring off-trail navigation in rugged desert terrain.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
40 km
Ascent
3.3 km
Descent
3.3 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
870 m
High Point
2.3 km
Gradient
28˚
Copper Canyons Rim-to-Rim Map

The gorges of the Copper Canyons region collectively make one of the largest and most complex canyon systems in the world, and at the deepest point are even deeper than America’s Grand Canyon. Visitation to this remote part of Mexico has never been especially high, and has actually dropped somewhat in recent decades because of travel safety concerns, but conditions are improving and the national park has remained open for adventurous tourists from all over the world. Most come to ride the scenic railroad or take short trails to huge waterfalls, but some are intrepid trekkers seeking a special challenge.

Description

A few trekking routes in the Copper Canyons are fairly popular and well-established. The rim to rim loop is not one of them. This is a demanding cross-country journey totaling more than 40km and nearly 7000 meters of elevation change. It is a double crossing of Urique Canyon, just downstream of the river’s “Great Bend” and the confluence of Copper Canyon proper (Del Cobre). This is one of the steepest and deepest sections in the region, and is very lightly traveled by people. The route makes a partial loop beginning in Divisadero and finishing a bit south in Areponapuchi.

The route follows dirt roads on the rim, then drops into an intricate web of livestock and hiker trails through the precipitous canyons. You must rely on your human sense of direction more than the tracks of the cows to navigate the complex terrain. Expect prickly bushwhacking, gravelly slopes, steep scrambles using your hands on loose rock, boulder hopping through dry arroyos, and knee-deep river crossings. This is just some of what’s required to explore this seldom-seen world of soaring cliffs and plunging gorges.

Because of the ruggedness, remoteness, and lack of defined trails, hiring a guide for this trek is recommended. If you do it on your own, you must have advanced route finding and desert hiking skills. The track shown on this map is one possible route, but the complexity and changeability of terrain make the trails somewhat unpredictable. Cattle movements, rock falls, washouts, and vegetation growth have constant influence here, where human travel is so infrequent.

The trek begins from Divisadero, a tourist destination on Urique Canyon’s west rim. Follow a popular hiking trail through the village on Mesa de Mogotavo. From the overlook, work your way down the spine of the ridgeline, switchbacking and scrambling through low cliff bands here and there. Most of the ridge is sunny and exposed. There is water in Arroyo Rurahuachi to the north, but navigation on that side of the ridge is more difficult. A guide will be able to show you, but if you are on your own and not in desperate need of water, it may be quicker to stay high on the ridge then drop into a dry wash straight ahead about ⅔ of the way down the ridge (mapped track), which leads directly to the river.

At the Urique River you will find large cobble bars and white sand beaches—a hidden paradise. From here you can take a side trip up river to the Great Bend or into Del Cobre (not mapped). Head downstream to continue the rim to rim. The side canyon to follow is the first major drainage on the left downstream of the dry wash at the end of the ridge that you followed into the canyon.

Hike up the arroyo in this drainage until the tall vertical cliffs on the left are directly overhead, then begin switchbacking up the slope to meet them. Gain the ridge at the east end of the cliffs and work your way up the spine, moving around large boulders and through gullies. Contour along the upper cliff bands and the top of the ridge to round the head of this canyon and the next canyons to the south, before finally topping out a mesa at 2200m elevation. Cross this mesa to reach the small settlement of Pamachi.

To drop back into the canyon, follow dirt tracks and social trails to descend just south of the next major ridge south of Pamachi. Contour northward beneath cliffs to gain this ridgeline, then work your way back southward to get into the arroyo. You will see a small ranch tucked away improbably in the opposite side of this canyon. Pick your way down this long drainage to again reach the Urique River.

To ascend, hike upstream, pass the first wash that enters on your left, and hike the hillslope to get into the next wash. This is the drainage you will more or less follow to gain the prominent ridgeline north of you that trends northwest to Areponapuchi. On this final ascent, you must switchback through many cliff bands and steep, gravelly slopes to gain the top of the mesa. You’ll know the hard work is over when you reach a well-traveled trail with an old farmhouse in sight up ahead. This leads to a dirt road that takes you into town.

Sources: https://www.backpacker.com/stories/trek-copper-canyon-rim-to-rim http://www.coppercanyontrails.org/ccthiking-options.htm http://www.hikingbikingadventures.com/hiking-adventures/hiking-mexico-south-america/hiking-copper-canyon-mexico/ http://geo-mexico.com/?p=7030

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

April, May, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation