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Great Adventures in the Sierra Madre: So Close, Yet So Far

Mountain biking is one of the most exciting and beautiful sports. The adrenaline of visiting unimaginable places is complemented by the most beautiful views that the western Sierra Madre offers us, in the state of Jalisco.

Around the Bay of Banderas and in Puerto Vallarta, there are a series of mountains and rugged sierras standing tall like sentinels. Many of them, separated by deep ravines and difficult to access. Others have quite impressive heights, considering their short distance from the coast. Some even reach an altitude above 2,100 meters above sea level.

The harshness of this landscape has up to now maintained giant swaths of this vast, almost virgin terrain. For anyone with a mountain bike, some skills, good condition, and an adventurous soul, this area is a playground of dream proportions.

And this dreamland is not that far... at least as far as the raven flies.

Cuale: a dream town for mountain biking

My recent adventure was with a group of biker friends from Puerto Vallarta. It began in the old mining and logging town of Cuale, less than 30 km in a direct line from the center of Puerto Vallarta. It is a 3 hour drive, around 60 km of dirt road. For the more disciplined and fit, it means an all-day uphill bike ride. Almost 1500 meters above sea level. So we drove.

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Sierra Madre Occidental seen from the town of Cuale. Photo: Ricardo Murrieta

The town of Cuale began as a center for mining and logging activities at least 200 years ago. Its wealth of mineral deposits such as gold, copper, and especially silver, allowed the establishment of a reasonably large and well-equipped town, taking into account its distance from any other place. Today the majority of its population, fewer than 200 souls, make their living mainly from logging or ranching.

The residents of Cuale are hardworking and friendly. Its traditional architecture and old buildings in the historic center give the visitor a feeling of having arrived in an authentic and special place. From here you can cycle to the mines, or drive with a 4×4 vehicle. We should have driven.

Entrance of the Town of Cuale. Photo: Ricardo Murrieta

exploring the paths

We reached the mines, nearby there was a steep climb. Some 2100 meters above sea level. From here, we traveled along the old mining gap to La Provincia, an old logging town near El Tuito. This old gap borders the southern rear flanks of the mountain, which the locals call “El Caracol”.

The old miners, traversed parts of the mountain to build concrete and rock buttresses and suspend it along the cliff. A wrong turn here could mean an avalanche nearly a thousand meters to the bottom of the canyon.

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Cliff. Photo: Ricardo Murrieta

Aside from the dizzying heights of this high space, the crisp mountain air and the pine and oak forest, it's so different from Puerto Vallarta that it's easy to forget you're in the same state. Once you've pedaled to the high points, the descent is epic.

For many miles, the only muscles you're pressing are your fingers squeezing the brakes and your thighs gripping the seat. However, even for seasoned cyclists, there are still a few must-see spots to dismount and walk your aluminum steed. Two of them are treacherous landslides, leaving a slope of sharp stones piled up on what was once a road. Then there are some downed trees that defy even the most agile and cunning riders to jump over.

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Walking trails. Photo: Ricardo Murrieta

Landslides are a blessing in disguise, preventing speed lovers from accessing this abandoned gap; leaving it alone for the occasional enjoyment of hikers or cyclists. This place implies a greater sense of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, as a rescue could be a slow and arduous task.

The descent from the Cuale mine

We finally located ourselves at El Rancho Aguacate, approximately one thousand meters above sea level, near the headwaters of the Los Horcones River. While the dirt road has been significantly improved, from this point forward large downed pine trees prohibit vehicular access to anyone who does not bring their own chainsaws. This meant that our group reached the support vehicle near La Provincia. Provincia has almost the same elevation as El Rancho Aguacate. There are a series of ridges between the two locations that one must climb up and down. The total distance traveled on our bike adventure was only a little over 40 kilometers; however the constant climbing and descent of slopes made it feel several times longer.

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Cyclists in the Cuale mine. Photo: Ricardo Murrieta

An expedition that lives up to expectations

My friend Ricardo Murrieta, owner of Aequilibrium Bikes, a business located in the Versalles neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta, co-led this expedition with me. Our group consisted of five cyclists and a support team of two more people (to whom we are extremely grateful).

In retrospect, the recommendation is to drive at noon, spend the night in some cabins in the town of Cuale and start riding the bike very early in the morning.

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Sierra Madre Occidental Crag. Photo: Ricardo Murrieta

Even though the ride spawned several flat tires, pale-knuckled downhill sections, and sizzling climbs for our thighs, we're already looking for an excuse to come back and enjoy this incredible adventure in the Sierra Madre one more time. An expedition that lives up to expectations. Would you like to come in?

Contact: Ricardo Murrieta, Aequilibrium Bikes

Email: [email protected]

WhatsApp: 322 111 9040

Neil Gerlowski
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