A Dream In The Clouds
Photography by Justin Lewis and Drew Smith
‘The ground drops away in shallow sinkholes, like craters. I detach from my rappel device and bring my rope with me as I cautiously pick my way across the craggy ground to the opposite side of the cave. To where another rope hangs motionless in the darkness.
Walls of flowstone trickle from the rim of the cave in long vertical ribs and stalactites, forming chandeliers of stone over the simple-stemmed plants that huddle under the spotlight of the sky. When I get to the rope, I tie the two together and call out to Peter, 300ft above me. He tugs the line from my hands and lifts the massive loop upwards until it forms a pencil-thin bridge over the mouth of the cave. Then he starts to pull our highline across that dark void.’
In Sidetracked Volume Five Michael Holland joins Peter Hudnut in his exploration of Mexico’s central plateau, searching for the deep canyons and high limestone spires that frame the country’s best highlining. The result is an astonishing personal and cultural journey.
I’m gazing out of a car window, entranced by the dense foliage that fringes the roadside. The cloud forests of Mexico are suspended like islands in the murky heights of the Sierra Madre Mountains, a canopy of tropical and montane forest that stretches as far as the eye can see, nearly 1,000 miles, from Monterrey to Veracruz.
Peter and I have been exploring Mexico’s central plateau, searching for the deep canyons and high limestone spires that frame the country’s best high-lining. We’ve rigged five new highlines, and Peter continues to give them their proper Spanish names. Las Estrellas, at 83m across, might be the longest highline ever walked in Mexico; Lo Mas, rigged at the summit of El Toro Mountain near Monterrey, may be the highest. But our principal objective is El Sotano de los Golondrinas, a cave nestled in the heart of these mountains, just outside the small town of La Union de Guadalupe.
We bushwhack through the forest and I grimace at the vicious barbs and needles, and pass on that warning to Peter behind me. We continue like this, hacking our way through sharp, angry plant life until we’re soaked through, gazing at caves that seem to disappear forever into the earth.
The orchestra of this place is vibrant. Chirps and drips and gurgles and caws reverberate throughout the canopy with ceaseless strength, and it fills the space around us with the weight of every living creature, every plant. Peter evaluates our surroundings with purpose and intention, I can see it in him – industrious in the midst of this imposing environment. But I’ve given up hope that we can control our fate in these mountains. There is no guarantee that we’ll find what we’re looking for, no guarantee that the community in charge of this area will understand our mission.
‘I watch Peter walk, and study the entranced faces that surround us, and I finally understand why he’s so motivated to keep developing highlines. For Peter, highlining is an intensely personal way to access what is buried within him, beneath those heavy layers of doubt and fear that otherwise hold him back. But it is also a tool for exploration, a bridge across the cultural gaps that exist in a world that continues to shrink.’