We’d been warned not to drive out there after dark, “Bad people from the city hide in the desert there. It isn’t safe.” We should have listened.
Several days later I headed back, this time with Savannah, Kiersa Koepnick and Nolan Smythe. With Grade 7 Pods (inflatable porta-ledges), Nolan and I would attempt El Gavilan over two days. An hour into the dirt track we got a flat tire. No problem, we had the tools! Or so we thought… The wheel had one lug nut that could only be removed with a specific key. We checked our phones: no service. It was well past dark. I suddenly felt very scared and helpless. What do we do? We tried for another hour to pull the lug nut off with a wrench, but it was no use. Left with little choice, we open bivvied beside the road.
“CARRRR!” I woke abruptly to Kiersa’s shout. They stopped 100m short and then a dozen men with machine guns slung over their shoulders were moving through the cactus toward us.
Nolan thrust his hands above his head. “Amigo, amigo!” he stammered. I did the same. A man who seemed to be in charge spoke in broken English, “Not safe here.” I felt a small wave of relief, they want to help us. We learn that the officers are on a call for further up the road. “Is it a fight?” We asked. “Bigger,” he struggled to find the words, “bigger and guns.” The officer agreed to drive us to a nearby farmhouse to use the landline.
Sitting in El Potrero the next day I felt distraught. I was scared and ashamed of ending up in what could have become a much worse situation. Why hadn’t we brought the InReach? Why hadn’t we noticed the lug nut key was missing? Why had we driven out there at night? Why am I risking this to climb a cliff!?
I had a flight booked home to Canada in four days, but all I could think about was El Gavilan. Was it possible to squeeze in one final attempt? I knew of one person who might be down. I sent him a text. Am I being crazy?