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Huehuenton Peak: Hiking to the highest point in Sierra de Quila Nature Reserve

El Bosque de Quila is a federal protected area located 75 kilometers southwest of Guadalajara and covering 15,000 square kilometers. Quila abounds in ordinary pines, Lumholtz’s pines, oaks, and madroños (strawberry trees), which are sometimes packed together so densely that nothing grows beneath the tree cover. This forest has numerous rivers, 11 delightful waterfalls and is also famous for its massive monoliths over 100 meters tall.

The highest rocky peak of all is Cerro de Huehuenton (pronounced Way-When-TONE), rising to 2,565 meters above sea level.

Last week I set out to climb to the top of Huehuenton with a group of friends. We calculated that the fastest and easiest way to reach Quila’s main campsite, La Cienega, is the route via Ameca rather than the approach from Tecolotlan, which I described in volume  one of “Outdoors in Western Mexico.” We might save as much as ten minutes.

Seven of us set out for Quila at 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, figuring we’d reach the campsite two hours later. Well, we all know how full of surprises Mexico is. Sure enough, just south of Ameca we were stopped by a local police chief waving his arms in front of a barricade crowded with people.

“Sorry, you cannot pass,” he informed us. “The participants in the 37th Rally RAC 1000 are about to appear. Qué emoción!”

The what? We soon found ourselves shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other stranded motorists forced to spend the next two hours cheering on drivers in a car race that included drivers from Costa Rica and the United States, as well as Mexico. These rallies are held on dirt roads where the participants often reach speeds up to 220 kilometers per hour.

We dawdled around for an hour or so, enjoying the somewhat limited attractions of a sleepy little village called Texcalame and got back to the finish line of the race just in time to welcome the grand winner, Ricardo Triviño, who was immediately interviewed by a leggy Fox Sports reporter. An hour later it was all over and we quickly reached the park via roads which were 90 percent smooth. Unfortunately, the last ten percent requires a high-clearance vehicle.

Two hours late instead of ten minutes early, we reached the Park Welcome Center, where Don Rafael, the man in charge of everything, took us to the main La Cienega campsite. We saw several tents there and asked if we could have a place all to ourselves. 

No hay problema,” replied Don Rafa, “we have plenty of room.” In fact, the place we camped offered us both an open meadow and luxuriant shade to choose from and even came with clean, working toilets and running water.

Quila is home to all sorts of animals and reptiles, including the very rare Yellow-Peppered Salamander (found only in Mexico) and 130 species of birds, one of which serenaded us all night long. I had thought this was an Eastern whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus) but thanks to bird expert John Keeling, I learned that it’s a Mexican whip-poor-will or nightjar (Caprimulgus vociferus chiapensis).

At 10:15 a.m. Don Rafael let us into the Cienega compound and we started our hike by crossing a bridge over a small stream behind the museum. We walked along on a thick, soft carpet of pine needles through which the first tiny wildflowers of the rainy season were poking their heads. At two points we intersected with a dirt road by which you can get close to Huehuenton Peak by car, without the exercise. However, you’d also miss fascinating creatures we spotted along the way, such as a mother scorpion carrying her babies on her back and an “International Congress of Ladybugs” all meeting on one plant – not to mention the breathtakingly beautiful forest.  Part of our breath, of course, was taken by the rise in altitude from 2,146 meters to 2,565 meters. Nevertheless, having loped along at an easy pace, we covered the distance from La Cienega to the peak in two hours.

The last part of the route is up rustic steps to a gap between two tall rocks where our leader Mario shouted to us: “Better put on your coats before you get up here – it’s freezing!”

It was hard to believe, but true. On the other side of the gap, the wind was howling and the view was overwhelming. A short scramble with a guide rail for protection, got us up to the top of a narrow pinnacle where there is barely room for a repeater antenna and a tiny one-room house where a ranger keeps watch for forest fires 24 hours a day. During our brief visit, however, it was a movie he was watching. Fortunately, we saw no smoke on the horizon, only a 360-degree view of one of the most beautiful forests you could ever imagine.

Better put Huehuenton Peak on your bucket list.

How to get there

VIA AMECA: From Guadalajara, take Highway 15 towards Nogales and follow the signs for Ameca. On reaching Ameca, pass two stoplights and keep your eyes open. Just before the third stoplight, turn left onto Salvador Esquert Street (N20.53762 W104.04058) and drive 31 kilometers south to the Quila Welcome Center.

VIA TECOLOTLAN: Take Highway 80 southwest from Guadalajara and follow the signs for Barra de Navidad. When you come to Tecolotlan, drive northwest through the elongated town until, at the other end, you come to a cobblestone road (N20.21212 W104.05503) in good condition heading north and signposted “a Quila El Grande.” After 11 kilometers along this road, you’ll begin to see signs indicating most of the protected area’s attractions.

THE HIKE: Go to Quila’s La Cienega Welcome Center and Museum (N20.21212 W104.05503) and head northeast on a 3.5-kilometer-long trail that cuts twice across a dirt road, bringing you to the foot of a rustic staircase (N20.31493 W104.01486). Follow the stairs up to the peak (N20.31579 W104.01505) and enjoy the view. Don’t forget your coat! This trail is on Wikiloc.com under Huehuenton Hike. 

Driving time from Guadalajara to La Cienega is about two hours.